A recent report from Check Point in 2022 highlighted that a significant number of businesses, around 27%, experienced a security breach in their public cloud infrastructure within the last year. Almost a quarter of these incidents, i.e., 23%, occurred due to security misconfigurations in the cloud infrastructure.
To protect their cloud infrastructure, enterprises need to adopt some cloud security best practices. These measures may not eliminate all attacks, but they are crucial in strengthening defense mechanisms, safeguarding data, and establishing robust cloud security practices.
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11 Cloud Security Best Practices [Reviewed]
By implementing the following best practices for any cloud security model, businesses can significantly reduce the likelihood of security breaches and enhance their overall security posture.
1. Identity and Access Management (IAM)
The first cloud security best practice leverages IAM tools and processes that manage access to various services and resources in the cloud and are the foundation of cloud security guidelines. It’s akin to user and group management on a personal computer or server. Just as you would control access to local resources, IAM is used to manage access to cloud data and services.
IAM Core Principle: Least Privilege and Zero Trust
Based on the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) and Zero Trust, it grants the users limited permissions needed to perform their tasks. This ensures that users do not have unnecessary access, reducing potential security risks.
- AWS: AWS offers IAM to create users and groups and configure their access. AWS also provides AWS Organizations for setting policies across multiple AWS accounts and AWS Directory Service for those familiar with Microsoft’s Active Directory.
- Azure: Azure’s primary identity and permissions management tool is Azure Active Directory. It’s similar to Windows Active Directory but tailored for the cloud. Azure also offers Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) for more granular access controls.
- Google Cloud: Google Cloud Platform’s IAM is nuanced, offering two types of accounts: Google accounts (for people) and Service accounts (for applications). Google Cloud’s approach to IAM is different from AWS and Azure, emphasizing its unique structure and terms.
2. Multi-Factor Authentication(MFA)
Implementing MFA for your users is crucial in securing your cloud architecture. One common approach is to combine a password with a code received on their smartphones, adding an extra layer of protection.
Let’s explore how the MFA works in practical terms to be among the cloud security best practices:
- AWS: With a security solution, you can ensure that MFA is enabled for all IAM users with console passwords. By enabling MFA, you significantly enhance the security of your AWS resources, preventing unauthorized access.
- Microsoft Azure: A robust security solution ensures that MFA is enabled for all privileged users in your Azure environment. Given their access to critical resources, implementing MFA becomes essential to defend against potential breaches.
- GCP: GCP relies on Google’s two-step verification for MFA. GCP offers an advanced protection level by enforcing the use of security keys for a group of users making it one of the most effective cloud security best practices.
3. Data Security
Ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information, whether it’s in transit or at rest, is paramount in cloud environments. AWS, Azure, and GCP have robust mechanisms in place to secure data.
Data in Transit
When data is being transmitted over networks or between systems, it’s susceptible to threats like interception and eavesdropping. Here is how different mechanisms are put in place to secure the data in transit.
- AWS: It uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt data in transit. AWS also offers Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) peering for secure data transfer across different VPCs.
- Azure: It employs Azure VPN Gateway to encrypt data in transit using IPsec protocols. Azure ExpressRoute provides a private connection between Azure data centers and on-premises infrastructure.
- GCP: It uses HTTPS for secure data transfer across its services. For interconnecting networks, Cloud VPN ensures secure communication.
Data at Rest
Data at rest means it is stored in databases, file systems, or physical storage media. Here is how various mechanisms are used to protect this data against unauthorized access and breaches.
- AWS: It offers services like Amazon S3, which automatically encrypts data at rest using server-side encryption. AWS Key Management Service (KMS) allows users to create and manage cryptographic keys used for data encryption.
- Azure: It uses Azure Storage Service Encryption (SSE) to automatically encrypt data before storing it. Azure Key Vault manages cryptographic keys used in cloud applications.
- GCP: Google Cloud Storage always encrypts data before it’s written to disk. Cloud KMS allows users to manage encryption keys, ensuring data remains secure and compliant.
4. Network Security
Different cloud security best practices and measures can be put in place to secure the integrity and usability of the network and the data. Network security is crucial when it comes to safeguarding data and applications in the cloud.
Each of the major cloud providers – AWS, Azure, and GCP – has its own sets of tools and practices to ensure the safety of data as it moves within and across their networks. Here are some cloud security best practices to leverage the same:
- AWS offers network firewalls at layers 3, 4, and 7 through its Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). It allows customers to specify which instances and applications can be accessed.
