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Cover image for 26 best practices to secure your cloud environment☁️🔥
Pramit Marattha for Aviyel Inc

Posted on • Originally published at aviyel.com

26 best practices to secure your cloud environment☁️🔥

Introduction

Cloud computing has revolutionized the way organizations store, manage and process data. From the perspective of security, however, the cloud presents some unique challenges. Cloud providers build their infrastructure based on industry best practices that can be difficult for organizations to replicate on-premises. This makes it important to develop a strategy that focuses on securing your cloud environment while also leveraging its strengths and benefits.

Cloud computing meme

In this article, we will discuss how you can effectively secure your cloud environment by applying these best practices.

1). Take an inventory of what you are running in the cloud.

To protect your cloud environment, you should take inventory of what you're running. This will help you understand what your risks are and allow you to provide more effective network protection for your organization. It's important to note that cloud providers may not always be able to tell you what applications are running on your behalf. This is because they don't have direct access to your servers. But if they do provide this information, it's a best practice and use it to help you assess what needs to be secured.

Make sure you know where all of your data is stored—both on-premises and in the cloud. Cloud security shouldn't just be about protecting data while it's being transmitted over the network (i.e., in transit) but also about protecting it once it's been received by the cloud provider and stored on their servers (i.e., at rest). If that data is being held in multiple locations, such as both on-premises storage devices and within the cloud environment, there should be policies that determine how long each type of data can be retained before being deleted or moved elsewhere for long-term storage purposes (such as an archive).

2). Plan for disaster recovery and business continuity.

Cloud computing is based on the idea that you're accessing resources as a service, not owning them. When you use cloud provider services, you're renting infrastructure and other resources in order to run your applications. The benefit of this approach is that it's easier to scale up and down as your needs change, and it's often cheaper than buying all of the necessary hardware and software yourself. The downside is that you don't have as much control over your data or applications as you would if they were housed on the premises. That means that when there's an outage or service disruption, customers can be affected significantly—and sometimes even lose access to their data temporarily.

In a perfect world, everything would go perfectly all of the time (or at least most of the time). But there are still ways for things to go wrong — whether it's because of human error or system failure — so it's important to plan ahead so that when something does happen there aren't any major consequences for customers or businesses using your services.

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Hence, no matter how well-secured your systems are or how much redundancy

you have in place, there's always going to be a chance that something happens and takes down all of your systems at once. That's why it's important to plan for disaster recovery and business continuity as part of your overall security strategy for the cloud.

3). Identify and prioritize your most critical assets.

Identify and prioritize your most critical assets. It’s important that you prioritize your resources and identify the ones that are most critical to your business. This will help you determine what needs to be protected and what doesn’t. Get rid of any unnecessary applications and data before moving them into the cloud. Identify which assets are mission-critical for your business and then prioritize them by the level of risk. Create policies that reflect these priorities so that everyone knows what needs protecting first when an attack occurs.

Critical assets include anything that would cause significant harm or loss if they were compromised. Critical assets may be physical or virtual and can include:

  • Machines, applications, and databases (including data)
  • Systems and infrastructure components (such as firewalls)

4). Configure security groups, network access control lists, and firewalls to restrict access to your environment to known IP ranges.

To prevent unauthorized access to your environment, you should configure security groups and network access control lists (NACLs) when possible to restrict access to known IP ranges. NACLs provide stateful inspection for traffic that is allowed in, but not out of a network. They are stateful because they keep track of the state of traffic entering and leaving the network, and can block outbound requests from systems that were not allowed inbound.

If you don't have enough bandwidth or latency tolerance to support NACLs, use stateless firewall rules at the border routers of your cloud environment. Stateless firewall rules simply allow ingress packets based on their source IP addresses and ports. With this approach, you'll need more capacity because every ingress packet must be checked against each rule in order to determine whether it should be accepted or rejected.

If you are using a database service in the cloud, consider using a secure database instead of self-managed databases. This will ensure that all connections and data transfers between applications and the database are encrypted when they travel over public networks.

