What is Cloud Infrastructure Security?
Cloud infrastructure security frameworks make it easier to protect your cloud assets from modern cybersecurity threats. These systems can address many of the challenges the cloud creates from inconsistent security policies to regulatory compliance. However, using traditional perspectives on network security may leave gaps that cybercriminals can exploit.
To help you avoid repeating the mistakes of old secure perimeter frameworks, we will help you understand what cloud infrastructure security is, its benefits and challenges, and how Zero Trust solutions like Twingate can reduce your attack surface and make cloud security more efficient.
As organizations moved more of their infrastructure to the cloud, their traditional on-premises security frameworks could not adapt to distributed architectures. A different approach was needed to address security in this new environment.
Cloud infrastructure security is a framework that combines policies, best practices, and technologies to ensure cloud resources — including computing environments, applications, and databases — remain secure against internal and external cloud security threats.
This shouldn’t be confused with cloud security services that offer various network security services through a Software-as-a-Service business model.
Many aspects of this framework will already be familiar to network security professionals:
- Governance and regulatory compliance.
- Business continuity and disaster recovery.
- Data retention and loss prevention.
- Role-based access control.
- Identity and access management (IAM).
- Threat intelligence, prevention, detection, and mitigation.
- Security information and event management (SIEM).
In addition, several cloud security solutions address unique aspects of cloud infrastructure. Gartner coined the term cloud security posture management (CSPM) to describe solutions that scan for misconfigurations and compliance issues across multiple cloud infrastructures. Cloud access security brokers (CASB), part of the broader SASE framework, address the problem of access control when organizations source cloud solutions from multiple providers.
The history of IT over the past two decades has been one of increasing abstraction and decentralization. Applications and databases ran on dedicated systems. Now, those applications run on cloud computing platforms or are outsourced completely to cloud service providers. Abstraction has also transformed the network itself as hardware appliances were replaced by software. Networks also migrated to the cloud as organizations made the internet part of their network architecture.
Cloud services offered many financial benefits that accelerated this trend. Organizations could reduce their capital expenses significantly. Service providers took responsibility for building the physical computing and storage resources, reducing their customers’ capital expenses. Subscription models shifted many IT costs from capital expenses to operational expenses.
Shifting to a cloud infrastructure also made sense for the organization’s security. Cloud service providers spread the costs of advanced security technologies and expertise across their customer base. As a result, they can maintain a stronger security posture with less risk of a breach than the largest enterprises.
Operationally, adopting a cloud infrastructure lets organizations achieve efficiencies they could not with on-premises resources. Employees have better, more performant access no matter where they work. DevOps practices rely on virtual systems to automate processes at a scale that could never be done manually.
As we will see later in this article, however, these benefits come with tradeoffs that add complexity to enterprise security. You can see this complexity by viewing cloud computing through two perspectives — cloud computing service models and cloud computing environments.
This first category is based on how different cloud service providers approach the market. Each of these as-a-Service business models gives its customers varying degrees of control — and with that, varying degrees of security responsibilities.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) - Rather than running applications in-house, organizations can subscribe to a SaaS provider’s services. In this model, customers have little control over the SaaS application or the security infrastructure supporting it. That is almost entirely the SaaS provider’s responsibility. Cloud security for SaaS focuses on access control policies.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) - Enterprises can use a PaaS provider’s environment to develop and run their own cloud applications with scalability they could never afford on their own. PaaS providers ensure that their infrastructure is protected and offer security tools, such as virtual VPN gateways, for their customers to use. However, organizations are responsible for the security of their PaaS development and production environments.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) - These services let companies build virtual computing, storage, and network infrastructures. Providers take responsibility for the security of their physical infrastructure. Protecting the virtual machines, maintaining operating systems, managing network security and other tasks are the customer’s responsibility.
The second way of looking at cloud infrastructure is from the organization’s perspective. Companies can move to the cloud in many different ways, but most cloud environments fall into the following categories:
Public cloud - A third-party provider offers a service running on a shared infrastructure that is allocated to customers on-demand and then rebalanced to other customers. Providers have systems to isolate customers from each other. Depending on the service type, organizations may apply additional layers to isolate themselves from their neighbors.