- AWS has measures in place to mitigate Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks.
- All traffic between AWS facilities is encrypted by default, enhancing the security of data in transit.
- Azure emphasizes its Security Development Lifecycle (SDL), a set of practices aimed at helping developers create more secure software by reducing vulnerabilities.
- Azure also has tools for Intrusion and DoS detection.
- Network Access Control is a pivotal component of Azure’s security, ensuring that only authorized entities can access the network.
- Google Cloud Platform boasts of its custom hardware and software in data centers, coupled with a strict hardware disposal policy.
- GCP has a global IP network that minimizes the number of hops across the public internet, ensuring faster and more secure data transmission.
- GCP’s security also focuses on monitoring internal network traffic, ensuring that any anomalies or potential threats are detected and dealt with promptly.
5. Cloud Resource Update
Maintaining an up-to-date cloud infrastructure is essential for security and performance. AWS, Azure, and GCP each offer their own tools and cloud security best practices to help businesses manage and apply patches and updates to their cloud resources.
- AWS Systems Manager Patch Manager automates the process of patching managed instances with security-related updates. It allows you to select which patches to apply, specify which instances to patch, and decide when to do the patching.
- Azure Update Management offers a comprehensive solution for managing updates across hybrid environments. It assesses the status of available updates, schedules installation, and produces reports to monitor deployment progress.
- GCP’s OS Patch Management service identifies, applies, and ensures that patches are deployed across a range of operating systems and software. It also provides vulnerability reports to help you understand your patching posture.
6. Logging and Monitoring
System logs (server, application, and access logs) provide valuable information about the health, performance, and security of your cloud resources. Here are some details into how you can leverage the same as one of the cloud security best practices:
- Amazon CloudWatch Logs: AWS’s primary logging service, CloudWatch Logs, allows storage and access to log files from various services like EC2 instances, Lambda functions, and more. While some services, such as AWS CloudFront, do not support direct streaming into CloudWatch, workarounds exist, like writing data to an S3 bucket and then using Lambda to transfer data to CloudWatch.
- Logs Insights: This feature includes a query language for logs, enabling complex queries to be written once and reused as needed. CloudWatch also offers “metric filters” for predefined terms and patterns to analyze log data over time.
- Azure Monitor Logs: Azure’s logging service allows the use of the Kusto Query Language (KQL) for querying log data. It also provides capabilities like Log Analytics, Log Alerts, and custom charts visualization.
- Azure Monitor Metrics: This service supports near real-time scenarios by logging lightweight numerical values in a time-series database.
- Cloud Logging: GCP’s primary logging tool provides visualization of common log data, custom log-based metrics, routing of logs to other GCP services, storage for log buckets, and a Logs Explorer for querying logs using Google’s Logging Query Language.
- Cloud Monitoring: This service is GCP’s primary monitoring tool, which can export data from Cloud Armor for further insights.
7. Backup and Disaster Recovery
Ensuring data safety is crucial. Here is how major cloud providers offer robust solutions for backup and disaster recovery.
It utilizes CloudEndure for cloud-based disaster recovery, offering:
- Continuous data replication.
- Cost-effective staging.
- Automated machine conversion for AWS compatibility.
- Point-in-time recovery.
Azure Site Recovery, enhanced with InMage technology, provides:
- On-demand VM creation during recovery.
- Non-disruptive testing.
- Customized recovery objectives and plans.
Instead of a packaged DRaaS, GCP offers:
- Comprehensive DR planning documentation.
- Services like Cloud Monitoring and Cloud Deployment Manager.
- Partnered solutions for DRaaS built on GCP infrastructure.
Note: All providers emphasize the importance of regular testing and updating of disaster recovery plans to ensure data safety.
8. Security Audits
To maintain a robust security posture, it’s essential to conduct regular security assessments and audits of your cloud infrastructure. Major cloud providers offer built-in tools and recommend some cloud security best practices to assist organizations in meeting their security and compliance needs:
- Amazon Inspector is AWS’s security assessment service.
- It evaluates applications for vulnerabilities and deviations from best practices.
- It supports compliance standards like ISO 27001 and PCI DSS.
- It provides actionable recommendations to improve security and compliance.
- Azure Security Centre aids in continuous security assessment, providing actionable security recommendations.
- It offers advanced threat protection across all Azure services.