Implement logging services such as Splunk or LogRhythm that can be used to audit activity across multiple servers and applications running on them. You should also implement monitoring services like Nagios or New Relic that can monitor system performance metrics such as CPU load and disk space usage so you know if there is any abnormal activity happening within the system at any given point in time.

Once you’ve secured the network layer by locking down access, you need to look at the application layer. Applications running on top of Virtual Machines(VMs) are still applications running on top of VMs, so they need protection just like any other application. In most cases, this means using antivirus software or installing patches when they become available. It also means using intrusion detection systems that can monitor traffic coming into and out of your environment and alert you if something looks suspicious or malicious.

5). Use multi-factor authentication.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security to logins by requiring you to provide more than just a password when accessing your account. MFA can be implemented through one-time passwords (OTP) sent via SMS or generated by an app on your phone or device, or through tokens like RSA SecurID or YubiKey that generate a unique code every 30 seconds.

Enable two-factor authentication for all users with access to sensitive information and/or applications. If someone loses their device, they won't be able to access any business data until they get a new device and reauthenticate with two factors.

6). Lockdown consoles and configure multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Computer consoles should be locked down to only allow access to authorized users. You can do this by using the console's built-in features, or by using third-party solutions.

For more secure access to your Virtual Delivery Agent (VDA) hosts, desktops, and applications, use multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA can be implemented in multiple ways: as hardware tokens, mobile apps, or even soft tokens that are generated from software on the user’s hardware device (such as their mobile phone). If you are a developer and need to access the system programmatically, you can use Leapp to access it with multifactor authentication(MFA).

Leap

Leapp is a tool for developers to manage, secure, and access the cloud. All data is encrypted on your workstation—it's built with security in mind.

7). Implement logging and monitoring services.

Cloud providers typically offer logging and monitoring services that can help monitor activity within your virtual machine (VM) or application stack, as well as detect intrusions and unauthorized changes to configurations. These services can also identify which users are making changes, when they made them and where in the infrastructure they occurred. This information can help improve security by providing visibility into what's happening on your servers and applications — including what types of changes are being made, who's making them, how often they're occurring, and whether they're authorized or not.

8). Use a cloud provider-managed secure database instead of a self-managed one.

You should use a cloud provider-managed secure database instead of a self-managed one. Cloud providers offer a secure database service and built-in security features, including encryption and authentication. Self-managed databases, on the other hand, are more difficult to secure and have no built-in security features.

Cloud providers offer enterprise-grade databases that are managed by their teams and built on open source software. These tools make it easier for you to secure your data in transit and at rest by leveraging industry-leading security features. They also provide reliable logging tools that help monitor your environment so you can be confident about what's happening inside your network infrastructure. Cloud providers offer encryption services that protect customer data from unauthorized access while it’s traveling over public networks or stored in storage buckets within the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC).

9). Encrypt your data at rest and in transit.

Encrypt your data at rest and in transit. Encryption is a key security practice that should be implemented for all sensitive data. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) are the two most common types of encryption protocols used to secure online communications. While SSL/TLS ensures that your data cannot be read by anyone other than you, it does not protect against an attacker who has already gained access to the system where the data resides, such as a server. This means if someone has access to a network switch, they could potentially intercept traffic going through it even if it had been encrypted with SSL/TLS. To protect yourself from this type of attack, you should also encrypt backups of sensitive data and encrypt all network traffic between applications and users who need access to that information.

Another important consideration when securing cloud environments is protecting your applications themselves as well as any other assets such as images or JavaScript libraries used by those applications on CDNs (Content Delivery Networks). A WAF (Web Application Firewall) can help protect these assets from bots scanning for vulnerabilities in them using automated tools.

10). Implement a secure development lifecycle.

Cloud services are being developed more quickly than ever before, which makes it all the more important to have a formalized secure development lifecycle (SDL) in place. This includes following industry best practices such as regular code reviews and the use of automated testing.