Private cloud - Shared environments may be unacceptable to some organizations. A third-party provider’s private cloud assigns the organization’s services to a dedicated infrastructure. The division of responsibilities remains the same as a public cloud, but there is no need to add another isolation layer.
Hybrid-cloud - Organizations can combine a service provider’s public cloud and private cloud offerings. This lets organizations run sensitive applications privately while running less-sensitive applications on the public cloud. An organization can manage the balance on its own or in partnership with the service provider.
Multi-cloud - Few cloud service providers can be all things to all customers. As a result, most organizations have multi-cloud infrastructures that combine services from several cloud service providers. In this environment, an organization’s security teams must stitch together a consistent security strategy that covers separate cloud services.
Some organizations can take a cloud-centric approach to infrastructure security. Many others still depend on legacy systems. Ideally, on-premises resources should be protected by the same security framework as the cloud infrastructure.
In today’s cloud computing environment, organizations have less control over their infrastructure and its security than they had in the past. Cloud service providers control their physical infrastructure as well as its security. Organizations get little visibility, much less control, over many aspects of SaaS security.
Traditional security frameworks simply do not work anymore. Secure perimeter technologies and practices assume a physical network can be isolated from external threats. In today’s decentralized, virtualized cloud environments, the perimeter is meaningless.
Cloud infrastructures face threats from all directions. To protect the organization, cloud security strategy must address four core objectives:
Provide and control access - Anywhere, anytime access is a benefit of the cloud, but it becomes a weakness when “anyone” gets access. Cloud security strategies need policies and technologies that allow authorized users to access the resources they need for their work while preventing unauthorized access.
Protect data - With the right data policies, cloud storage should be more secure than on-premises data centers, making organizations more resilient to natural disasters and other disruptions. Data retention policies minimize the amount of data at risk. Backup and data recovery policies minimize the duration and impact of disruptions.
Prevent and mitigate attacks - Security requires constant vigilance, especially when company resources live in the cloud. Organizations must monitor the threat landscape continuously. Given the persistence and sophistication of modern cybercriminals, focusing on prevention is not enough. Organizations must monitor their infrastructure around the clock to identify and mitigate security breaches quickly.
Compliance - Regulations such as GDPR and standards such as SOC 2 require organizations to have effective IT controls for managing and protecting customer data. Demonstrating compliance requires systems that monitor conformity to security, process integrity, privacy, and other standards.
In some respects, cloud security risks are nothing new. Many of the risks and challenges organizations face when securing their on-premises infrastructure are also present in the cloud. However, the amorphous nature of cloud computing security adds unique challenges:
Visibility - Security teams have less visibility into many aspects of a cloud service provider’s infrastructure. SaaS providers may be completely opaque while IaaS providers typically offer security monitoring tools.
Dynamic workloads - In the cloud, virtual instances are spun up and down as needed making security technologies based on ports and IP addresses less effective.
Shared security roles - Responsibilities for security vary from one cloud service provider to another. Any misunderstanding in an organization’s responsibilities can result in misconfigurations and other security gaps
Complexity of multi and hybrid cloud security - Each cloud service has its own security systems that may not play well with others. Security teams must find ways to bring every aspect of their on-premises and cloud infrastructure within the same security framework.
Shadow IT - Many cloud services are not adopted through an organization’s IT planning process. Instead, services pitch themselves to end-users in hopes they will find the service too valuable to do without. This creates a risk that sensitive data will migrate outside the organization’s established controls
Governance and compliance - All of these security issues hinder governance and could compromise the organization’s compliance efforts. Shadow IT could leak customer information. Poorly understood security roles and poor visibility make controls less effective.
Despite these challenges, implementing a cloud infrastructure security plan can improve your business. Security is easier to manage, your company’s data is better protected, and business performance improves.
