The complete guide to cloud security management

date: 9 May 2023
reading time: 18 min

In recent years, cloud-based services have come a long way. Their evolution has brought them to the forefront of the digital world which now embraces the digital cloud with open arms. Learn more about cloud security management.

With Cloud Computing, it is no longer a question of If, but rather When and How. Offering the transformative power of connected systems, cloud computing technologies – cloud systems – enable alignment of the digital transformation and cybersecurity ambitions with the corporate strategy of an enterprise.
Ludmila Morozova-Bussva

Regardless of their industry, geographical location or financial turnover, companies of all shapes and sizes have adopted cloud-based strategies to help propel their business into the digital world.

While undoubtedly beneficial in many ways, the cloud does have its risks. Organisations who wish to successfully navigate these potential pitfalls must do everything in their power to ensure that they not only fully understand the risks involved, but that they put measures in place to mitigate them as effectively as possible.

Successful cloud security management is the key to utilising the cloud for companies to ensure that their data, applications and operations are safe, secure and efficient. In this comprehensive guide, we will look more closely at everything involved in cloud security management, the risks involved, and how best to approach it.

What is cloud security management?

Cloud security management refers to the process of managing aspects of a cloud environment, such as the security of data and the security of services that are all within a cloud environment. It encompasses everything from the tools, processes and roles which all work together to manage and oversee cloud security.

Cloud security management is usually done in-house by the company itself, led by a cloud security manager. Companies can also utilise AI in their cloud security to enhance the capabilities of their processes and strengthen their security defences.

There are a number of key functions that effective cloud security management covers, such as giving organisations the tools they need to utilise their technologies to their fullest, while simultaneously minimising any security threats and vulnerabilities, and at the same time offering a secure and efficient infrastructure.

What are the most common cloud security threats today?

Crowdstrike’s 2022 Global Threat Report highlighted a number of concerning statistics that are a threat to cloud security.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

Security is extremely important when working in the cloud as all the data and applications that a company use are stored in remote data centres. This physical infrastructure is entirely maintained by the cloud service provider. Storing this data in on-premise servers as opposed to public data centres can be an effective way to protect data, although, these days cloud service providers have huge teams of people to manage the security of their physical infrastructure, making them a great choice when it comes to data security. Regardless of which direction companies choose to go, good cloud security management is crucial.

There are many threats to cloud infrastructure around today, including:

  • Zero-day exploits – These threats target vulnerabilities in commonly found operating systems and software that haven’t been patched by the vendor which allows the attacker to gain a foothold within the environment.
  • Advanced persistent threats – These are highly sophisticated and sustained cyberattacks wherein the intruder gains an undetected presence within a network for a period of time. The attacker may gain entry using a ‘zero-day exploit’ attack but remain in the system undetected for a long period of time, gaining access to customer data.
  • Insider threats – An attack coming from within the organisation itself, these threats are posed by employees who already have direct access to the systems and exploit this by stealing IP, business documents, company policies and any other sensitive data.
  • Ransomware – This is a common attack that involves a malware that prevents you from being able to access your device and the data stored on it. Commonly, the perpetrator of the attack then demands a ransom to be paid in exchange for unblocking the data and decrypting the files.
  • Social engineering attacks – These attacks typically involve some form of a level of psychological manipulation that fools unsuspecting users into divulging confidential information or other sensitive data.
  • Cyberattacks – This very common type of threat is an attempt by hackers to alter, steal, destroy or otherwise expose a company’s information. There are many different types of cyberattacks, including:
    • Malware
    • Phishing
    • DoS
    • DDoS
    • SQL Injections
    • IoT

For any unauthorised individual to gain access to any part of a company’s system, the consequences can be fatal. With cloud computing being a significant risk to a company’s security, an effective cloud security management process, led by a competent cloud security manager, must be in place to reduce these potential risks to the company and its data.

What does a cloud security manager do?

A cloud security manager is the lead member of the internal or external cloud security management team. Their job is to manage all aspects of the business’s cloud security to ensure that the integrity of the company’s data and sensitive information is maintained in the cloud at all times, runs efficiently and without issues, and is protected from unauthorised threats.

