Security in a Cloud-Hybrid World

When an application and its data processing and storage can easily shift between geographic locations, organizations need to implement security systems to ensure they don't unknowingly violate a regulatory framework regardless of geography. \r\n

Dan Reis, SecurityNow Expert

July 9, 2019

5 Min Read

Organizations have clearly embraced the cloud to run major areas of their computing needs. As cloud adoption has progressed they have used it to increase their processing power by dispersing data center, hosted and local computing resources. Though this increase of cloud computing hasn't been a one-for-one replacement of traditional computing, it has provided organizations with the flexibility to increase their computing resources through an on-demand rapid deployment model that can deliver computing power at lower capital expenditure.

Within the sphere of traditional computing, organizations have substantial expertise in the deployment, configuration and maintenance of network, data and user security systems. A hybrid mixture that includes traditional data centers, on-premises devices integrated with public cloud service increases the complexity to deploy security in a consistent, contiguous manner across every computing environment. As application, data and user activity can dynamically move between environments, cloud adds stress to an organization's ability to track each element and continually maintain appropriate security.

Cloud providers secure their systems through a wide array of security technology with defined configurations. A cloud provider has a different set of requirements to protect their systems and customers than a client organization may have for their own applications, data and users. When an organization adds cloud computing as a part of their normal computing mix, they need to consider security systems that are currently in use. They also need to include the configuration and location of application processing and data storage as well as user access capabilities and policies. Organizations need to be sure that existing security can be consistent and effectively maintained across an entire computing spectrum, including their cloud instances. There are many characteristics unique to cloud computing. To secure systems, applications and data in the cloud one can't simply replicate their existing tools, products, security profiles and configurations into their cloud environment and expect the same security results.

Complying with local and global regulations is more complex with geographically dispersed computing and data storage. Security control mechanisms might not address all the necessary regulatory requirements when systems are sharing processing between local and cloud sites. An example issue to consider can be an application that spans different computing environments, even crossing borders. Since many states apply different data protection regulations and penalties, if a breach occurs, unnoticed compliance requirements can have far reaching and unexpected impact on an organization. When an application and its data processing and storage can easily shift between geographic locations, organizations need to implement security systems to ensure they don't unknowingly violate a regulatory framework regardless of geography. An organization can help contain the risk of regulatory exposure by utilizing visibility into and control of their entire security ecosystem across every computing environment. This can be helped by contractual agreements with a cloud supplier that define allowed geographic locations to run applications and store data to eliminate the risk of inadvertent breaches.

A cloud vendor will manage access to their cloud resource via various forms of access such as identity management along with permissions processed by a firewall or other systems used for access management. A cloud vendor's identity management and access policies will be more general and open to give a wide array of clients and client customers access to the cloud systems. They have to be more open because it's bad business for a them to inadvertently block a client, or their customer's access to a client's site. It's not a question of whether cloud vendors implement security, it's whether it addresses a client's unique security policies to deliver the protection they require. When dealing with a mixed environment, an organization should not assume that the policies and security systems a cloud vendor applies will meet their needs.

Having additional cloud security is the responsibility of a client. This will likely be a more granular set of rules for user access control to the client's applications and data. Because a cloud instance can be brought up easily and quickly by any department or individual within a company, it's more difficult to ensure each new instance meets established security protection levels. And a hybrid environment can make it easier to create gaps in security through misconfigurations, incorrect profiles and other elements across local and cloud systems. This includes web or other firewalls, identity management, intrusion detection, data loss prevention or other systems. And any gap can make it more difficult to meet protection requirements, impacting incident investigation by masking critical information that weaken and incident response. A client can address these areas by contracting with their cloud or another vendor to incorporate additional security tools and unique configurations for their cloud instances. Or they can configure and deploy their own security systems, policies and configurations into their cloud instances to address their unique security requirements.

Organizations need to ensure that they understand the unique characteristics of cloud so they create appropriate security rules and policies -- and when implementing security systems that they can achieve the same security protection as their dedicated computing for their cloud instances. It's crucial to be aware of the fundamental differences between securing cloud, where a deployed system runs in shared environment with unknown parties versus dedicated environments that organizations completely control. It helps to understand the differences between cloud and local system configuration and operations. This allows an organization to take advantage of the flexibility of cloud and its cost advantages without sacrificing security.

— Dan Reis, SecurityNow Expert

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