Cloud-Native Security: Current Strategies, Challenges, and Best Practices

Oct 7, 2021
8 min read

The incorporation of the cloud has brought about a considerable transformation in data handling and storage. The cloud is essentially a huge network of remote servers worldwide connected together, operating as a single framework. These servers help run major applications, are used for data storage and management, video streaming, or delivering social media services. This consequently demands the need for a systematic approach that helps build and run applications across public, private, and hybrid clouds. This approach is referred to as ‘cloud-native'.

In a nutshell, when an application is said to be ‘cloud-native', it means that it is designed to be developed and managed in a cloud environment. More and more companies are using the cloud-native approach to increase app development and delivery and accordingly meet user expectations.

What is Cloud-native Security?

The advent of cloud-native technologies has replaced conventional software development models but has also ushered in the critical challenge of cloud-native security. Cloud-native application security has become vital to ensuring that application architecture remains protected. This is challenging in itself on account of the highly dynamic nature of cloud-native application architectures. Cloud apps shift through multiple cloud platforms, move between on and off-premise frameworks, and expanding and shrinking, making this task rather challenging.

To implement cloud-native security solutions, one must understand its key elements. Some of these include:

· Data security
· Workload security
· Network security
· Vulnerability management
· Automated response
· Inventory & classification
· IAM security
· Compliance management

While working toward implementing cloud-native security, it is important to understand where responsibilities lie – even more, important to know that responsibilities may be varied based on the services. Public exposure of cloud storage services, missing critical patches, accepting traffic from random sources, and compromising important accounts are problems in a cloud architecture that are relatively common.

In order to combat these issues in consistently changing digital ecosystems, it is important for enterprises to adopt an all-inclusive cloud-native security platform, which incorporates threat detection capability, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation. It is also vital to deploy the best of native cloud security tools to tackle diagnostic difficulties, lack of fixed perimeters, and similar problems.

Can Existing Security Approaches Work for Cloud-Native Architecture?

Considerable cloud-native security controls exist to protect cloud-native architecture. This is basically a methodology that helps increase efficiency and productivity and builds better scalability with the help of cloud solutions. It is also quite highly collaborative – it helps sand off the rough edges as the finished app code is transferred into production. In order to ensure that cloud-native architecture continues to reign, several cloud-native security approaches are being used.

Multilayered Security

A cloud service comprises seven layers – network, OS, hardware, facility, user, middleware, and application. Using multilayered security, one can monitor each one of these layers to identify risks and eliminate them accordingly. Multiple native cloud security tools are used for this purpose, such as end-to-end encryption and cloud firewalls.

Cloud-native Security Platforms

This has seemingly come up as one of the most effective cloud-native security strategies in recent times. Using these platforms reduce cloud vendor lock-in and deliver visibility across ecosystems. Cloud-native security platforms also help establish tools and reminders for overburdened security teams.

Shared Responsibility Models

These models dictate that cloud providers themselves will be responsible for some security parameters, while customers will be responsible for others. This concept basically provides a base for all the other cloud-native security approaches.

Common cloud-native security tools include CWPP (Cloud Workload Protection Platforms) and CSPM (Cloud Security Posture Management). CSPM is a collection of security tools that helps enable risk assessment and visualization, DevOps integration, compliance monitoring, and incident response. CWPP on the other hand is a workload security protection technology and is used in hybrid data centers, where, with the help of an agent, it helps address the requirements of server workload protection. This also includes providing cloud-native container security.

Although these approaches are good enough, they are not seamless. Managing cloud-native security tools, for example, can become rather inconvenient with time. In the shared responsibility model approach, it is likely that customers may be irresponsible. According to Gartner, a minimum of 99% of cloud failures is likely to be the customer’s fault, by 2025.

Lack of communication between security teams and business leaders is a major issue as far as cloud-native security is concerned. While stakeholders focus on cost, customer experience, and business needs, they neglect the infrastructure, which is observed by security leaders later on. Another problem with current security approaches is that perimeter security does not apply when the perimeter dissolves. Even certain scanner and firewall approaches lack the ability to provide adequate security that leads to detection of false positives.

Organizations will require more efficient and powerful tools in order to deal with the issues that crop up with conventional security approaches. To that end, cloud-native security companies are coming up with unique techniques to address the inconsistencies in the existing controls. They are working to shift from traditional approaches that depend on network-based tools and are instead hoping to do some pioneering work in serverless and cloud-native technologies that will enhance security efficiency at reduced costs.

One of the popular cloud-native security companies, PerimeterX Inc., is focusing on the same. It hopes to secure a serverless web application and make security smart, inexpensive, and portable. Although the perimeter dissolution issue may still persist with this one, it is a vital solution that may help introduce security into many environments.

Challenges with Detecting and Managing Vulnerabilities

Despite the number of fairly good cloud-native security approaches, there persist a number of challenges in vulnerability detection and management.

No fixed perimeters

The lack of fixed perimeters is a major problem in detecting vulnerabilities. With cloud-native applications, security personnel can no longer establish a static firewall surrounding an application across multiple clouds that is likely to scale a million workload instances at one time, and mere hundreds in another.

Less IT expertise

It’s surprising to know that many companies still haven’t migrated to the cloud due to lack of IT expertise. The ‘Cloud Adoption Practices & Priorities Survey Report’, by the Cloud Security Alliance claims that around 34% of companies avoid the cloud as they believe their IT managers don’t have the experience to handle the demands of cloud computing and management. What’s more, even enterprises that are already on the cloud have apprehensions regarding their security, due to lack of experienced personnel.

