Despite being around for two decades, the cloud has become a must-have for modern businesses. There’s plenty of data pointing to the cost benefits, business efficiencies, and competitive advantages, leading more and more businesses to implement cloud solutions. That comes with a big risk, however. According to the Cloud Security Alliance’s 2021 report “ State of Cloud Security Concerns, Challenges and Incidents ,” 41% of participants weren’t sure if they had a cloud security incident in the past year.
Since 2019, that percentage has doubled. Clearly, businesses know that cloud security is important, but they’re not sure exactly why or how to go about protecting them. With cloud security threats on the rise, that’s not a good place to be. Many organizations have attempted to protect their cloud environments with existing security solutions and fail to adopt native cloud security solutions.
Organizations often use two or more public cloud providers to adapt to their organizational needs. These providers host a wealth of sensitive business and customer data, critical applications, and other high-risk information that cyber criminals want to get their hands on. As more organizations put their trust in multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environments without a thorough understanding of the vulnerabilities and threats – or a strategy in place to secure them – they’re putting a lot at risk.
Challenges to Security with Multi-Cloud Environments
Cloud environments are vastly different to legacy infrastructure, which is part of its appeal. It can do what traditional solutions can’t. But that also means that organizations can’t rely on the tried-and-true security tools and practices they’ve used in the past. They’re not designed for cloud environments.
Instead, the cloud requires a modern, non-traditional approach, much like the cloud itself. A privileged access management (PAM) solution combines traditional tools to manage access control with time-sensitive capabilities.
With PAM, users no longer have full access to the network. Instead, they have the least privilege, which means that users get the minimum privilege they need, and only for as long as they need it.
So, if a user’s account is compromised in any way, the criminal only has limited access which restricts access to what they can steal. Otherwise, they’d have unrestricted access to the entire network, which can magnify the impact of the breach.
Least privilege isn’t always the case, however. If a user does need elevated privilege to complete a task, their access is elevated as needed, gradually, and only for a short period. When they’ve successfully completed their work, the privileges are revoked.
What makes this effective is that the privileged access process is consistent across users, locations, and operating systems, reducing any “weak links” that could compromise the system. This helps an organization move to zero persistent privileges which significantly reduces the risk to the business.
Data Protection and Privacy
Diverse, complex environments are difficult to manage effectively with consistent, organization-wide privacy and data protection. Different cloud providers often have built-in security tools , leaving organizations thinking they’re safe to count on this protection. Organizations still struggle with compliance and regulatory requirements across multiple cloud environments, however. One of the major challenges is while cloud environments have many built-in tools and do security by design, unfortunately for many, they are not enabled by default.
These disjointed cloud environments have an array of tools and controls to ensure cloud security, so there’s no option for an organization-wide solution. Then, no matter how robust the security is for different clouds, there are unnoticed weak spots and vulnerabilities with no protection.
Cloud Management Platforms (CMPs) can offer a solution to cloud security and management. Instead of juggling the requirements between different cloud environments, administrators can rely on a unified interface with full visibility. IT teams then have an option to provide a consistent, system-wide security layer in a multi-cloud environment with access management for all users.
Employee Skills Gaps
The employee skills gap concerns cloud adoption for many reasons, including security. Organizations are limited in how much knowledge and expertise they can rely on for stringent cloud security measures.
According to the PwC CEO Survey in 2020, 77% of leaders were concerned about the supply of key skills among talent. To address this, organizations prioritize reskilling or upskilling employees to ensure organizational agility for the future and the cybersecurity skills they need now.
Employees that lack cloud skills can be reskilled or upskilled with a skills gap analysis. Once the skills missing are identified, organizations can implement training and development programs to get their employees at the level they need to be.
The cloud is continuing to evolve and grow. Upskilling and reskilling employees isn’t a “one and done” experience. Employees will need ongoing learning and development processes to stay current on the cloud and adapt to the changes coming in the future. Organizations should have systems in place to assess and develop employees overall.
Visibility and Control
Visibility and control are among the biggest challenges in a cloud environment. The shared responsibility model shares security between the cloud provider and the customer/end user. The cloud provider is responsible for maintaining cloud security, while the organization is responsible for the security in the cloud. This responsibility differs between cloud models such as IaaS—Infrastructure as a Service, PaaS—Platform as a Service, and SaaS—Software as a Service.
In multi-cloud environments, organizations have challenges with visibility and control in the lower layers of the stack. Traditional solutions aren’t ideal, leaving them with limited options to correct the problem.
There are several solutions to this problem:
Manage identity and access controls: Identity and access management (IAM) in the cloud can be more difficult than in closed environments. Your provider could provide managed services or best practices, but the responsibility to use them consistently and properly falls on your organization.
Enforce data governance and policies: There should be policies in place for cloud data ownership since that falls on the organization. Data should be classified to ensure that cloud security protocols are in place.
Implement data-security management tools: Data security management tools are essential to maintaining data security with the increasing cloud adoption and complexity. The complexity only grows as organizations scale, creating more hurdles with visibility. A data security management tool provides a streamlined, centralized option to manage data and users effectively.
Manage the Challenges of Cloud Adoption
The hybrid cloud or multi-cloud infrastructure has numerous benefits to an organization – often more than either one offers on its own. Scalability, flexibility, and reliance on a cloud provider can be helpful for an organization looking to leverage the cloud for success, but as adoption increases, so do the weaknesses and vulnerabilities. These challenges can be addressed with innovative, agile security protocols that help organizations maintain robust security protocols and compliance in their hybrid and multi-cloud environments.
Joseph Carson is a cybersecurity professional with more than 25 years of experience in enterprise security and infrastructure. Currently, Carson is the Chief Security Scientist & Advisory CISO at Delinea. He is an active member of the cybersecurity community and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Carson is also a cybersecurity adviser to several governments, critical infrastructure organizations, and financial and transportation industries and speaks at conferences globally.
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