Security testing should be performed at all stages of the software development lifecycle — not just at the end when everything is ready for launch! This means running penetration tests at different stages.

11). Leverage the cloud provider's shared security model.

In the cloud, security is a shared responsibility between you and your cloud provider. You don't have to worry about having enough staff to monitor your server or protect against attacks, because the provider does it for you.

The same is true for compliance issues such as HIPAA, SOX, and PCI DSS (payment card industry data security standard). The cloud provider handles these regulations for you as well.

That said, there are some things that you can do to help secure your environment:

  • Leverage the cloud provider's shared security model.
  • Use the tools provided by your cloud provider for monitoring and auditing.
  • Use these tools to ensure that third-party applications running on your servers are secure. If an application doesn't provide its own audit trail, ask your developer if they can enable one or use an open source tool like Splunk to see what is happening on your system at any given time.

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12). Limit administrative privileges.

Limiting administrative privileges is a fundamental security practice that can greatly reduce risks associated with an attacker gaining access to an account with elevated permissions. Organizations should limit access to administrative accounts as much as possible and carefully monitor the usage of those accounts by administrators. This can be achieved through the use of service-level agreements (SLAs), which set strict rules around how these privileged accounts should be used, monitored, and audited by organizations.

13). Use random, temporary credentials for authentication.

This practice is more important than ever in a public cloud environment where everyone has access to your resources. To secure all your credentials and remove the hassle of creating temporary credentials, it is highly recommended using the open source project called Leapp.

leap

Leapp provides Cloud credentials (based on user-defined policies) generation for various cloud service platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in just one click with an easy-to-use wizard interface that creates short-lived tokens and stores them securely in an encrypted vault on the OS system vault.

14). Use least privileged access.

Least privilege policies dictate which users should have what level of access to resources within an organization's infrastructure so that users do not have more permissions than needed for their job function and responsibilities. This approach helps mitigate risk by minimizing exposure to unauthorized actions, such as accessing confidential data or making unauthorized changes to infrastructure configurations or settings.

15). Monitor access.

Cloud providers often offer log analysis tools that can help you assess how well your security policies are working and what changes may be needed to improve them. You shouldn't rely on these tools alone, but they can provide valuable insight into the actions of users who have been granted access to sensitive data or systems.

16). Monitor networks for anomalous activity.

Cloud providers typically offer monitoring tools that allow you to see what's going on in your environment at any given time. Monitor activity on your network — both inside and outside your virtual private network (VPN) tunnel — for suspicious activity that could indicate an attack or unauthorized access attempt. You should also set up alerts if certain events occur, such as a high volume of login attempts or other abnormal behavior.

17). Protect against insider threats

Most cyberattacks come from within an organization rather than from external sources. To help protect against insider threats, enforce least privilege policies so that only those people with a need-to-know have access to sensitive data or systems. This can also include monitoring activity within the network by watching out for unusual behavior among employees and employees who may not be performing up to expectations.

18). Use shared responsibility models.

By sharing responsibility for security between multiple parties, companies can better protect themselves from threats across all layers of their infrastructure. This includes solutions like role-based access control (RBAC) and multifactor authentication (MFA). For example, RBAC allows administrators to create roles for different types of users with access privileges based on what they need to do their jobs. MFA adds another layer of protection by requiring users to enter a second form of authentication before they can log in or access sensitive data.

A shared responsibility model helps distribute the workload among multiple stakeholders instead of burdening one individual or department with all of it. This approach allows each stakeholder to focus on its area of expertise, making it easier for them to identify and address potential threats early on in the process.

19). Keep track of your accounts and credentials.

Companies often have multiple accounts for their cloud services — maybe one for sales and another for human resources — so it’s important to keep track of who has access to what accounts and where those accounts are being used. If an employee leaves the company or is fired, make sure they don’t have access to these resources anymore.

20). Identify and address vulnerabilities quickly.

