August 11, 2022

Cloud Security Best Practices

Cloud security is one of the most important aspects of cloud computing. Read on to understand cloud security best practices your company should follow.

What Are Cloud Security Best Practices? 

Cloud security refers to the procedures that protect cloud-based systems. Cloud security best practices include the following:

  • Understanding the shared responsibility model
  • Enforcing policy and governance
  • Enacting an identity and access management system
  • Creating a strong password policy
  • Protecting your user endpoints

Cloud security best practices involve applying the proper security hygiene to your cloud infrastructure. It encompasses vulnerability scanning and the application of procedures like configuration checks to ensure the cloud is fortified against threats.

Cloud security best practices are necessary to establish a predictable, repeatable, and effective culture of security excellence in an organization. Below is a cloud security best practices checklist your organization should embrace.

Understanding the Shared Responsibility Model

In traditional, on-premises IT architecture, the organization that hosts the server(s) has sole responsibility and accountability for all aspects of the IT infrastructure. However, the shared responsibility model presents a collective approach to cloud security.

In this model, the responsibility for various aspects of IT security is shared between the cloud service provider (CSP) and their customer. The shared responsibility model represents a cloud security framework that depicts and differentiates the security tasks handled by the CSP and those handled by the customer.

Some of the security tasks divvied up by a shared responsibility model include the following:

  • Host infrastructure
  • Network controls
  • Middleware controls
  • Application-level controls
  • Identity and access management
  • Client and endpoint protection
  • Data classification and accountability

The share of responsibility held by the customer will depend on the type of cloud service category chosen. These service types are software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Generally, the responsibility model operates on a continuum, increasingly tipping in the direction of the CSP as it moves from SaaS to PaaS to IaaS. In other words, the customer’s responsibility diminishes as they migrate from SaaS to PaaS to IaaS.

Transitioning to a DevSecOps Model

Cloud operations have traditionally been the domain of DevOps. But in order to effectively integrate security into their cloud blueprint, organizations should expand their operations to DevSecOps.

A DevSecOps model creates a better alignment between InfoSec teams and DevOps practices. The DevOps model encourages developers to push batches of code frequently and in short time frames to the central repository. Unfortunately, this velocity typically outpaces the ability of InfoSec or quality assurance teams to review the code. 

To remedy this, DevSecOps is geared towards applying comprehensive security to DevOps environments. Therefore, implementing DevSecOps affords organizations the opportunity to establish security best practices throughout the software development life cycle, a growing trend that is commonly called “shifting left.”

The genius of the DevSecOps approach is automating the integration of security and quality control processes, from initial design, through testing, implementation, and delivery of the software product. The automation streamlines security operations and shifts security earlier into the lifecycle so it is more predictably applied and consistently monitored.

It features infrastructure-as-code with YAML files, allowing code to be scrutinized for misconfigurations and noncompliance issues.

Securing User and Device EndPoints

The cloud comes with many advantages but it has also increased the attack surface that hackers can exploit for vulnerabilities. As a result, one of the challenges encountered with cloud adoption is the rise in endpoints connected to it.

Because these endpoints serve as access points to corporate networks and cloud processes, it is imperative to harden and safeguard them. One of the effective ways to do this is by applying data loss prevention (DLP) measures to these endpoints.

Endpoint protection encompasses desktops, IoT, and mobile devices such as smartphones and laptops. Since endpoints are easily compromised by criminals due to the prevalence of risky activity on them, their protection enhances the overall security profile of the cloud environment.

Using Encryption and Signatures to Protect API Endpoints

Application program interfaces (APIs) are the most common endpoints used online for information exchange. APIs are the modern data interfaces through which most data exchange occurs and services communicate in the cloud. So, APIs need to be properly secured.

Therefore, encryption is paramount for APIs since they are a conduit through which most application data travels. In addition, APIs need to incorporate some form of authentication before a session is initiated. Furthermore, if your service gives out an API key, these should be hashed and salted.

Since REST APIs use HTTP, encryption can be applied using SSL/TLS. This allows authentication to occur while protecting API credentials from stolen authentication and man-in-the-middle attacks. In essence, all API requests and responses ought to be encrypted.

API security is also strengthened by the use of tokens.

Define Security Procedures and Policies

Companies are best served when they have formal guidelines to navigate their cloud security operations, like those highlighted below.

Formulate a Zero-Trust, Cloud-Specific Security Reference Architecture

The mechanisms required for protecting cloud environments are different from those needed for securing traditional on-premises IT infrastructures. Also, the requirements, processes, tools, and even the skill sets for cloud security are substantially different from traditional architectures.

