Cloud Workload Security: Should You Worry About It?

Cloud Workload Security

Should You Worry About It?

Cloud Workload Security: Should You Worry About It?

The threat model behind cloud workloads is certainly a new one, and very different from protecting assets on-premises. Effective cloud workload security provides improved visibility into the workloads you are running, allowing you to control and address issues immediately. It can even shield you against attacks that traditional solutions cannot address by employing advanced protection against threats.

According to a 2020 Cloud Computing Study done by the International Data Group (IDG), 92 percent of organizations have at least some of their IT environment in the cloud, and the total cloud workload is only expected to grow. This article discusses how cloud workload security works, common risks associated with cloud workloads, and steps to ensure the security of your cloud workload.

Cloud Usage, Containerization, and Cloud-Stored Data

Cloud computing makes use of a large bank of computer systems and resources shared among multiple users. These resources offer flexible computing power that can be accessed remotely, enabling easier collaboration and sharing of files between remote team members, as well as the ability to scale usage without needing to provision on-premises infrastructure. With IT needs evolving rapidly, modern companies now realize that migrating to the cloud not only makes sense from a flexibility standpoint but is essential for staying ahead of the competition. 

Containerization involves keeping all of the software and code that supports an application together in a virtual “container.” The container can be moved seamlessly between different development environments, and the code inside remains intact. Containerization makes cloud migration even more attractive to businesses because it means they don’t need to worry about encountering bugs when they change their cloud usage or migrate applications. While containerization is great for isolating workloads and keeping threats from spreading from one application to another, the isolation factor makes it difficult to deploy a security solution across multiple containers at once.

One of the biggest concerns with cloud usage is security. With the cloud comes a larger and differently structured attack surface compared to on-premises. Misunderstandings between cloud providers and users as to who is responsible for which aspects of security can also result in security gaps that leave cloud-stored data and applications vulnerable.

What Cloud Workload Security is & How It Works

An organization’s cloud workload is the total of all its computational work currently being done in the cloud. The focus of cloud workload security is to keep that workload secure, whether it relies on infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS). 

With on-premises IT infrastructure, securing workloads involves putting barriers between an organization’s network and the outside world. However, in a cloud environment, the goal is to have the workloads and applications accessible to users from anywhere and from any device. This requires a different approach. Good cloud workload security will provide visibility into the workloads, often via a single dashboard or interface that allows users to control and address any security-related issues and deploy needed security measures.

Security measures the cloud provider is responsible for versus security measures the user is responsible for varies depending on the type of cloud service and the provider in question.

  • With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), the cloud vendor usually provides the physical IT infrastructure; hence the user is responsible for network administration, operating systems, applications, data, and access.
  • With Platform as a Service (PaaS), the cloud provider offers a platform with  a secure infrastructure, though users may still be responsible for the security of applications they run on that platform as well as data and access. 

However, users should always check if their cloud providers outline a shared security responsibility model before making any final decisions regarding cloud security. This will detail exactly what security options your specific cloud provider will offer.

Risks of Cloud Workloads

While cloud providers tend to give their customers a fair amount of security, there are still risks of running cloud workloads. The major risks are as follows:

  • Data breaches: An unauthorized user gains access to your company’s data. 
  • Phishing & social engineering: A cybercriminal gains access to someone’s login credentials through some form of social trickery - by sending them a fraudulent link in from a spoofed email, for example. 
  • Insecure application programming interfaces (API) or user interfaces (UI): APIs and UI provide a significant vulnerability, which companies like Google have learned from experience. If either interface is not secure, a determined hacker can breach it.
  • System vulnerabilities: While the cloud doesn’t physically exist in your business, your machines and software that interact with cloud solutions can be exploited by bad actors who discover them.
  • Insecure account access: Not requiring strong passwords or multi-factor authentication can make account access insecure. Additional insecurity may arise if employees do not change their passwords often.
  • Bad actors within the organization: Members of the organization who have legitimate account credentials may log in and cause intentional damage.
  • Misunderstanding of shared security responsibility: This occurs when a user assumes the cloud provider is handling more of the security than they are and fails to protect vulnerabilities as a result.  
  • Shared technology vulnerabilities: Resources in the cloud are often shared among multiple users in the same organization. Because of this, an attack on one user can spread to others using the same shared technology.
  • Advanced persistent threats (APTs): High-level threat actors who gain undetected access over a long period with a very specific goal in mind can cause significant damage. These threats are usually motivated by political gain.
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks: A cybercriminal, often operating with a sophisticated botnet, sends multiple requests to a cloud service in short succession. This can cause downtimes that make it impossible for legitimate users to access the cloud workload.

Keep in mind this list of threats isn’t comprehensive, and new vulnerabilities may appear with time. It’s crucial that your IT team dedicates plenty of time to researching common threats for your chosen cloud solution, especially within your industry.

Steps to Ensure Cloud Workload Security

Ensuring cloud workload security is an ongoing process. You will not only need to secure everything as it is, but you will need to be able to monitor your entire network and update security features in the future. The following steps are a guideline for getting started:  

  • Use the principle of least access: Only give each user access to what they need to do their job and no more.
  • Deploy security solutions: Make sure you configure security solutions and install antimalware software on all devices that use cloud workloads.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication: Require more than just a username and password so that access is still prevented if login credentials are hacked. Mobile devices/applications are the most common method for this.
  • Ensure visibility: Make sure you have visibility into all corners of your cloud workload so that you can identify problems quickly if they occur. A security dashboard that provides access and insights into all parts of your cloud network in one place is ideal.
  • Implement end-to-end data encryption: End-to-end encryption means the data is secured from your device the moment it's sent and is only unencrypted when it arrives at a device with the correct encryption key. This will keep your data that is sent between devices secure at all times.
  • Encrypt with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates: Like end-to-end encryption, SSL encrypts data from when it leaves your server until it reaches the intended server. This protects sensitive information and keeps data secure between servers. 
  • File integrity monitoring (FIM): This allows you to detect any unauthorized file changes.
  • Use alerts: Set up your cloud monitoring solution so that the IT department's relevant members receive automatic alerts anytime something goes wrong.
  • Provide employee education: People tend to be the weakest link in cybersecurity in general. Make sure you educate employees about safety and procedures, including identifying and reporting phishing attempts and keeping their access credentials confidential.

Final Thoughts on Cloud Workload Security

Staying ahead of security threats in the modern threat landscape is challenging. At SoftwareONE, we designed our Cloud Workload Security service to meet these challenges by protecting your virtual servers in multi-cloud and hybrid environments, including Azure, AWS, and on-premises architectures. Our cloud security consultants work with you to find the right solution using a three-stage approach of protection, detection, and response. Contact us today to learn more.

Start Protecting Your Cloud Workload

Get in touch today and let our experts find the cloud workload security solution that’s right for you.

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Author

Bala Sathunathan

Bala Sethunathan

Director, Security Practice & CISO

Cybersecurity

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