You probably know AWS as the leading cloud platform provider. These days, however, many companies are using additional cloud providers as well. According to Gartner’s October 2018 report “Market Insight: Multicloud Becomes Essential for Cloud IaaS Offerings,” 49% of organizations were approaching their cloud computing IaaS strategy through multi-cloud adoption in 2017, and that is expected to increase to 75% by 2022. Most often they’re not trading one for another, but are choosing multiple providers for a variety of reasons: Different business requirements (such as managing risk and costs) may be better suited to different cloud vendors. Many vendors are likewise pricing their offerings competitively and continually adding new features.
If you’ve decided to run a multi-cloud environment as part of your organization’s security strategy, you need to make sure you’re taking appropriate security precautions. This may be a challenge, so in this post, we’ll cover five principles to follow when you make the move to multi-cloud.
“The benefits of multi-cloud environments are clear — cost savings, reduced risk of vendor lock-in, data portability, and more. However, maintaining security visibility into their infrastructure as they adopt multi-cloud is a major challenge. As a result, many organizations lose track of where their data is going, how it’s protected, and whether the storage system is risk appropriate for the data being stored there. To avoid this risk, organizations should focus on establishing full stack cloud security observability across their entire infrastructure, regardless of cloud provider. With visibility into workloads running in multiple cloud providers, it is possible to quickly identify and mitigate risks without sacrificing the availability of critical services and customer-facing applications. Organizations also need to avoid having this telemetry live in a silo. Making cross-cloud telemetry actionable and accessible in other security tools like SIEMs and incident response platforms is critical to ensuring the security of your entire infrastructure.”
Three Major Public Cloud Platform Providers
Before diving in to our best practices, let’s review the major public cloud platform providers.
Three major players dominate the public cloud platform world: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. (And, of course, there is a host of smaller or niche players.)
The field has a lot of competitors in it, including the big three — Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) — and a host of smaller or niche players. And of course, AWS, GCP, and Azure dominate. (It’s tempting to speculate about the role that attrition and consolidation might have in this space over the next few years, but it’s also out of scope for our current discussion.)
The article AWS Vs Azure Vs Google: Cloud Services Comparison provides a helpful rundown of how the three giants compare when it comes to the following key areas:
- Computing power
- Storage and databases
If you are trying to decide how much and which aspects of your environment to run in each of these services, this article should be helpful.
Now, let’s turn our attention to what it takes to secure your multi-cloud environment.
5 Principles For Running Securely in a Multi-Cloud Environment
1. Eliminate (or Control) ShadowOps
Has your entire organization agreed that it makes sense to run multiple cloud environments with different vendors? If the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs, then by all means, take advantage of the competition to reduce costs and get the features you need.
However, it is key to get on the same page before you get started. Otherwise, you will be like many organizations that wind up with several separate AWS accounts that are unconnected or have a number of different instances scattered across AWS, Azure, and Google. This can happen when DevOps team members make decisions for their unique use cases without looking at what is best for the organization as a whole.
As explained in ShadowOps Isn’t Just Bad DevOps, doing this can make your organization considerably less secure. Experts predict that, by 2020, a third of successful attacks experienced by enterprises will be directed at their shadow IT resources (see: 2017 Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit). So whether your organization decides to use one cloud provider or distribute infrastructure across several, make sure everyone has bought in and understands why this is the best approach for the organization. That will reduce ShadowOps-related issues and improve your overall security posture.
2. Strive for Visibility
Regardless of what cloud platform(s) you choose, you must ensure that you have as much visibility as possible across all your instances. This means that when you go to choose a cloud security solution, you want to select one that offers deep visibility, ideally starting at the workload layer
Signature-based monitoring is simply not enough in the cloud. Instead, you should focus on increasing visibility through behavior-based monitoring. In other words, you want a solution that holds a magnifying glass to behaviors across all your instances and quickly detects anomalous behavior.
Your multi-cloud security solution should be able to:
- Identify untrusted system modifications
- Catch threats with behavioral monitoring of users and processes
- Immediately detect anomalous user, process, and file activity
If you have visibility across all your cloud instances, then it becomes irrelevant whether you’re using AWS, Azure, Google, or a mix of the three. You will still be secure.
3. Understand Best Practices
Every platform comes with its own set of best practices. So if you are going to run infrastructure instances on multiple platforms, study up on best practices for each:
- AWS offers a guide to best practices on their platform (and you can also review our top 10 AWS best practices).
- Azure lists (and updates) a series of articles that cover various cloud security topics in depth.
- Google Cloud Platform shares a list of best practices.
Of course, there is a good amount of overlap, and some general rules apply, such as:
- Know what is happening in your environment at all times.
- Set up alerts (prioritize severity) that will notify you in case of out-of-policy behavior.
- Meet and exceed compliance requirements.
- Practice good hygiene (i.e., keep everything updated and patched).
Best practices shared by the cloud vendors themselves are a solid place to start because they know their technology better than anyone else, and they have a responsibility to educate and support their customers. Beyond that, we’ve written extensively about cloud security best practices, so be sure to review our blog for more tips.
4. Prioritize Automation
Humans make errors. Did you know that, through 2020, 95% of cloud security failures are expected to be the customer’s fault (2017 Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit)?
When it comes to security, human error introduces all kinds of risk. Relying on machines to automate tasks — especially those that are routine and repeatable — is key to ensuring that you don’t weaken your security posture, even while running multiple instances across several cloud vendors.
We often talk about how important it is to be secure by design. To accomplish this, you should focus on:
- Updating your governance rules for the cloud
- Understanding the shared responsibility model (which we will cover below)
- Adopting a continuous risk management approach
Running in the cloud enables your DevOps teams to go faster. It enables continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD) cycles that can give you a real leg up on the competition. But it can also introduce risk, so leverage automation to ensure that security best practices are being managed efficiently and with minimal margin for error.
5. Understand the Shared Responsibility Model
Last but not least, make sure you understand the shared responsibility model. We have written before about its implications and the state of the model today. A whopping 79% of businesses experience risks that have actually translated into significant operational surprises in the past five years (2017 Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit). Much of this could be mitigated by following the shared responsibility model.
When you take advantage of the public cloud — whether AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, or a mix — it is your job to secure everything in the cloud. You can count on AWS, Google, and Microsoft to secure the cloud itself, but you must make sure that your applications, data, and other systems are fully secured in the cloud. For example, if someone logs into production without permissions and does something to put your organization at risk, you are responsible for that. So make sure you understand exactly where your responsibility begins and ends, and uphold it as well as you can.
Multi-Cloud for the Win
Having a variety of cloud service providers is a sign of a healthy marketplace. While AWS has pulled ahead of the pack, it is a very good idea to explore your options and find out which public cloud (or which combination of them) is best for your organization to accomplish its specific objectives.
Keep security best practices at the forefront, take steps to prioritize visibility across your multiple cloud environments, and you will be on your way to operating securely at speed and scale in the public cloud. With visibility into every workload, Threat Stack customers can achieve full stack cloud security observability across their entire infrastructure regardless of the cloud provider.
To learn more about how Threat Stack can give you insight into your AWS, Azure, or GCP workloads, schedule a demo today.