Introduction to Hybrid Cloud Security

Gui Alvarenga - August 15, 2022

Hybrid cloud security is the protection of data and infrastructure that combines elements of private cloud, public cloud, and on-premises infrastructure into a unified architecture. A hybrid cloud is the IT environment combining these elements. The hybrid cloud offers high flexibility in moving workloads to different environments quickly while taking advantage of better features provided in those environments.

There are strong motivations to use a hybrid cloud architecture, but it also comes with additional security challenges that will be discussed in this article. Let’s start with the use cases for a hybrid cloud.

Hybrid Cloud Use Cases

The cloud is an indispensable part of IT infrastructure for any organization that wants to thrive. When it comes to hybrid cloud, there are three common use cases for companies today.

Moving to a Public Cloud

It’s acceptable to start a cloud journey using your existing on-premises infrastructure. Most organizations begin by installing virtual machines and Kubernetes to the data centers in their control. Then, they convert their monolith applications to microservices and deploy them to on-premises systems.

When managing and scaling on-premises instances becomes tedious, you can move a few workloads to public cloud systems. In this stage, you start the hybrid cloud adventure and benefit from the scalability of a public cloud provider. At the same time, you ensure that the critical systems living in your on-premises system continue working and experience a reliable transition to the public cloud.

Keeping Some Workloads On-Premises

Cloud providers offer flexibility and scalability, but the infrastructure is the property of another company. So you may want to keep business-sensitive data in your on-premises systems for regulatory reasons and company policies. With these requirements, organizations expect to store their data in-house while running their workload scalably and efficiently on external cloud systems.

Using Various Cloud Vendors

Every cloud provider differs in its services, pricing, support levels, and SLAs, meaning you may want to benefit from multiple vendors simultaneously. Unfortunately, all cloud providers have their own management portals and APIs, which makes it challenging to manage them all from a single place.

The flexibility and mix-match model of the hybrid cloud makes it appealing compared to traditional cloud architectures. However, it also comes with strong security challenges that we’ll discuss next.

Hybrid Cloud Security Challenges

The hybrid cloud does not solve or improve any security drawbacks of the mono-cloud infrastructure. On the contrary, the hybrid cloud presents the following hybrid cloud security challenges.

When applications are distributed over multiple clouds, they need to connect to each other and transmit data. This means, the traffic between clouds should be secure and encrypted. Creating an end-to-end secure connection between multiple cloud infrastructures becomes challenging, primarily when the networking models differ.

Security features of each cloud offering focus on protecting their own services and infrastructure. For instance, you can limit access to cloud resources using AWS IAM roles, but they work only for the workload running inside AWS infrastructure.

Networking configurations—already challenging in a single cloud service—become more complicated when there are various cloud offerings. For instance, to create private cloud environments, you need to configure Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), Azure Virtual Network (VNet), and Google Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) separately. Security breaches are unavoidable when insufficient attention is given to these environments or some parameters are skipped.

When multiple cloud infrastructures are connected, real-time threat detection systems could raise false alarms by wrongly identifying the traffic between cloud(s) and/or on-premises as malicious, or at least out of the ordinary. When the overall infrastructure becomes more complex, monitoring and alerting systems should be configured in great depth to catch real security breaches.

Cloud secret managers like GCP Secret Manager or AWS Secrets Manager are great tools to store passwords, keys, certificates, or any other sensitive data. However, these are designed to work in their own cloud platforms. In order to distribute and manage secrets over hybrid infrastructure, you need to implement central and external tools like Vault.

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Components and Controls for Unified Infrastructure

There are three essential components to create a unified infrastructure that will work in harmony: networking, encryption, and authentication.

Networking

The connection between multiple cloud infrastructures makes them a hybrid cloud setup. Direct network connections between on-premises and clouds or VPN tunnels are the most common solutions and are mostly used together where the direct connection is the primary method and the VPN is a standby.

Encryption

Encryption lets you encode data so only authorized parties are allowed to access it. When there are different infrastructures and cloud services connecting to each other, it’s easy to use an external solution—which can also be offered by one of the cloud providers in your hybrid cloud landscape—for secure and encrypted communication.

Authentication

A hybrid cloud creates an environment where applications can consume services from other cloud providers. For instance, let’s assume the workload on cloud A (or on-premises) needs to authenticate to cloud B, which is done through a set of credentials.

You must manage those credentials carefully, especially in terms of how they are distributed. Because leaking such credentials could have potentially devastating consequences. You also have to rotate them on a regular basis. Therefore, there’s a solid need for hybrid cloud security architecture to connect applications living on different infrastructure.

Cloud discovery and visibility are required to manage, configure, and monitor these components in a distributed infrastructure. Falcon Horizon CSPM focuses on cloud security posture management (CSPM) to detect misconfigurations and potential threats while ensuring compliance across multiple cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

Best Practices

Securing a hybrid cloud is challenging with its multiple components and distributed nature. So it’s always a good idea to start with commonly accepted best practices in the industry:

  • Networking and security experts should carefully review network topology.
  • Make sure to carefully plan the management of secrets—credentials, certificates, keys, passwords—to avoid leaks. You must also rotate certificates and secrets regularly.
  • Your team should scan container images for vulnerabilities and deploy only the secure ones. You can check out CrowdStrike Falcon Container Security for identifying vulnerabilities earlier and automating DevSecOps principles.
  • Perform continuous audits for real-time visibility and compliance checks.
  • Implement a zero-trust approach for new applications, environments, and tools.

Conclusion

The hybrid cloud brings the best of on-premises systems and cloud providers. But it also comes with additional security challenges compared to running everything in one cloud. Fortunately, the benefits of a hybrid cloud setup might very well justify the additional costs required to secure the overall system. Still, it’s important to involve general security and networking experts, as well as engineers specializing in each of the cloud vendors included in the design of the system.

CrowdStrike provides end-to-end cloud security solutions for workload security, CSPM, and container security. Start a free trial now and get fast and easy protection against all threats in your hybrid cloud environment.

GET TO KNOW THE AUTHOR

Guilherme (Gui) Alvarenga, is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager for the Cloud Security portfolio at CrowdStrike. He has over 15 years experience driving Cloud, SaaS, Network and ML solutions for companies such as Check Point, NEC and Cisco Systems. He graduated in Advertising and Marketing at the Universidade Paulista in Brazil, and pursued his MBA at San Jose State University. He studied Applied Computing at Stanford University, and specialized in Cloud Security and Threat Hunting.