Here is a typical breakdown of the role and responsibilities of a cloud security manager:

  • To develop, implement and maintain all cloud security policies and procedures.
  • To create and implement a security baseline and manage the cloud security controls across all cloud environments.
  • To create a benchmark of best practices and recommendations to increase cloud security.
  • To create a risk registry that the security team can use to identify potential risks, their impact, and other possible consequences.
  • To oversee ‘red vs blue team’ activities which test the cloud security defences to help the company strengthen any weak areas.
  • To manage the security operation centre.
  • To lead education and training in security practices and procedures.
  • To stay at the cutting edge of cloud security innovation and implement relevant practices into the company’s operations.
  • To communicate potential security risks and their solutions to the company’s stakeholders.
  • To ensure that all cloud infrastructures comply with the relevant legislation.
  • To continuously evaluate the effectiveness of all security systems and processes.

Understanding the risks and challenges of cloud security

It is an unfortunate reality that it is simply impossible to eliminate all risks in any given situation, and this is never more true than for the risks incurred when operating in the cloud. Cloud security management seeks to manage and reduce risks as much as possible, and the best way to go about this is to know and understand what the possible risks are and what challenges you may face so you can prepare ahead of time to reduce their effects.

Here are four common risks that companies face:

  1. Human errors – According to Gartner, as of 2025, 99% of cloud security failures will be down to some kind of human error. It is impossible to eliminate human error completely because we are, well, human. Hosting resources within the cloud tends to magnify these risks through the ease of making changes or misusing tools without being aware of the potential damage to data security.
  2. Data breaches – Companies open themselves up to the risk of data breaches through cloud misconfiguration and a lack of runtime protection. Hackers target data-rich companies in order to extract sensitive information to sell on the dark web, making this data extremely valuable. It could also be used to tarnish a company’s reputation, manipulate its stock price or even demand a ransom.
  3. Unmanaged attack surfaces – A company’s ‘attack surface’ refers to the sum parts of a company’s operations and data that are vulnerable to attack. As companies add more and more microservices to their operations, without the correct close management procedures applied, they expose their infrastructure to further attacks that are very hard to predict.
  4. Misconfigurations – Most companies add more services to their cloud environment over time. As these services grow, so do the cloud settings. The default settings for the various services don’t always stay the same, especially if the company is using multiple cloud service providers. These changing configurations make it tricky for businesses to keep track of their settings and the miniature of changes and tweaks that were previously made. Having incorrect or non-optimal settings exposes companies to security risks.
Through 2024, the majority of enterprises will continue to struggle with appropriately measuring cloud security risks.

There are also a number of challenges that companies face when addressing their cloud management security. There is a distinct gap between theory and practice, so companies must know what challenges they are likely to face and understand how they can overcome them.

Here are four common challenges companies may run into:

  1. Cloud security skills – Traditional security models used in data centres are not suitable for the cloud. Therefore, cloud security managers must learn new skills and alternative strategies that are specific to cloud computing. Poor planning and a lack of skills open a company up to misunderstandings, errors, downtime and increased costs, as well as being a very obvious security risk.
  2. IAM (Identity and access management) – The more staff members who need access to a system, the more vulnerable the system is. Managing all of the necessary permissions is a massive task, so IAM is definitely a challenge that any company needs to be aware of.
  3. Shadow IT – Shadow IT can be a huge challenge simply because it’s so difficult to manage. Individual staff members can quickly spawn workloads using their own accounts that are completely untraceable to the company, and therefore, very difficult to defend against. These assets may not be secured properly, they may not be accessed via default passwords, and they are undoubtedly at risk.
  4. Compliance in the cloud – There are many regulations for cloud services such as HIPAA and PCI DSS that organisations have to adhere to. In order to ensure this compliance, companies may choose to limit access to what users can and can’t do when they gain access to the system. If these access control measures are not put in place, the company and its operations are subject to risk.

The importance of a comprehensive cloud security strategy

Having not just a cloud security strategy in place, but rather, a comprehensive cloud security strategy, is essential. Much too often, companies place their full trust in the cloud service provider’s ability to keep their cloud environment secure, but this isn’t always the case.

Cloud service providers (CSPs) don’t always understand the risks that are associated with their customer’s data and systems, and as such, they have no visibility into the components of their individual ecosystems.