- It is compliant with standards like ISO 27001 and PCI DSS.
- Trust and Security Center offers insights into the security status of GCP resources.
- It offers recommendations based on best practices.
- It is compliant with major compliance standards.
- Astra’s Pentest performs 8000+ tests, which include checking for OWASP Top 10, CVEs, and SANS 25.
- It analyzes pages behind the login screen and scans for Single Page Apps and progressive web apps.
- It is compliant with ISO 27001, HIPAA, SOC2, or GDPR.
9. Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is a pivotal aspect of cloud security, especially when considering the vast amounts of sensitive data stored and processed in cloud environments. AWS, Azure, and GCP each offer their own set of tools and cloud security best practices to ensure data remains protected against unauthorized access, leakage, or accidental loss.
- AWS: AWS offers the Amazon Macie service, which uses machine learning to automatically discover, classify, and protect sensitive data. This includes personally identifiable information (PII) or intellectual property. It provides dashboards and alerts that give visibility into how data is being accessed or moved.
- Azure: Azure’s DLP solution is integrated into Microsoft 365 compliance center, offering the ability to identify, monitor, and protect sensitive information across the Azure environment. With over 100 built-in sensitive information types, Azure DLP can detect and protect a wide range of sensitive data types.
- GCP: GCP provides Cloud DLP, a fully managed service designed to identify and protect sensitive data across GCP services. It offers de-identification techniques like masking, tokenization, and encryption to safeguard data.
10. Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)
The PoLP is a foundational concept in cloud security, emphasizing that users should be granted only the permissions they need to perform their tasks and no more. This fundamental cloud security guideline minimizes the risk of unauthorized access, reduces the potential attack surface, and helps prevent inadvertent changes or deletions.
- AWS: It allows administrators to grant unique permissions for every user, ensuring that individuals can only access and modify the resources they need. AWS provides granular control over user and service permissions, ensuring adherence to PoLP.
- Azure: As part of the PoLP, Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and Azure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) enable administrators to assign specific permissions based on roles within the organization. This ensures that users and services in Azure have minimal access rights.
- GCP: It lets administrators set who (users or services) has what access (roles) to which resources. This granularity ensures that users and services are granted permissions strictly based on their roles and responsibilities, upholding the PoLP.
11. Employee Training and Cloud Security Responsibility
One of the most uncommon but essential best practices in cloud security management is employee training. Comprehensive employee training should encompass both fundamental and advanced security knowledge. This includes creating robust passwords, detecting social engineering attacks, understanding risk management, and being aware of the latest threats and countermeasures.
A crucial aspect of this training is highlighting the risks of shadow IT, where employees might use unauthorized tools, thereby compromising system visibility and introducing potential vulnerabilities.
While the onus of training lies with the cloud buyer, cloud providers often offer resources to assist.
- AWS: Amazon Web Services provides AWS Training and Certification. This program helps cloud professionals gain the necessary knowledge to secure their AWS environment.
- Azure: Azure offers the Microsoft Learn platform, which includes modules on Azure security, privacy, and compliance. They also provide Azure-specific guidance for implementing Microsoft security technologies.
- GCP: Google Cloud Platform has the Google Cloud Training portal, offering courses on security and compliance, ensuring users understand how to protect their data and applications on GCP.
AWS, Azure, and GCP each offer a suite of tools and technologies designed to fortify cloud environments, but the onus of leveraging these tools effectively rests with the businesses themselves.
From stringent access controls like IAM and PoLP to proactive measures like regular audits, backups, and employee training, organizations have a comprehensive toolkit at their disposal to adhere to cloud security best practices. However, the key lies in the meticulous implementation and continuous review of these practices, which makes security audit a key essential.
How does each cloud provider ensure the security of their infrastructure?
Each cloud provider, including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, implements robust measures with respective cloud security best practices to protect their infrastructure. Various security controls and monitoring systems to detect and respond to security threats.
What security responsibilities do businesses have when using cloud services?
Cloud services operate on a shared responsibility model. While providers like AWS, Azure, and GCP ensure infrastructure security, businesses have their roles like data protection, access management, network configurations, application security, and compliance.
How do cloud providers handle compliance with industry regulations and standards?
Cloud providers are committed to meeting various compliance requirements and offer services to help customers achieve compliance. They provide documentation, reports, and compliance frameworks to assist businesses in meeting regulatory standards such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and ISO 27001.