10 Best Practices for Application Security in the Cloud

The digital revolution allowed advanced technology to replace traditional processes, and cloud computing is the fastest growing technology in the segment.

According to Gartner, the global cloud market will grow to $266.4 billion in 2020, from $227.4 billion in 2019. This year alone, the rapid increase is mainly due to organizations adopting technology to gain several benefits, like faster time to market, flexible onboarding, and affordable solutions.

A survey found that 93% of companies are wary of using the cloud due to the security risks. However, in reality, the cloud can potentially offer the same kind of security and measures that any traditional on-premise environment does but potentially with some more capabilities.

Recognize that there are still security limitations in the cloud, especially with 3rd party applications. But, wherever you deploy, application security still needs to be addressed, in the cloud or on premise.

Here are some steps you can take to improve cloud application security and ensure the best practices are being followed in your organization:

1. Discover and Assess Cloud Apps

Most of us tend to take IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or PaaS (Platform as a Service) security for granted and do not think twice before adding a new application or platform to the company's cloud environment. However, each new application that is added can pose a potential risk and should be evaluated accordingly.

Before selecting or adding a new cloud application, it is critical to do your due diligence regarding the vendor or the application.

Here are some of the best cloud security practices you should adopt to discover and assess cloud apps:

  • Use cloud discovery to analyze traffic logs collected by Microsoft Defender ATP and evaluate identified applications against a set catalog to verify the security and compliance requirements.
  • Configure application discovery policies to identify insecure, non-compliant applications that could pose a security threat to the application.
  • Monitor the cloud application permissions authorized by your users to manage OAuth apps and identify those that are potentially risky or suspicious.

2. Manage Access to Cloud Applications & User Behavior

As with several cloud applications and storage options, there is usually more than one user who regularly needs to access apps. To ensure that sensitive data is protected, set up user access permissions, and manage access to limit information access within the core group. Most cloud applications and providers allow you to configure multi-factor authentication (MFA) and Single Sign-on (SSO) to help you get started. Additional cloud application security steps that you could take are:

  • Ensure users are given minimal access privileged to the cloud resources that still allows them to fulfill their job responsibilities.
  • Give provision access to a resource instead of providing a fixed set of credentials to ensure that compromised credentials don’t lead to unauthorized access to the cloud.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication for every user and limit the number of users with administrator privileges.
  • Enforce a strong password policy that requires a minimum of 14 characters containing at least one upper case letter, one lower case letter, special character, and one number. Also limit the number of failed attempts of login to the cloud.
  • Enforce multi-factor authentication for all users

Apart from these security-related activities, you also need to take care of default credentials. Typically, every cloud application and environment comes with default user access controls that need to be appropriately set, so make sure you do so.

3. Apply Cloud Governance Policies

Cloud governance policies are essential to ensure you have security standards for all users to abide by when working within the cloud environment. This requires the use of monitoring mechanisms to ensure all established cloud security policies are adhered to.

Here are some best security-related practices that you should implement in your cloud governance policies:

  • Enforce authentication standards such as multi-factor authentication.
  • Establish hardening standards for virtual machines, containers, approved repositories, etc.
  • Include strong access management with clearly defined roles and rules, so you know who has access to what and why.

In addition, organizations can implement other cloud governance and cloud security policies to ensure strict monitoring of usage, storage, and sharing.

4. Identify, Categorize, and Protect Sensitive Data Stored in the Cloud

Cloud computing allows the sharing of folders and files among multiple users, and one needs to be proactive in enabling the right cloud security policies around file sharing and sensitive data. Make sure that you:

  • Identify sensitive data: Know which data or application you want to manage access to. Sensitive data like customer data, organizational policies, and other information like keys, hardcoded passwords, etc. that needs to be protected should ideally be in a separate folder or storage, with limited access.
  • Categorize & protect your files: Once this data is identified, categorize it in a different section, and set up encryption or other protective mechanisms to make sure only the intended audience can view this data.

5. Employ DLP with CASBs

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policy in IaaS isn’t as good right now, but organizations want to focus on the use of CASBs (cloud access security brokers).

CASBs are cloud-based security software located between cloud service providers and cloud service consumers to enforce security, govern policies, and ensure compliance for cloud applications.

It includes various types of security policy enforcement such as single sign-on, authentication, authorization, device profiling, credential mapping, tokenization, encryption, malware detection/mitigation, logging, alerting, etc.