Having a comprehensive cloud security strategy picks up the CSPs’ slack and ensures that the company takes ownership of their own security management, and reduces their risks of attack and any potential damages that may occur.

Companies should not merely assume that cloud service providers ‘have it covered’ when it comes to cloud security. While they do have security effectively managed when it comes to the physical aspects, the end-user and customer layers are not covered (unless they are under the umbrella of SaaS layers).

Best practices for securing data and systems in the cloud

Effective cloud security combines a multitude of different strategies, processes and solutions. For example, fostering a culture of education and awareness of the possible cloud security risks and providing regular training on how to mitigate them is a must for any modern company.

In addition, understanding the security tools and limitations of your cloud service provider and having a series of robust processes in place to monitor the settings and configurations is an absolute necessity for any discerning organisation.

Here are some more best practices to take on board to ensure your data and systems are secured effectively in the cloud.

Security consultancy

To effectively manage their cloud security, companies can hire security consultants to help them. These consultants can help build effective security defences to their security operations in the cloud and help to identify any problem areas that need to be strengthened. This takes some of the workload off the company itself and helps them to redirect resources into other areas that will benefit their operations more.

3rd party penetration tests

Companies can work with a 3rd party organisation to help them improve their cloud security. These collaborators can test their security defences by probing their cloud network to identify any weaknesses that may otherwise be exploited by attacks. Once identified, companies that then build up their security in these areas, leaving them better protected.

Access control and user authentication in the cloud

Most cloud providers will have their own security measures to ensure that the users’ accounts are safe and secure. However, no matter how good the CSP’s protection means are, the company is still responsible for ensuring that each of their employees’ accounts is secure.

One highly effective way to reduce the risk of users’ accounts becoming compromised is to implement a two-factor authentication (2FA/ MFA) in order to access the relevant systems. By introducing this extra layer of security, companies reduce the risk of user accounts becoming compromised.

These multifactor authorisations are even going a step further through the use of biometric authentication. With the concept of people being the ‘key/password’, biometric authentication (e.g. fingerprints, retinal scanners and so on) are part of the huge drive for personal keys or certificates for users with higher permission roles. This cutting edge development in security will be hugely important as we move into the future.

As well as managing how users gain access to the cloud environment, it is also important for companies to effectively manage each individual user’s access privileges. Unless working for a very small company, most users will not require access to all of the organisation’s data that is stored in the cloud, so an effective security measure is to limit this access to only the data and systems that the individual will need to use to successfully carry out their job.

By compartmentalising the users’ access, companies reduce the risk not only of one compromised account providing access to the entire organisation’s database, but also it reduces the risk of insider threats from any rouge employees.

Having clear and defined security processes in place to manage user access and controls can help companies to stay on top of who has access to what information, allowing them to grant and revoke access quickly and effectively, and retain full oversight.

Compliance and regulatory considerations for cloud security

Cybersecurity must be compliant with a number of standards, regulations and laws in order to make sure that it protects customers’ data in a satisfactory manner. These laws and regulations provide the framework guidance for organisations to secure this data, without which, the organisation risks huge sums of money (not to mention its reputation and integrity) in case of a data breach.

Below are come common cloud security standards and memberships:

  • ISO-27001 / ISO-27002 – ISO-27001 holds identification for ISMS (information security management systems) and ISO-27002 defines the control that is put in observation with ISO-27001.
  • ISO-27017 – This standard provides guidelines for companies on how they should approach their cloud security in a systematic and dependable manner.
  • CSA STAR – The Cloud Security Agency (CSA) is a 3rd party organisation that helps to define best practices in cloud computing to ensure a more secure cloud environment. STAR (Security, Trust, Assurance, and Risk) is a free and publicly accessible registry where cloud providers can publish their CSA assessments.
  • CISSP – CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) is the gold standard of security certifications. It assesses company’s planning, creation and management of their total security posture.
  • CISA – The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for strengthening cybersecurity and infrastructure protection.
  • CISM – The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is a certification that proves an organisation’s capabilities in the areas of information security incident management, information risk management, information security governance, and information security program development and management.

