As the workplace moves towards a remote workforce, BYOD (Bring-your-own-device), and distributed IT resources, moving a corporate infrastructure to a software-defined network comes with its particular security challenges.
In this article, we will explain what cloud network security is and why it’s so crucial for businesses that use private or public clouds and virtual networks as part of their IT setup.
We’ll also go through the best practices for securing cloud networks, such as IP whitelisting, zero-trust network access, securing end-points, segmentation of access rights, and connection encryption. We got quite a few things to cover, so let’s get started.
Table of contents
What is Cloud Network Security?
The “cloud” or “cloud computing” refers to the practice of delivering computing resources such as servers, storage, applications, and other services over the internet on a pay-per-use basis.
When we talk about cloud network security, what we discuss is the technology, controls, policies, and processes that are used to protect these cloud environments from unauthorized access, exposure, or misuse.
While network security focuses primarily on protecting networks, cloud security also takes care of servers, apps, containers, and more. In short, it’s a collection of best practices designed to protect information and data within a cloud architecture.
One of the most significant advantages of cloud technology is its ability to support scaling operations by offloading most of the infrastructure management to hosting providers.
The most common cloud computing services include:
- SaaS (Software as a Service): All software is hosted online in the cloud and is available through a subscription. Any technical issues, updates, servers, OS management, storage, and cloud infrastructure are the responsibility of the third-party provider (which significantly reduces IT maintenance).
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): In this hybrid approach, organizations manage some of their applications and data on-premise and rely on cloud providers to take care of any needs related to hardware, networking, servers, and storage
- PaaS (Platform as a Service): This custom application framework allows organizations to streamline development by automatically managing software updates, operating systems, storage, and cloud infrastructure.
Any business that uses the cloud must have some means of protection to ensure data privacy and eventually compliance. The ultimate goal of these procedures and technology is to address threats (both internal and external) to business security. This is especially the case as more organizations move towards a digital transformation strategy that incorporates cloud-based services and tools.
Moving Towards More Modern Technologies
If you’re someone who is interested in protecting your IT environment, you might be familiar with terms like digital transformation and cloud migration (the second being a process within the broader scope of the first). Both of these concepts embrace the same principle: That there’s a need for change, and you need to approach it keeping a few good practices in mind.
So, how do you deploy the best cloud security practices to ensure your organization benefits the most from the use of cloud technologies?
Why Does Cloud Network Security Matter?
The transition towards cloud-based environments can help organizations offload many time-consuming tasks. Cloud infrastructure, in fact, supports almost all aspects of modern computing for medium and large enterprises across different industries.
By default, most cloud providers will go to great lengths to protect their applications, data, workloads, and servers and put good security best practices in place. However, it’s ultimately up to the organization to protect the data at their end as well as during transit.
The Main Challenges of Cloud Computing Security
Security threats continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, in many cases targeting cloud computing providers. These are some of the challenges these services face on a regular basis:
- Multi tenancy and collateral damage: Public cloud setups house multiple clients (and their infrastructure) using the same servers. If one client is targeted or compromised by a malicious actor, there might be some degree of collateral damage to other businesses if the provider’s infrastructure is affected.
- Lack of visibility for access: Many cloud environments are accessed using third parties and from outside of corporate networks. This is why it can be difficult to track who is seeing what, when.
- Confusion about compliance: If your enterprise is using a public or hybrid cloud environment, complying with regulations can become a source of confusion because accountability still lies with the company. For this reason, many organizations have to rely heavily on third-party solutions so they can deal with data privacy and security accordingly - something that can, unfortunately, also lead to compliance problems.
- Shadow IT: Cloud deployments can have some trouble administering restrictions, especially when compared to enterprises that can easily restrict and manage on-premises system access points. This is particularly dangerous if an organization doesn’t have BYOD policies in place and allows any device or geolocation to access cloud services unrestricted.
- Misconfiguring assets: Misconfigured assets are a permanent issue for cloud computing environments. These can include bad practices such as not creating the correct levels of access privileges or leaving passwords stored in an unsecured location.
Additionally, even if both cloud service provider and organization consuming the service are great at protecting data from cybersecurity attacks, there’s one aspect that will always remain evasive: The human one.
There are five major security threats you should look out for:
- Social engineering: Many cyber attackers use social engineering techniques like phishing to gain access to sensitive information. What the perpetrators do is ask victims to take certain actions or unintentionally provide data to gain control over an employee’s account.
- Compromised accounts: If a malicious actor has access to an employee's account or a third-party to your organization’s cloud (due to password spraying or credential stuffing, for instance), they could instantly gain access to all of your company’s files and systems.
- Insider threat: Some employees can unwittingly cause data breaches if they have low awareness of how cybersecurity works. For example, if they have poor password habits or share information using unauthorized cloud apps. This can leave your data exposed and vulnerable.
- Unauthorized apps and services: We briefly talked about shadow IT. If a person is unaware of shadow IT and installs and uses cloud applications that are not approved by the cybersecurity team, this can bring challenges and risks to the entire network.
- Malicious insider activity: In some cases, insider threats can also be held accountable for data breaches. The motives are various, from human error and negligence to revenge and industrial espionage, but they can all lead to data loss, malware, corrupted systems, and stolen intellectual property.
Cloud Network Security Best Practices
Cloud network security is, as we covered, the collection of technology, policies, strategies, controls, and processes used to protect cloud networks from unauthorized access and misuse. Let’s now go through the best practices you can put in place for reliant cloud infrastructure security.