The primary goal of CASBs is to extend the security controls of an enterprise from their on-premise infrastructure to the cloud.

By employing CASBs, organizations can:

  • Identify which cloud services are in use, who is using them, and what the security risks they pose to the application data and the organization are.
  • Assess and select cloud services that meet their security and compliance requirements using security controls and a database of cloud services.
  • Identify unauthorized or insecure use of the cloud, including activity from both within the organization and outside (by end users) that compromise user accounts.
  • Protect organization data in the cloud by restricting certain types of sensitive data from being accessed, downloaded, or shared.

6. Restrict the Download of Sensitive Data to Risky or Insecure Devices

Despite the most stringent access controls, data loss often occurs due to files being downloaded to devices. When sharing any data or information externally, make sure to create security policies to block and protect downloads to unknown devices, and monitor low-trust sessions as much as possible.

This may seem like a simple security step but will go a long way in ensuring your data is protected and shared only with the right user group.

7. Enforce Real-Time Session Controls to Secure Collaboration with External Users

To gain better visibility and ensure secure collaboration in your cloud environment, you can create a session policy that lets you monitor sessions between internal and external users. This will enable you to track each session between your users, and more importantly, limit specific activities that are against application security and compliance standards.

Potentially risky or suspicious users can be monitored when they sign into applications and their actions are logged into the session. You can further evaluate these session logs and analyze user behavior to detect if they violate your company’s security policies.

Moreover, you can also prevent data exfiltration by blocking functions like cutting, copying, pasting, downloading, or printing of confidential data. Also, when a sensitive file is uploaded or shared among users, it’s important to ensure that the files have an appropriate label and protection.

Along with this, you can granularly block access for certain applications and users depending on various risk factors. For instance, you can block a user if they are using client certificates as a form of device management.

8. Automate & Remediate Cloud Application Security Risks

Information security is essential for all organizations, large or small, but these functions are often heavily under-staffed and under-funded. Using tools and automation can help the application security team stay on top of the game while not getting overwhelmed in high-risk situations.

Cloud automation helps improve application security and resilience within an organization because when sensitive tasks are automated, you do not need to rely on manual resource tracking and IT people logging into critical systems.

Moreover, the risk of human error is significantly reduced, as well as the likelihood of account compromise or malicious insiders attempting to breach cloud accounts drops down.

9. Malware Threat Protection

Malware threat protection is becoming increasingly difficult as attackers use advanced components to pose severe threats to the cloud infrastructure.

To address malware threats in the cloud, you can consider the following application security activities:

  • Organizations should stack up endpoint protection to the highest application security standards possible as it will help you detect most malware coming from endpoints like laptops, desktops, etc.
  • Create a BYOD (bring your own device) protection policy to ensure secure upload and download of files from unmanaged endpoints.
  • Ensure you use advanced threat protection tools and processes to limit the spread of malware to other networks in your enterprise.
  • Add a cloud-specific protective layer to all your cloud-based email applications to secure infrastructure, whether hosted on Gmail or Microsoft.

These application security processes can help you keep the cloud environment secure, especially if the potential vulnerabilities are hard to detect.

10. Secure IaaS Services and Custom Apps

Cloud platforms allow third-party applications or SaaS (Software as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a service) to be offered to their customers.

While this provides ease of use and customization as needed, integrating these applications into your cloud storage has its security risks.

Make sure you have a security configuration that identifies anomalies and detects potential security vulnerabilities to your environment.

To do so, you can use the recommended application security settings provided by the cloud provider and ensure using only reliable sources for IaaS and SaaS applications.

Takeaways

Despite the prevalent opinions on cloud computing, these data security policies and measures for the cloud make it just as secure as any other on-premises infrastructure. The risks are similar in both cases and can be mitigated with robust data security and compliance measures.

Security and privacy measures are necessary in both cases, and it takes a strong security team and monitoring to ensure complete optimization against any cybersecurity attacks. When it comes to data and cloud security, prevention is always better than a cure.

Cypress Data Defense's cloud security solution integrates the latest application security technologies with your cloud infrastructure. With the right technology, cloud security experts, and forethought, companies can leverage cloud computing benefits. If you’d like to talk to our security experts, please drop a comment below or connect with us.

About

Cypress Data Defense was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Denver, Colorado with offices across the United States. Our goal is to help organizations secure their IT development and operations using a pragmatic, risk-based approach. The diverse background of our founders allows us to apply security controls to governance, networks, and applications across the enterprise.

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