Unifying security across your cloud infrastructure simplifies the setting and enforcement of security policies. You no longer have to set provider-specific policies. In their place, a single policy can apply to every cloud service provider
Cloud security systems also give you more visibility across your infrastructure. You can see employees’ attempts to add shadow IT. Automated monitoring systems identify configuration problems and suspicious activity, quickly escalating issues that cannot be mitigated automatically.
A unified approach to cloud security will reduce your attack surface and minimize cyber risks. Replacing provider-specific access controls with a central IAM system lets you apply granular, role-based access control rules. Data loss prevention, backup practices, and data recovery systems reduce the risk of lost data and limit the impact of ransomware. Better visibility and monitoring also help ensure you remain in compliance with data privacy regulations and AICPA controls standards.
Secure perimeter technologies have become rigid and fragile in the face of modern IT trends. Designed for the cloud, this new security framework offers the scalability and availability of the services it protects. In addition, cloud security technologies can integrate with CI/CD pipelines to become responsive elements of DevSecOps practices.
Cloud infrastructure security also offers financial benefits. Capital expenses decline since fewer infrastructure investments are needed. At the same time, cloud security’s automated systems reduce administrative overhead and let companies reallocate operational budgets to more productive goals.
Too often, companies view cloud security through the same lens they always used — the secure perimeter. This results in architectures that protect cloud networks behind virtual VPN gateways. They may have a more unified cloud security system, but that system has the same vulnerabilities their on-premises networks suffer. Implementing cloud security with Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) eliminates these vulnerabilities and makes cloud infrastructures more accessible, secure, and efficient.
You can find detailed explanations of Zero Trust on our blog. What’s important here are the three core principles of ZTNA:
- Assume breach.
- Verify explicitly.
- Least-privileged access.
Modern cyber threats are so pervasive that an attack could succeed at any time. Assuming that hackers are already in your system forces you to approach security differently. Network access control gives hackers free access to the network’s resources. Instead, Zero Trust controls access to resources and denies access by default.
Every attempt to access a resource should be verified explicitly. This goes beyond authenticating user identities. The networks and devices they use contribute just as much to the security context. Only when that context meets a threshold level should the user be allowed access.
Even then, access can’t be granted with a broad brush. Over-privileged accounts are a significant risk. Applying the user’s role and security context, least-privileged access policies let users access the resources they need to complete their current tasks — and no more.
Twingate’s secure access solutions make it easier to implement Zero Trust in cloud infrastructure security. Our software solution lets you automate the deployment and management of ZTNA protections to any resource, whether on-premises or in the cloud. This can take network segmentation to its ultimate conclusion — a segment for each resource. Unlike VPN, there’s no need for a heavy gateway application. Proxies in front of the resource and in the Twingate Client app support direct, encrypted connections between the resource and authorized users.
Role-based, least-privilege access controls are easy to manage through Twingate’s console or integrations with your existing Identity Provider (IdP). Device posture checks provide additional context for authentication decisions, ensuring the right users get the access they need to your cloud infrastructure.
As a cloud-native platform, Twingate is ready for dynamic cloud computing environments. Terraform and Pulumi providers, CircleCI compatibility, and other automation tools let you incorporate Twingate Zero Trust into your DevSecOps processes. Logging APIs let you feed connection events in real-time to your SIEM solution, so you always know the who, what, when, and where of cloud access.
Cloud computing offers many benefits but confronts IT teams with just as many challenges. The mix of public, private, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments — combined with cloud services’ shared security models — make securing cloud infrastructure difficult. An organization’s security team must understand how to secure each service and how to apply security policies uniformly across service providers. Cloud infrastructure security provides a path to bringing every cloud service under the same security umbrella.
Twingate secure access solutions enhance cloud security through the principles of Zero Trust Network Access. You can apply Zero Trust’s tough authentication practices and least-privileged access policies for granular control over each cloud resource. Automation tools and simple administrative consoles unify your cloud infrastructure within common Zero Trust security policies.
Contact us to learn how Twingate can make your cloud infrastructure more secure, more performant, and easier to manage.