Properly securing the cloud requires the application of zero-trust security instead of a parameter-based approach. Zero-trust is a perimeter-less security model that applies security policy based on context. Its major hallmark is the elimination of implicit trust. Therefore, it requires users, regardless of whether they are inside the organization’s network or not, to be authenticated and continually monitored.

By segregating mission-critical applications and assets with microsegments, zero-trust ensures workloads are strategically secured.

Design Procedures That Promote Visibility and Compliance

Data privacy is now attracting a lot of stringent regulatory scrutiny across national and regional boundaries. Globalization and the international reach of many SaaS products mean that regardless of where cloud servers are hosted, businesses must keep abreast of myriad data privacy laws such as HIPAA, CCPA, New York Privacy Act, GDPR, PCI DSS, and so on.

Comprehensive cloud security requires procedures that ensure organizations fulfill their compliance obligations. Non-compliance, especially in the case of a security breach, can result in expensive fines, lawsuits, loss of business and reputation. Overlapping laws and regulatory frameworks demand organizations to maintain cloud visibility into their practices.

Implement Adequate Change Management Features

The challenge of adding new entities into an existing system is inadvertently introducing vulnerabilities alongside these additions. Therefore, organizations should endeavor to take advantage of the change management protocols provided by their CSPs. Which means fostering a streamlined, concerted process of minimal disruption when, say, provisioning a new server, increasing workloads, or adding more sensitive assets into the mix.

The advantage of change management features and applications is that they also come with auditing capabilities. So, change management functionality can also act as an investigative tool to discern unusual behavior and monitor deviations from standard protocol.

Implementing Top-Grade Encryption

Cloud data should be encrypted when it is stored (at rest) and when it is in transmission. Encryption prevents unauthorized access to data, making it less useful to perpetrators if it's stolen or exfiltrated.

While cloud security protocols like Twofish will suffice for cloud security, the gold standard of encryption is AES-256. AES-128 encryption is also secure and virtually uncrackable.

Implementing Strong Password and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) Policies

In many ways, password protection is the low-hanging fruit of cloud security. However, this rudimentary aspect of security is frequently botched with weak password setup protocols. Strong passwords are crucial to cloud security. Stolen passwords and credentials are often the prelude to hijacked cloud accounts, ultimately leading to data breaches, compromised intellectual property, and unauthorized financial transfer requests.

Hackers leverage sophisticated social engineering and phishing attacks to bypass even the most stringent passwords. Oftentimes, cybercriminals employ advanced spear phishing attacks that evade spam filters because they are well-devised and well-targeted.

Therefore, cloud security best practices should embrace multi-factor authentication (MFA) as standard use in conjunction with passwords when accessing data, networks, and devices. So, in the event of stolen credentials, the criminals will still be unlikely to bypass the second gate of protection that MFA provides.

Cloud Identity and Access Management

One of the challenging aspects of cloud adoption is the need to effectively manage user identity. This is often difficult because it has to be done across several cloud services, more so when multi-cloud or hybrid environments are involved.

Moreover, access management also involves an array of entities like endpoints, IoT devices, and API communications. Identity and access management (IAM) facilitates the effective management of user and device access control.

IAM allows administrators to securely manage users, identities, and other entities with regard to their permissions and resources—at scale. It also ensures that users have the least amount of access and privileges needed to carry out their respective tasks.

Continuous Monitoring and Periodic Vulnerability Scanning

One of the important axioms in cybersecurity is the defender’s dilemma: Defenders need to be right all the time while hackers need to be right only once to breach a system. As a result, robust cloud security requires constant monitoring to detect anomalous account behavior or network activity.

Vulnerability management is used to identify threats and vulnerabilities across a business's cloud-native environment. It also does risk prioritization to determine threats that should be the immediate focus of remediation efforts. Vulnerability scanning helps detect potential threats like misconfigurations that can lead to data leaks. This is usually done in conjunction with penetration testing typically involving a team of white hat hackers.

Learn How Lightspin Will Help You Improve Your Cloud Security

In this era of mobility, cloud computing, remote work, and numerous endpoints, it has become imperative for organizations to adapt their cloud security accordingly. Lightspin understands cloud security because it has already built a comprehensive, graph-based cloud security solution.

Try Lightspin for free and discover how cloud security best practices are integrated into our solutions.


About Lightspin

Lightspin’s context-based cloud security empowers cloud and security teams to eliminate risks and maximize productivity by proactively and automatically detecting all security risks, smartly prioritizing the most critical issues, and easily fixing them. For more information, visit