An increasing number of companies are finding that a combination of public cloud services, private clouds, and on-premises infrastructure provides the most optimal solution by balancing the advantages and drawbacks of each.
Cloud computing has transformed nearly every industry. Critical operations become easy to manage, allowing organizations to maximize efficiency and profitability in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment.
This digital trend continues to grow, making the cloud an essential part of virtually every organization. But as adoption ramps up, some organizations need a combination of private and public clouds to benefit from the strengths of both architectures – the hybrid cloud.
This solution offers the best of both public and private clouds, including the robustness and versatility of the public cloud and the enhanced security of the private cloud. Still, it has unique security, control, and visibility challenges.
Top Challenges of Hybrid Cloud Security
Organizations often use a public cloud as a base and include a private cloud to get the features they need, leading to a complex environment that’s more challenging to manage. While the benefits are improved, combining the private and public cloud increases the complexity and risk. Organizations need visibility and control to ensure that security gaps aren’t exploited.
The hybrid cloud offers agility and control, but that comes at a cost to the IT department. With the risks and vulnerabilities increasing, the IT department must maintain visibility and management to ensure the team collaborates and tracks any changes that could indicate a breach or suspicious behavior.
The hybrid environment also creates ambiguity around security responsibilities. Cloud vendors often use proprietary solutions to maintain security in the private cloud, but those are only valuable in that environment. Organizations can’t rely on those solutions to maintain security in the public cloud as it results in lost visibility and inconsistent security controls.
Worse still, if the organizations mistakenly rely on the cloud provider for cybersecurity in public and private cloud environments, they won’t take responsibility or measures to protect their network. This leaves gaps that cybercriminals can exploit.
The shared responsibility model ensures that organizations take the appropriate responsibility for risk management and assessment. It is clear where the fault lies, ensuring the organization puts effort into its cybersecurity strategy. The vendor stays responsible for the private cloud, while the end client is responsible for their operating environment.
Regarding cybersecurity, organizations must understand the terms of service and service agreements to determine their responsibility in protecting their assets. Some gray areas may include network controls, operating systems, identity, and directory infrastructure.
No matter the specifics of the shared responsibility model, you’re always responsible for securing what’s under your direct control. This includes:
- How information and data are used and accessed
- Proprietary applications throughout their development lifecycle
- All facets of identity and access management, including single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, access keys, and more
- The cloud operating environment
You’re also responsible for anything in your organization that connects to the cloud, including the on-premise infrastructure stack, owned networks, applications, user devices, and communication layers. These are always your responsibilities, no matter the shared responsibility model.
Organizations should approach cloud security with zero assumptions, regardless of vendor and specific responsibilities. A robust cybersecurity strategy should consider the private cloud to avoid gaps and reduce risks. This way, even if there’s a breach on the part of the vendor, you have protections in place.
If a breach occurs, organizations face considerable financial repercussions, negative press, and harm to their brand reputation, even if the violation is contained. Compliance becomes challenging. The complexity that makes the cloud agile and capable has the disadvantage of making compliance more difficult. All components need to be compliant individuals and within the larger cloud environment.
Using Privileged Access Management (PAM) for Hybrid Cloud Security
Privileged access management (PAM) is one of the best strategies to shore up security and control, monitor, secure, and audit identities in an IT environment, especially with the hybrid cloud.
Organizations tend to use:
- Password managers and limited privileged access management solutions
- VPNs and complex scripts to manage complex hybrid cloud environments
Using the above technologies increases the odds that they’ll need help to maintain consistent security controls. Furthermore, there is a risk of audibility issues regarding privileged access usage. Organizations need a more strategic approach, including looking beyond password managers to protect hybrid cloud access.
The ideal approach is PAM as a service. Like software as a service (SaaS), PAM is typically provided by a vendor and used for cloud access security. The vendor keeps the environment secure and up to date, all with the principle of least privilege. PAM as a service allows organizations to benefit from the security service without the headache of managing the hardware, infrastructure and software to maintain the service.