Insider threats and data breaches

The problem of data breaches and cyberattacks is well-known, but few companies are doing anything solid and concrete about it. Of course there are security mechanisms to keep them at bay, but they are insufficient. Not dealing with data breaches on time leaves the business vulnerable to malicious threats and compliance risks.

Insider threats are rather commonplace as well, in fact, a research report by Intel states that insider threats may be responsible for a shocking 43% of data breaches. The public cloud environment is also a highly appealing attack surface for hackers. If not secured with the highest possible techniques, enterprises are at risk of exposing their cloud data and workload to malicious threats. Despite effective strategies, this remains a major challenge in vulnerability management in the cloud-native security ecosystem.

Difficulty in diagnostics and presence of complex environments

Cloud-native application architecture can be rather complex, in the presence of which it can sometimes become rather challenging to quickly diagnose the reason for a security breach. There is a considerable lag between the time of the threat occurrence and the time taken by security teams to diagnose and address the same. Complex cloud environments require specific tools to ensure seamless security and protection across private and public cloud providers and on-premise deployments – even for edge networks. However, it can get tedious at times when the cloud environment is too complex and layered, making vulnerability detection quite a challenge.

DevOps and related complexities

Enterprises that have adopted the DevOps ecosystem are required to deploy appropriate security controls at the beginning of the development phase. Implementing security tools later can severely cripple the organizations security mechanisms. Given that individual services can now be handled without having to disrupt other functions of the application, DevOps teams can expedite new updates and releases. However, this in itself may pose issues on account of outdated policy management processes and manual provisioning.

Cloud Migration Issues

Although many enterprises are eager to move to the cloud, not all of them consider doing the same in an efficient, well-planner manner. Cloud migration has to be handled very carefully, or else the business is exposed to vulnerabilities even before its operations are shifted to the cloud. Using straightforward migration strategies that involve breaking down the process into stages may help achieve the transition efficiently without pressurizing IT personnel and reducing the risk of critical errors leading to vulnerabilities.

Lack of Visibility

The absence of visibility and tracking is commonplace in the IaaS model, where cloud providers refrain from exposing the infrastructure layer to customers. This is however, being extended to the PaaS and SaaS models as well, preventing customers from identifying their cloud assets.

Open Source

This is rather obvious – indeed, using open source software for app development is far more vulnerable than anything. Most hackers attack the well in the Git repo and wait for developers to use the packages. Soon enough, they use an attack vector to compromise the application.

Cloud Compliance

Organizations have to adhere to numerous federal regulations when migrating on the cloud. There are several international mandates that have to be addressed, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, FERPA, FISMA, etc. Although enterprises do their best to comply with all the necessary regulations, this can still be a tedious process that can leave a business vulnerable to attacks. There has to be granular-level attention paid to the technical capacity needed to adhere to these mandates.

Unsecured APIs

The cloud is a massive storage system with a fragmented surface attack area, and there are consequently many entry points for attacks to make their presence felt. While APIs are great, they have to be highly secured, as attackers can easily infiltrate the system by hacking into the unsecured APIs.

Best Practices for Cloud-native Security

In order to ensure that cloud-native security is as seamless as possible, security personnel must attempt to follow the best practices, some of which are outlined below:

· Ensure to start the security process early in the development phase – right at the container level.

· Ensure consistencies while implementing security. Cloud-native security controls are not a one-time thing. They have to be periodically checked and rechecked and new policies have to be implemented to ensure that vulnerabilities haven’t been introduced.

· Use as many helpful native cloud security tools and techniques. Stay updated with the latest in the industry.

· Introduce multi-factor authentication and strong, zero-trust identification to ensure protection.

· Educate stakeholders and liaison with DevOps stakeholders at the beginning of the security implementation cycle.

· Encrypt data with top-of-the-line computing technologies and follow best security practices.

· Enable threat detection for databases, IoT, and virtual machines. Integrate threat intelligence into the security platform to make faster decisions.

· Enable an excellent firewall and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection.

· Work to eliminate false positives during vulnerability detection. Also, prioritize vulnerabilities by risk.

· Maintain transparency in shared responsibility.

· Enable a cloud security solution that helps maintain the visibility of the entire ecosystem. Granular-level security strategies can be implemented level to mitigate risks.

· Ensure to have a very strong password protection policy in place.

Where is Cloud-native Security Going?

There are already several advanced strategies in place to make cloud-native security tight and seamless. In the future, cloud-native security is likely to be characterized by powerful API security, highly secure open source and ML, simplicity – rather, simplicity at scale, and adopting an excellent DevSecOps approach. Cloud-native security companies are making every effort to mitigate loopholes in existing security approaches and have been coming up with newer strategies to protect cloud-native architecture.

Recently, for example, cloud security solutions provider Barracuda Networks, Inc., announced the launch of a SASE platform. This cloud-native security platform is designed to help businesses reign control to data access from anywhere, anytime. It will help achieve SASE convergence by bringing together Secure Web Gateway, Secure SD-WAN, Zero Trust Network Access, and Firewall-as-a-Service from Barracuda.

Self-healing infrastructure is another doctrine that is expected to define the future of cloud-native security. Modern software teams will come to adopt Infrastructure-as-code (IaC) to enhance the security review process. In essence, IaC will help security teams to work on threat modelling and assessments even before the actual deployment, enabling DevOps teams to receive immediate feedback and troubleshoot accordingly.

This, in turn, will require a self-healing infrastructure to be in place so that problems can be autonomously identified and fixed without the interference of manual effort. This infrastructure can be realized by embedding suitable security controls in the development process to eliminate common bottlenecks and increase the efficiency of cloud-native security.