How to Plan Your Cloud Security Architecture
Planning your cloud security architecture is not easy, partially because the cloud itself is complex. There are dozens if not hundreds of services and even more configuration possibilities. There are also different cloud providers. But the fact that it’s not easy doesn’t mean you’re doomed. In this post, you’ll learn some essential tips and tricks about planning your cloud security architecture.
What is Cloud Security Architecture?
First, we need to cover the basics. What does cloud security architecture cover? It seems like an easy question, but some aspects of cloud security architecture are often overlooked. For example, the fact that we’re talking about the cloud doesn’t mean there’s no hardware involved. With that in mind, let’s get back to the point. Cloud security architecture is a compilation of hardware and software technologies as well as processes that define how to protect workloads and data within your cloud platform.
The cloud is very different from on-premises environments. Therefore, reusing your existing security architecture for the cloud won’t work in most cases. Sure, you can use it as a starting point, but without adjusting to the specifics of the cloud, you’ll risk exposing your data and may fail to cover typical vulnerabilities.
By designing your cloud security architecture, you define how to secure your cloud environments, which tool and devices to use, what processes to follow, and how to make sure your security is cloud native. It’s a framework for you to follow and reference whenever talking about security in the cloud.
Planning Your Cloud Security Architecture
Now that you know what cloud security architecture is really about, it’s time to discuss how to start designing one for your company. Let me tell you straight away that there is no “one size fits all” solution. This is because there are many different services in the cloud, lots of cloud providers, and various cloud models. Therefore, the first step in designing your cloud security architecture is listing your requirements. You need to be clear about how you will use the cloud. Do you need a hybrid cloud model with tight integration into existing networks and systems? Or will it be a greenfield deployment where you can go straight for cloud-native security solutions?
Once you answer these questions, you can start defining the key points of your cloud security architecture.
We start with access management because changing how users authenticate to the system should be one of the first things you decide on. This is for two reasons. First, it would be unpleasant for users to change their accounts and passwords after they get set up in the cloud. Second, many other cloud security aspects will depend on access management, so it makes sense to tackle this one first.
For your architecture, it doesn’t matter what exact solution you choose for access management. Rather, you need to decide on a few key aspects. Will you integrate your cloud accounts into an existing access management solution? Or will you set up completely new, cloud-only accounts? Will you only allow access to cloud resources from your existing on-premises networks? Or will you implement a zero-trust security model and allow access from anywhere? What about SSO capabilities and multifactor authentication? These are the type of questions that you need to answer for your cloud security architecture when it comes to access management.
One of the most common reasons for security breaches in the cloud is the misconfiguration of cloud services. These days breaches aren’t so much the result of hacking but finding services exposed to the internet that shouldn’t be exposed. Something that isn’t a big deal in an on-premises environment can be a huge problem in the cloud. If you accidentally set access to a resource or data as “open to anyone” in an on-premises environment, the worst that would happen is that your whole company would be able to see it. It probably wouldn’t be accessible to outsiders. In the cloud, however, the same misconfiguration exposes data to the entire internet.
Therefore, good configuration management will help you minimize the risk. You need to decide who can deploy things and how in the cloud. Assuming that infrastructure as code practices is followed, you can decide on automated code scanning for your infrastructure configuration files to proactively detect misconfiguration. On top of that, you can implement a dedicated cloud security tool that will also scan your cloud resources for typical security issues.
Layering of Security
Another big difference between cloud and on-premises environments is the fact that the cloud usually has many more layers. This means that your cloud security architecture should be designed with layering in mind. A common mistake is to approach or “port” the security architecture from an existing on-premises design only to find out that while it covers and secures the basics, it leaves many cloud layers exposed.
For example, when you want to deploy an application in the cloud, you do not always deploy a server like you would on premises. You can if you want to, but you can also deploy an application on a Kubernetes cluster, for example, or directly as a container to one of the cloud-managed services. You might even deploy your application as a serverless function. All these options require different, specific security measures. Your server-based security won’t be effective here.
Real Time and Flexible
If there’s one thing that makes the cloud the cloud, it’s flexibility. You won’t have a centralized infrastructure team anymore to validate and approve each infrastructure request. Developers are able to create, configure, and destroy cloud resources themselves, usually with some sort of self-service capabilities. This means that your security architecture needs to be embedded or enforced no matter who created a resource or how. You can usually achieve this with policies set at the cloud level.
Designing the networking model for the cloud is arguably the most difficult part when it comes to cloud security architecture. Not because networking itself is so complicated but mainly because it’s hard to design secure but flexible networking. It’s easy to kill most benefits of the cloud with the wrong networking model.
For example, some companies like to treat cloud networks the same way as their on-premises networks, meaning that when they want to deploy something in the cloud, they need a subnet assigned from an on-premises networking range. This is because it’s easier that way, and you can reuse your existing networking security solutions. But this also means that you’ll usually get a very small subnet to work with, and sometimes the process of getting a subnet is slow and not automated. Such an approach can be frustrating and negate the flexibility and elasticity of the cloud.
But designing a good and secure cloud networking model isn’t impossible. You just need to treat the cloud differently from your on-premises networks and start clean. This, of course, doesn’t mean you can’t combine the two. You just need to do it the right way. Don’t be afraid to use cloud-native security tools and check if your physical network devices have any dedicated cloud features.
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” cloud security architecture. Some good practices for one company can be harmful to others. That’s because there are many different clouds as well as different cloud usage models to choose from. On top of that, company-specific needs and processes play a role here as well. Nevertheless, in this article, we provided you with some general advice to take into consideration. The cloud doesn’t need to be scary and can, in fact, be even more secure than your on-premises environments.
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