September 17, 2023 | By Ryan Felkel
One thing the IT security community should be recognized for is its willingness to share information and solutions. If you’re moving to the cloud — or interested in increasing your applications’ security, take advantage of that.
With each large-scale cyber-attack and every less-publicized strike, IT security professionals, app developers, vendors, and others in the IT services supply chain are working more closely with their customers ─ and with each other ─ to develop more robust cloud defenses. Existing vulnerabilities and emerging threats are being identified, fixes rolled out, and best practices developed and shared.
That’s been particularly true lately as many businesses have added or shifted IT resources to accommodate employees working remotely. In a rush to make these changes, many organizations find they may have weakened their IT security posture, opened themselves up to new vulnerabilities, or exposed existing vulnerabilities. While there’s no definitive checklist of those cloud security best practices, there are several to consider on the application development side, infrastructure, and process sides as you and your team work to strengthen your IT security.
1. Move from DevOps to DevSecOps
Implement DevSecOps — development security operations. Simply put, it’s about built-in security, not security that functions as a perimeter around apps and data, with app and infrastructure security integral parts of the entire app life cycle.
For example, when you do continuous testing, you include security testing. Constantly check apps for the proper use of IAM services, encryption, and other security processes built into the app. Make sure they all function correctly. After staging and deploying an app in the cloud, maintain a security focus throughout the continuous operations phase. Review operations of IAM and encryption within the apps, data storage, and the platforms to ensure all protections are active and functioning correctly.
2. Cover App Security Basics
Make sure to address these basic app security concepts: authorization, auditing/logging, confidentiality, and integrity. Authorization controls resources, such as files and databases, that an authenticated user has permission to access. Access can be for the whole resource, part of it, or none of it. Auditing and logging guarantees that a user’s actions are recorded, which allows for identifying usage patterns that may signal a breach so defensive action can be taken. They’re also crucial for compliance or other legal purposes.
Confidentiality is the process of making sure data remains private and ensuring it can’t be viewed by unauthorized users or eavesdroppers monitoring network traffic flow. Use encryption to enforce confidentiality whenever data is at rest or moving within a system.
Integrity refers to measures to ensure the accuracy and consistency (validity) of data over its lifecycle. Recommended practices include input validation to preclude entering invalid data, error detection/data validation to identify errors in data transmission, and security measures such as access control, encryption, and data loss prevention.
3. Implement Vulnerability Scanning
Integrate vulnerability scanning into the CI/CD process. Ensure code is checked for vulnerabilities at every major stage of the delivery pipeline, from when it’s written to deployment into production. Ensure the parties responsible for the different pipeline stages possess the necessary tools and training for detecting code issues.
Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is often recommended to detect vulnerabilities in proprietary code, while SCA tools are preferred for detecting and tracking all open source components in an organization’s codebase.
4. Utilize Runtime Protection
Integrate runtime protection across the CI/CD pipeline as well to protect apps from threats when they start running. At a minimum, monitor apps for unusual behavior that could signal a breach. Have a process in place to identify variables or configuration settings could create security vulnerabilities in runtime.
5. Think Specific as Well as General
Use security measures that protect against specific types of attacks. For example, well-configured Content Security Policy (CSP) headers can defend against XSS attacks and other attempts to bypass same-origin policy. Enforcing strong passwords can help secure sensitive data and prevent data breaches caused by unauthorized access. On an operational level, use DDoS mitigation services to help ward off DDoS attacks.
6. Leverage Container/Service Management Security Features
Make sure to use the security features that orchestration tools and service meshes provide. These tools act as highly scalable layers of insulation between containers and the outside world and can take care of tasks like authentication, authorization, and encryption. They’re designed for automation from the ground up.
Determine if you need to enable them or configure them. For example, Kubernetes’ role-based access configuration (RBAC) should be a key element of DevSecOps but isn’t enabled by default.
7. Go Beyond Security
Include data protection, backup, and recovery as part of your cloud security plan. Fostering a secure environment and apps with built-in security doesn’t mean a cyber attacker can’t find a way to at least slow down operations or corrupt the data. Proper data protection, backup, and recovery tactics can help ensure that if your cloud security doesn’t stop an attack, the data and apps you need most will still be accessible and usable.
8. Embrace Compliance Standards
If you’re considering procuring cloud services from a CSP, opt for those certified to meet PCI DSS requirements or that are audited regularly for HIPAA compliance ─ even if your organization isn’t in an industry that requires compliance with those standards. PCI- and HIPAA-compliant cloud environments employ infrastructure and processes that enable them to meet very stringent security requirements. That translates into a more secure cloud environment.
If your organization is subject to regulatory requirements, make sure it complies. Many regulations, government mandates, and industry standards entail meeting rigorous technical requirements for data security and privacy. If your organization is in compliance, there’s a good chance it has substantial defenses in place to mitigate cyberattacks. Keep in mind that requirements change, so compliance isn’t a one-time thing.
9. Stay on the Defensive
Up-to-date firewalls, ad-blockers, script-blockers in browsers, and email security products can block known malicious senders and strip known malicious attachment file types. Employ whitelisting to prevent software downloads. Isolation “sandboxing” technologies can prevent the download and execution of ransomware from phishing links, web drive-bys, and watering hole attacks.
If you don’t have the expertise to monitor and update your defenses, consider using a managed services provider to take on the responsibilities. Also, consider opting for managed security services from your CSP or a third-party IT security vendor. You’ll be able to cover all endpoints and potential vulnerabilities better.
Bonus: Managed security usually means access to the latest and greatest security technologies without upfront capital expenditures or the need for in-house security expertise. Because the service provider handles the monitoring and management of your IT security, your IT staff and resources are freed up for other endeavors.
10. Never Let Your Guard Down
Accept there’s no such thing as a 100% secure cloud environment. When you assume your cloud environment is impenetrable, it’s easy to become lax about cloud security best practices, regular audits, employee security awareness training, and other elements. Cyber thieves count on this.
New cyber threats are constantly emerging and others evolving. What protects against them today may not work against what they’ll morph into next month. Working with a CSP or managed security company that stays on top of the latest threats is essential. But it’s equally essential for your IT staff to keep pace with what’s happening on the security front as well. Follow a few blogs written by trusted security experts or cloud companies. Attend IT security webinars. Take advantage of the information provided by vendors and technology partners.
Partner with Opti9
The CSP you choose to work with can also affect the robustness of your cloud and app security—and your peace of mind. That’s why you may want to consider Opti9. Our cloud solutions are designed to prevent data loss and corruption via multiple built-in security levels that extend to the edge. Likewise, our app development services integrate security throughout the entire app lifecycle.
And if the AWS cloud is where you are or want to be, Opti9 is certified to use the AWS Well-Architected Tool to review the state of your workloads and assess them against the latest AWS architectural best practices. Contact us today to find out how we can help.