The first step is to identify and address vulnerabilities quickly. This can be accomplished by using a vulnerability management solution that scans your cloud environment, identifies vulnerabilities, and alerts you when patches are needed. The second step is to secure data at rest and in transit using encryption. Encryption ensures that no one will be able to access your data without proper authorization, even if they have access to the storage system or network. You can also use encryption keys that enable users with the right credentials to decrypt data without having to decrypt it first.

It’s important to have a plan in place so that you can quickly update your apps, servers and other components of your system to prevent any malicious attacks or unauthorized access.

21). Ensure you have visibility into cloud data access.

By monitoring who has access to what information, you can detect inappropriate behavior before it becomes a problem. For example, if you notice someone requesting to view thousands of documents at once, or using an unusual amount of bandwidth, you'll know something is amiss and can take appropriate action.

Cloud providers offer a variety of tools for ensuring that only authorized users can access sensitive information. You should be able to see who's accessing what data at any given time and set restrictions on who can see certain information based on their roles within the organization or their business units. You might also consider implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA)— requiring users to enter the second piece of information after they've entered their password—to further restrict unauthorized access.

In addition, it's important that everyone understands how they're expected to use these tools so they don't inadvertently provide unauthorized users with access to sensitive information.

22). Remove unwanted traffic at the cloud gateways.

The next step in securing your cloud environment is to ensure that only authorized traffic is allowed into the cloud. The easiest way to accomplish this is by placing a firewall at each gateway from which you are connecting to the public Internet. This firewall will block all traffic except for those ports used by authorized applications and services, as well as by limiting access to your virtual servers with Access Controls Lists (ACLs).

23). Use network segmentation and isolation.

Another important security practice is to use network segmentation and isolation whenever possible. Segmentation means separating groups of users or applications from each other with firewalls or other security devices such as routers or load balancers; isolation means isolating those groups so that they cannot communicate directly with each other or with any other systems on your network without going through those security devices first. By doing so, you can better control which systems have access to what data, who can access what data, and where in your infrastructure an attacker might try to gain access if they managed to compromise one system on your network (through phishing scams or other social engineering attacks).

24). Maximize your security tools’ value through automation and orchestration.

As more organizations move workloads to the cloud, they are looking for ways to automate their security operations and management. Automation allows you to set up more granular policies for protecting your data in the cloud and also allows you to use your security tools more efficiently and effectively by reducing the time it takes to identify threats and respond to incidents. Orchestration will help you manage all of the moving parts involved in securing those resources and ensure that they’re operating correctly at all times and helps ensure that all components of your security strategy work together in concert.

25). Ensure that sensitive information is encrypted during transmission and storage.

If sensitive data is stored in plain text or transmitted over an open network without encryption, it could be exposed by hackers with access to network traffic or unauthorized users with privileged access to your systems. Encrypting data on disk or in transit protects against this kind of attack by making it difficult for attackers to read sensitive information even if they gain access to an unencrypted copy of it.

26). Guard against insider threats by managing permissions

In the cloud, it's easier than ever to make changes to user permissions—even if those changes aren't always necessary or appropriate. To ensure that you don't accidentally grant access to sensitive information, monitor who has access to what resources and revoke those permissions when they're no longer needed, and always make sure to use a combination of user, group, and role-based access controls to ensure that only the right people have access to the right resources.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some ideas about how to secure your cloud environment. Although no security measure is 100% effective against every type of threat, it's important to take a layered approach and ensure that your systems are as secure as possible at each layer. The most important thing is to never stop learning about new techniques or tools that could help protect your organization from cyber threats—the bad guys constantly find new ways to get into our systems!

Top comments (3)

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juergenbr profile image
Jürgen B.

This all sounds nice and cute until you have to roll out and scale it to a multi-cloud environment with hundreds of cloud accounts, >100k resources and thousands of employees relying on it every day. Addressing any one of those points can take months to years to properly implement in a production enterprise environment.

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parmcoder profile image
Possawat Sanorkam

I will try to read and understand it again. There are so many key terms that I am not used to. Thank you!

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patilganesh1010 profile image
Ganesh Patil

Well explain @pramit_marattha 💯✔

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