What is Continuous Cloud Compliance & How Can I Achieve It?

Cloud compliance, like cloud security, is never a one-and-done activity. To be compliant, you need to demonstrate it continuously. Systems must be locked down properly, users must follow specific access policies, alerts must be working properly, and so on. If a server is spun up and unprotected, if a user gets too much privileged access, or if alerts are ignored, you can quickly become noncompliant.

So how do you maintain cloud compliance day-in and day-out amongst all your other priorities? In this post, we’ll outline several ways that you can ensure compliance organization-wide, even after the big audit is complete.

Know What You’re Responsible For

Just preparing for a compliance audit is a great deal of work, so the thought of maintaining it continuously may seem overwhelming. It will probably come as a relief, therefore, to recognize that there are certain areas of cloud compliance that do not fall into your area of responsibility.

As you may have seen in previous Threat Stack posts, the shared responsibility model in the cloud dictates that your CSP (Cloud Service Provider) is responsible for the security and compliance of the cloud (e.g., infrastructure), while you are responsible for the security and compliance in the cloud (files, users, servers, applications). As long as you choose a CSP that is committed to upholding their requirements, you can rest assured knowing some of this is already covered. AWS, for example, takes compliance very seriously as does the Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

This allows you to dedicate your focus to the files, applications, servers, and users who operate on top of the infrastructure. While still a hefty task, with the right controls in place that can scale as you grow in the cloud, and which are designed specifically for the nuances of the cloud, you should be able to do this seamlessly and continuously. Continuous monitoring is an easy way to do this, as it gives visibility into every activity happening on the cloud, so you’re always in-the-know — an important requirement of many different compliance frameworks.

Ensure That Alerts Are Properly Configured

Alerts are useful — as long as you can keep up with them. They enable you to see in real time when anomalous behavior takes place that should be further investigated. But if they’re not configured well or are too noisy, your team can quickly turn a blind eye to them, putting you in a gray area of compliance.

A good way to configure your alerts is as follows:

  1. Start by allowing all alerts in so you can see what types of activities are happening in your cloud.
  2. Prioritize alerts based on the severity so you know the difference between a “wake me at 2 a.m.” alert and a “this can wait until tomorrow” alert.
  3. Learn what types of activities are benign and routine for your organization (e.g., an engineer making a routine upgrade) and dismiss them.
  4. Learn what potentially risky events can be suppressed in some cases. For example, user privilege escalation may be risky, except when your engineering manager does it. If this is the case, you can suppress that alert so it doesn’t create unnecessary noise.

By fine-tuning your alerts in this way, you can ensure that your team is not overwhelmed by too many alerts all the time, but isn’t in the dark, either. Over time, you’ll learn what alerts to watch and which are harmless, so you can fine-tune them specifically to your organization’s needs. This will ensure that you’re watching for all activity you’re required to, and that you see it in a timely manner, allowing you to take action quickly and remain compliant.

Ensure Visibility Even As You Scale

Guaranteeing cloud compliance as your company grows isn’t always a straight path. As new servers are spun up, more employees gain access to company systems, and higher volumes of data are processed and stored, how can you be sure they’re still compliant? Growth is exciting, but you can’t tackle it haphazardly. Also, you can’t slow down growth or hinder progress just for the sake of security.

So, what’s the right balance?

To ensure visibility, prioritize security processes and tools that are able to grow with you. Most security platforms that are built specifically for the cloud are designed to do this. Embedded at the host layer, solutions such as Threat Stack’s intrusion detection platform can be automatically integrated into every new server, system, and application. This means that as your dev environment expands and your headcount grows, security grows right along with you — without the requirement for any manual intervention. In this way, security is no longer a roadblock, but is an enabler that supports compliance, real-time security, as well as your organization’s overarching goals.

It is important to have the proper tools in place to ensure visibility and manage risk as a business scales. As a resource, because people can’t scale, it is foundational to have the proper tools in place that are flexible and can support automation. To this end, having one that supports visibility on cloud, multi-cloud, hybrid, on-premise, and containerized environments all within one console is key. Likewise, being able to use integrated communication tools that allow Security and Operations teams to coordinate and manage anomalies is pivotal.

Becoming Continuously Compliant

With a little bit of upfront preparation, continuous cloud compliance is an achievable goal. As long as you know what compliance requirements you’re responsible for upholding (reference this guide), your alerts are fine-tuned, and your security solutions are scalable, you will be able to say with confidence that you are compliant 24/365. And that should let you breathe a sigh of relief.

If you’re lacking the eyes and ears you need across your entire cloud environment, sign up for a demo of Threat Stack’s intrusion detection platform.

If you’d like more advice on achieving cloud compliance, download our free guide: Fast Tracking Compliance in the Cloud