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Cloud Security Monitoring and Management: A Concise Overview

You need not be a cybersecurity expert to realize that cloud security monitoring and management are important. In an age of never-ending cloud security breaches, even the most out-of-touch IT organizations recognize the crucial role that monitoring and management play in securing the cloud environments on which businesses depend.

Yet what is challenging for many teams is understanding exactly what goes into cloud security monitoring and management. Cloud security monitoring is not simply a service that you can turn on, then declare victory in the race for cloud native security. Nor is cloud security management something you achieve by merely deploying a tool or hiring a certain type of expert.

Instead, cloud security monitoring and management are multi-faceted affairs that take different forms in different organizations. You must tailor them to your cloud’s unique architecture and workloads.

Perhaps the most efficient way to approach cloud security monitoring and management is to break the processes down in terms of the different types of workloads and processes that factor into them. This article does that by walking through the key concepts and resources that lay the foundation for cloud native security and explaining which best practices to follow when working with each one.

IAM Management

Most cloud environments use Identity and Access Management (or IAM) frameworks to manage access control and permissions for cloud workloads. By creating IAM roles and policies, organizations can define who should be able to do what within their cloud environments. In other words, IAM governs who can create a virtual machine, who can access data stored in an object storage bucket, and so on.

Because of the central role that IAM plays in cloud access control, scanning IAM configurations for possible vulnerabilities is one key step in overall cloud monitoring and management. Your team may accidentally create an IAM policy that makes a storage bucket accessible to anonymous users, for instance, or that gives someone the ability to create new virtual machines when he or she should only be able to view VMs that already exist.

Using cloud security posture management (or CSPM) tools, organizations can automatically scan IAM configurations for vulnerabilities like these, then alert admins to insecure settings so that they can address them before they enable a breach.

Network Configurations

Cloud environments typically rely on complex networking configurations that define which workloads can communicate with which other workloads. Network settings also define which cloud resources are accessible from the Internet, and which ones are only viewable by authenticated users who log into the cloud environment.

As with IAM policies, it’s easy when configuring cloud networks to make mistakes that could enable or exacerbate a security incident. You could enable connectivity between Virtual Private Clouds (or VPCs) that allows communication between applications that should be isolated, for example, or you may configure a cloud-based VM to run a service using a default port, which makes it easier for attackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities related to the service.

Automatically and continuously scanning network configurations helps to find and remediate these risks and prevent breaches before they occur.

Network Traffic Monitoring

In addition to scanning network configurations, you should also scan your cloud network traffic to detect signs of malicious activity. Network logs can reveal malicious actions like port scans. They could also surface communication between workloads that you intended to isolate, but which are able to communicate due to a configuration issue.

Cloud Audit Logging

Most cloud providers provide facilities for creating audit logs. Audit logs systematically record changes in your cloud environment, such as the creation of new resources or changes to a configuration. They also record who or what made the change.

By monitoring this data, you can detect patterns that could be signs of a breach or attempted breach, such as the creation of unauthorized workloads or the modification of IAM policies.

Because cloud providers’ native cloud audit logging services usually work only within their respective clouds and only with individual user accounts, you should centralize and consolidate audit logs from across all of your cloud environments and accounts in order to monitor audit log data as efficiently as possible.

Cloud Performance Monitoring

In addition to audit logging, cloud providers allow you to log and monitor a variety of other metrics from your workloads. The exact metrics vary from one type of cloud service to another, but they all provide visibility into the state and health of the service.

Although the main purpose of this data is to help teams manage cloud performance, it also plays a role in cloud security management by providing another opportunity to identify anomalies that could reflect security issues. For instance, a sudden spike in resource consumption by an application (or the cloud infrastructure hosting that application) that can’t be explained by an increase in legitimate demand could be a sign of a DDoS attack or infection by malware that performs resource-intensive activities, like crypto mining.

The point here is that, while you likely already use cloud performance monitoring data to keep your cloud workloads operating reliably and efficiently, you should also incorporate that data into cloud security monitoring and management.

Securing Containers in the Cloud

Although every type of cloud service introduces its own set of security challenges, perhaps no category of cloud workload is as complex from a security perspective as containers. Containers represent an ecosystem unto themselves, which requires teams to address an array of different types of container security risks. You must scan container images for malware and vulnerabilities. You have to secure your container orchestration system by deploying secure configurations. You need to monitor the container runtime environment for signs of an active breach.

The specifics of container security vary depending on which type of cloud container service you are using. Securing Kubernetes is different from securing a container service like AWS ECS, for instance. But regardless of which configuration you are working with, the key is to treat container security as a challenge in its own right and deploy tools that are specifically designed to recognize and remediate threats to container security.

Cloud Storage Monitoring

Security threats to data that you store in the cloud (whether it’s in a database, a storage bucket, a storage volume, or somewhere else) can be addressed by many of the cloud security monitoring practices we’ve already covered, such as IAM scanning and audit logging.

However, one additional type of security issue that you should manage when working with cloud storage is the potential presence of sensitive data in places where it should not exist. For example, personally identifiable information (or PII) that is stored in the cloud may be subject to certain security mandates imposed by regulatory frameworks, like the GDPR or CPRA. Although these mandates don’t ban you from storing sensitive data in the cloud, they do require you to implement certain types of privacy and security protections.

Toward that end, it’s important to “know your data” by assessing the actual contents of information you store in the cloud. Cloud providers offer some services (like AWS Macie) that are designed to identify sensitive data in cloud storage, but you can gain deeper visibility by deploying third-party tools that can scan storage across multiple clouds.

Multicloud and Hybrid Cloud Security

On that note, it’s important to recognize that the vast majority of organizations today use multiple clouds at the same time, and/or use a hybrid architecture that combines public cloud resources with those hosted on-premises or in a private data center.

These configurations require a cloud security monitoring and management strategy that can work efficiently across any type of environment. Generally, this means leveraging tools that are not dependent on a specific cloud. Security monitoring and management tools should also be able to ingest and analyze data that is structured in multiple ways, because different clouds may produce different types of log files and different metrics.

Build Your Unique Cloud Monitoring Strategy

Every cloud security monitoring and management strategy is unique because it must be tailored to the specific workloads and configurations that it protects. But all cloud native security operations rely on a common set of data sources and analytics practices to prevent, identify, and respond to threats. From scanning IAM and networking configurations, to monitoring cloud networking and performance data, to securing sensitive cloud storage data and beyond, cloud security management requires a multi-pronged approach to finding and remediating the many types of security risks that can arise in cloud environments.