1. Use MFA/SSO and Manage Passwords
Cloud service providers will have their own means of caring for their infrastructure, but ultimately, your organization is the one responsible for securing access to sensitive data and user accounts. This is why the most important practice for cloud network security is to work with solid password management.
A relatively simple way to do this is to request your employees to use different and complex passwords for various accounts and rotate them frequently. A better solution is to use a centralized password management solution to automatically encrypt and rotate them, alongside Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and Single-Sign-On (SSO).
2. Filter DNSs to Block Access to Malicious Sites
DNA Filtering is a technique designed to protect environments against malware by blocking what sites a user can access.
DNS stands for Domain Name System, and it’s a sort of translation of a domain into an IP address. DNS filtering (also known as DNS blocking), as its name indicates, blocks access to domains that are deemed disreputable, malicious, or just unwanted. The way it works is as follows: Every time a person tries to access a domain (or a website), the technique compares the query to a blacklist of sites or IPs it considers unwanted. If it matches one of the addresses, access is blocked for the user.
The sites included in a blacklist could be those known for malware distribution, hosting undesirable content, or sharing copyrighted materials. DNS blocking is a great first line of defense against malware, as it can prevent employees from unknowingly accessing phishing sites.
3. Limit User Access Privileges
Many companies make the mistake of providing their employees with extensive access to data and systems. Unfortunately, this is the type of access that a cyber attacker dreams of, as compromising one account gives them an opportunity for lateral movement across the victim's environment.
This is why it’s so important to regularly reassess user privileges and revoke those that are no longer necessary for someone to do their job. Such an approach is known as the least privilege principle, which states that someone should only have access to what they need to complete their tasks - and no more. Additionally, you can set up clear onboarding and offboarding processes that include the addition and removal of certain user privileges when someone joins or leaves the company.
Practical deployment of the least privilege principle is called Zero Trust Network Access (or ZTNA) approach that applies strict user verification every time before allowing access to a particular IT resource so you can minimize the impact and incidence of malicious actors. The way it does this is by verifying the identity of all users connecting to the cloud (typically using multi-factor authentication or MFA, tokens, biometric data, one-time passcodes, etc.) to ensure they are who they say they are. Plus, in Zero Trust all communications are encrypted and placed in a private tunnel, so they remain confidential, always.
4. Monitor The Activity of Those With Access to Your System
There are dedicated solutions (such as network behavior analysis, data loss prevention, and real-time activity monitoring) that can help you keep track of what your employees are doing to increase transparency in your cloud environment. These tools can be used to detect abnormal actions, like unusual IP addresses or activity during non-working hours, and reach out before there’s a breach. On a similar note, if an employee is suspected of mishandling sensitive data, this is an excellent way to analyze the situation and see if any additional measures are required.
It’s also essential to monitor the activity of any involved third parties, such as suppliers, partners, or vendors that also have access to your systems, as well as privileged users within your cloud infrastructure. After all, it’s system administrators that have the credentials to see (and edit) the most sensitive data and can cause the most damage if their account is compromised due to a malicious cyberattack.
5. Always Meet IT Compliance Regulations
Complying with IT standards, regulations, and laws to protect your company’s data is good practice (although many companies need to comply with regulations like GDPR or be certified by SOC2 standards, for many others this is voluntary). Most prominent cloud computing providers will nonetheless align with IT compliance requirements but, as an organization, you need to make sure your own data processes are compliant, too.
To do this, you should first define which requirements and standards apply to your industry. The thing is, these compliance requirements tend to be quite complex no matter the size of your business. If you’re unsure how to proceed, you can hire a data protection officer (or DPO) with experience in IT compliance and cybersecurity.
6. Educate Users Against Phishing
The best way to minimize the threat of the human factor on your organization's cybersecurity is to increase your employees’ awareness of the topic. Phishing, in particular, can be easily prevented if people can recognize the signs of this type of online fraud. All it takes for a phishing attack to succeed is to have just one person launching the malware!
You can train your organization’s employees about social engineering so they can avoid disclosing sensitive data. It’s best to run regular seminars and workshops as attacks continue to evolve both in number and in their method. Make sure you include some real-life simulations and examples and consider sending dummy phishing emails to see how people respond.
Check out this blog to learn more about best anti-phishing techniques for your business.
7. Always Have Incident Response Plan
Although a fast response to a cyberattack or threat can limit the extent of the damage, you should always ensure you have a proper incident response plan to deal with emergencies.
Your incident plan should outline strict procedures and roles for various scenarios and be regularly shared with your cybersecurity team. This document, which should also contain a structured methodology for dealing with the consequences of an attack, needs to cover current, immediate, and future incidents. You can create the first outline of this plan by conducting a security audit, defining what incidents are, naming responsible people, and including a communication plan (for example, who to tell if something happens and what to do if that person is unavailable), plus including various recovery scenarios.
Ultimately, your plan should be frequently updated to reflect any learnings from previous incidents. If something does happen, make sure you analyze it in depth and add it to the plan so you can create more effective responses and procedures.
Wrapping Up on Cloud Network Security
Cloud network security is a collection of best practices designed to protect networks, servers, containers, apps, and information. As more companies and organizations transition to cloud-based environments, it’s ultimately up to you to make sure your data is shielded at both your end and during transit.
GoodAccess is a zero-trust network access solution that can help you protect access to your cloud environments by using IP whitelisting, DNS filtering, defining access based user identity, and limiting access rights via segmentation to guard your company for remote and hybrid work.
GoodAccess is lightning-fast and very straightforward to use. You can connect different devices, clouds, and systems and handle everything under a single dashboard. Create your free account and start using GoodAccess today!