Users’ credentials are a top target in many organizations, especially with the increase in social engineering techniques to gain initial access, regardless of cybersecurity measures, since users’ credentials can be compromised – accidentally or intentionally – and leave the entire environment at risk. Cybercriminals also realize that users are an easy entry point.
With PAM as a service, each user has the minimum level of access required to complete their tasks, and only for a limited time. Even if there is a breach, there’s a limit to how much damage the cybercriminal can cause. This is true whether the user makes a mistake, has malicious intent, or if a cybercriminal gained access to their identity or account.
The principle of least privilege also makes PAM more agile. Suppose a user needs rights to complete a task or run an application. In that case, the requests can be granted temporarily with oversight and control. They have a time limit to complete their work, and when the time is up, the privileges are revoked as needed.
PAM has other benefits, such as keeping security policies consistent across users, locations, and operating systems. Access, privilege, and multi-factor authentication are standard throughout the organization, providing a consistent framework that can work efficiently in the dynamic hybrid cloud environment.
Benefits of Privileged access management (PAM)
No matter the industry or organization, human users are the weakest link in organizational security. Even with the most robust security measures, users can make mistakes that leave the organization vulnerable to risk. There’s also the possibility that users make intentional miscalculations that invite trouble, such as stealing information to sell or abusing the system as an act of vengeance.
Cybercriminals understand that users are an easy access point. They also know that a compromised identity can give them free rein over the network to find the information they seek, install malicious applications, or add access points for later use. And all they need to do this could be a simple error like a weak or reused password, a clicked malicious link, a download, or another innocuous mistake.
PAM offers protection by ensuring that if a breach does occur, the criminal is limited in how far they can go. They only have the privilege of the user – and a time limit – to prevent them from having full access. Security teams also have more forensic capabilities to detect, track, and identify suspicious or malicious activities before they become disastrous.
Another advantage PAM has relates to one of the cloud’s greatest assets – access and communication between systems and components. This is part of what makes the cloud so valuable to organizations, but also, it’s one of its most significant cybersecurity weaknesses.
The distributed environment offers numerous ingress points that require privileged access. With PAM access management, the privileges are controlled and limited effectively, allowing organizations to take advantage of the communication and access without assuming additional risk as a tradeoff.
The endpoints can act as a vulnerability in the cloud environment. These endpoints usually have privileges in place for IT teams to correct issues and fix problems quickly and efficiently to minimize operational downtime. The disadvantage is that this creates security risks that cyber criminals understand and exploit. With access to the network, they can elevate privileges as they need and move freely in the network until they find the information they need.
PAM mitigates this risk by limiting local administrative rights or removing them entirely at the endpoints. IT teams have the necessary access, but it doesn’t allow cyber criminals to exploit this common and essential practice.
Finally, PAM can address compliance. PAM can monitor and record all activities that impact confidential data as part of a comprehensive security strategy. Organizations can effectively mitigate the damage if a breach occurs by knowing precisely what and when sensitive information was affected.
PAM for Hybrid Cloud Security
The hybrid cloud is a modular solution for organizations to maximize the benefits of private and public clouds. Along with this, the hybrid cloud has inherent security risks that must be addressed with a robust and multifaceted security solution like PAM.
In conclusion, using a hybrid cloud solution has become increasingly popular as organizations balance the benefits of both public and private clouds. However, this complex environment presents new security, control, and visibility challenges. Organizations must be aware of their responsibilities in securing their assets and take a proactive approach to cybersecurity by adopting strategies such as Privileged Access Management (PAM) as a service.
PAM ensures that users have the minimum access required to complete their tasks and reduces the risk of damage in case of a breach. Ultimately, organizations should have a robust cybersecurity strategy to protect themselves from financial and reputational harm in the event of a violation and to ensure compliance in a complex cloud environment.
Author bio: Joseph Carson is a cybersecurity professional with more than 25 years of experience in enterprise security and infrastructure. Currently, Carson is the Chief Security Scientist & Advisory CISO at Delinea. He is an active member of the cybersecurity community and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).
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