It is not only a ‘good idea’ to meet these regulations, it is mandatory.

Most of the big players in cloud computing already align themselves with the most common compliance requirements. However, as these regulations are very often geographically specific, it is essential that individual companies understand and actively maintain their own security and data services to ensure that they are compliant. Given the continuously ever-changing cloud environments, it is important for companies to carry out regular compliance audits.

Incident response and disaster recovery in the cloud

No matter how well-prepared you are, incidents will happen. As well as having measures in place to defend against attacks, companies must also have solid processes to respond to incidents in order to mitigate their effects, and to recover their data and systems in case of a ‘worst case scenario’.

The quicker companies react to a data breach or attack the better. The longer the threat remains in your cloud environment, the more damage can be done as it will have the chance to extract more data and sensitive information.

In order to react to any incidents quickly and effectively, it is a good idea for companies to have a security incident management process in place. This is where the security operations centre (SOC) and security information and event management (SIEM) comes in. SIEM involves combining software products and services with security information management and security event management to provide real-time analysis of security alerts that are generated by network hardware and any applications. This is a highly effective way to manage an incidents that may occur.

Similarly, a disaster recovery plan for a company’s cloud services should also be in place to avoid the worst-case scenario in which an attack completely cripples their operations. This plan will detail any data backups, emergency security measures, and worst-case protocols. It also includes information about security controls, contacts, and roles and responsibilities of those involved.

Most reputable cloud service providers will have their own disaster recovery plans in place, but nevertheless, cloud security management plans should also have a fully prepared disaster recovery protocol of their own to ensure the safety of their company and its data.

In addition, companies’ disaster recovery plans must also be tested regularly to make sure that they are not only effective, but that everyone involved is trained and knowledgeable in the steps they must take in case of a critical incident occuring.

The role of cloud service providers in security management

Contrary to what many cloud users think, the cloud provider does not bear the sole responsibility for the entire cloud security of their users’ operations.

CSPs are definitely responsible for a significant number of security features though, such as the security of the cloud provider’s physical data centres, networks and hosts.

There are certain aspects whose responsibility partially lies between the cloud provider and the customer (depending on the cloud model being used), such as the operating system and network controls.

Lastly, there are also functions of security that lie directly with the customer, such as their own information, data and devices (such as mobile devices and PCs).

Below is a detailed breakdown of the security management responsibilities between the cloud provider and the customer according to the type of cloud environment used.

The future of cloud security and emerging trends

It is clear that not only is the cloud the future, but it’s also firmly planted in the present and it’s here to stay. Companies are migrating their operations to the cloud in droves, and by 2025, it is estimated that the amount of data stored across public, private, and government clouds will reach 100 zettabytes – roughly half the world’s data!

With this greater reliance on cloud storage, the risks of attacks and breaches also increase. By 2025, it is estimated that the financial cost of damages caused by cybersecurity breaches could exceed $10.5 trillion.

Because of these threats, cloud security must continuously push for ever more complex and effective strategies to combat the inevitable risks that are out there in order to stay ahead of the game and make sure that all data in the cloud is as secure and protected as possible.

Some emerging trends to watch out for in cloud security include:

  • Multicloud security strategies – Multicloud security strategies will soon become normal as companies are already opting for cloud providers whose technologies and security procedures align. Soon enough, cloud providers’ architectures will co-exist and be highly compatible with each other, leading to a snowball effect wherein organisations embrace this model.
  • Improved zero trust approaches – It is becoming more widely accepted that the best way to keep systems secure is to authenticate and authorise all users every time they want to access a system or network. Using this approach, companies and cloud providers will be able to take control over how their resources can be configured, who has access to specific data and logs detailing every interaction.
  • Highly optimised SaaS security – SaaS security tools are rapidly growing and this looks set to continue. These ever-advanced tools will help to protect against security threats and malicious attacks, adding better and more effective levels of security to companies’ and cloud providers’ services.
  • The use of AI to increase security – Using AI to improve cloud security will enhance the protection of both the customers’ and cloud providers’ networks. It has the ability to deal with staggering amounts of data, recognises threats long before a human would, and provide a level of system automation that couldn’t otherwise be achieved. As AI improves, so will the security that it offers.
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