Moving to the cloud with a security-first, zero trust approach

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Many companies tend to jump into the cloud before thinking about security. They may think they’ve thought about security, but when moving to the cloud, the whole concept of security changes. The security model must transform as well.

moving to the cloud

Moving to the cloud and staying secure

Most companies maintain a “castle, moat, and drawbridge” attitude to security. They put everything inside the “castle” (datacenter); establish a moat around it, with sharks and alligators, guns on turrets; and control access by raising the drawbridge. The access protocol involves a request for access, vetting through firewall rules where the access is granted or denied. That’s perimeter security.

When moving to the cloud, perimeter security is still important, but identity-based security is available to strengthen the security posture. That’s where a cloud partner skilled at explaining and operating a different security model is needed.

Anybody can grab a virtual machine, build the machine in the cloud, and be done, but establishing a VM and transforming the machine to a service with identity-based security is a different prospect. When identity is added to security, the model looks very different, resulting in cost savings and an increased security posture.

Advanced technology, cost of security, and lack of cybersecurity professionals place a strain on organizations. Cloud providers invest heavily in infrastructure, best-in-class tools, and a workforce uniquely focused on security. As a result, organizations win operationally, financially, and from a security perspective, when moving to the cloud. To be clear, moving applications and servers, as is, to the cloud does not make them secure.

Movement to the cloud should be a standardized process and should use a Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE) or Cloud Business Office (CBO); however, implemented within a process focused on security first, organizations can reap the security benefits.

Shared responsibility

Although security is marketed as a shared responsibility in the cloud, ultimately, the owner of the data (customer) is responsible and the responsibility is non-transferrable. In short, the customer must understand the responsibility matrix (RACI) involved to accomplish their end goals. Every cloud provider has a shared responsibility matrix, but organizations often misunderstand the responsibilities or the lines fall into a grey area. Regardless of responsibility models, the data owner has a responsibility to protect the information and systems. As a result, the enterprise must own an understanding of all stakeholders, their responsibilities, and their status.

When choosing a partner, it’s vital for companies to identify their exact needs, their weaknesses, and even their culture. No cloud vendor will cover it all from the beginning, so it’s essential that organizations take control and ask the right questions (see Cloud Security Alliance’s CAIQ), in order to place trust in any cloud provider. If it’s to be a managed service, for example, it’s crucial to ask detailed questions about how the cloud provider intends to execute the offering.

It’s important to develop a standard security questionnaire and probe multiple layers deep into the service model until the provider is unable to meet the need. Looking through a multilayer deep lens allows the customer and service provider to understand the exact lines of responsibility and the details around task accomplishment.

Trust-as-a-Service

It might sound obvious, but it’s worth stressing: trust is a shared responsibility between the customer and cloud provider. Trust is also earned over time and is critical to the success of the customer-cloud provider relationship. That said, zero trust is a technical term that means, from a technology viewpoint, assume danger and breach. Organizations must trust their cloud provider but should avoid blind trust and validate. Trust as a Service (TaaS) is a newer acronym that refers to third-party endorsement of a provider’s security practices.

Key influencers of a customer’s trust in their cloud provider include:

  • Data location
  • Investigation status and location of data
  • Data segregation (keeping cloud customers’ data separated from others)
  • Availability
  • Privileged access
  • Backup and recovery
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Long-term viability

A TaaS example: Google Cloud

Google has taken great strides to earn customer trust, designing the Google Cloud Platform with a key eye on zero trust and its implementation of the model BeyondCorp. For example, Google has implemented two core concepts including:

  • Delivery of services and data: ensuring that people with the correct identity and the right purpose can access the required data every time
  • Prioritization and focus: access and innovation are placed ahead of threats and risks, meaning that as products are innovated, security is built into the environment

Transparency is very important to the trust relationship. Google has enabled transparency through strong visibility and control of data. When evaluating cloud providers, understanding their transparency related to access and service status is crucial. Google ensures transparency by using specific controls including:

  • Limited data center access from a physical standpoint, adhering to strict access controls
  • Disclosing how and why customer data is accessed
  • Incorporating a process of access approvals

Multi-layered security for a trusted infrastructure

Finally, cloud services must provide customers with an understanding of how each layer of infrastructure works and build rules into each. This includes operational and device security, encrypting data at rest, multiple layers of identity, and finally storage services: multi-layered, and supported by security by default.

Cloud native companies have a security-first approach and naturally have a higher security understanding and posture. That said, when choosing a cloud provider, enterprises should always understand, identify, and ensure that their cloud solution addresses each one of their security needs, and who’s responsible for what.

Essentially, every business must find a cloud partner that can answer all the key questions, provide transparency, and establish a trusted relationship in the zero trust world where we operate.

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October 21, 2020