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How To: Diagnose Your Cloud Security (and Begin to Remedy Holes)

Written by Aakash Shah
March 18, 2021

Cloud security has reached the top of businesses’ priority lists. Operationally speaking, the cloud is where the action is. According to McAfee’s 2019 Cloud Adoption and Risk Report, the average organization uses about 1,935 unique cloud services, and multiplying that number by the millions of cloud users, results in massive amounts of activity and data.  

And hackers see the myriad possibilities for cyberattack. 

To compound the matter, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to shift to a work-from-home model, quickly transitioning on-premises workloads to the cloud to accommodate remote employees. That expanded the potential cyberattack surface even more, adding more users, more communications, and more monetizable data that hackers view as low-hanging fruit.

 

Common Cloud Security Vulnerabilities 

Just as any business wants to operate as efficiently and profitably as possible – hackers are looking for ways to get the most return for their efforts. Through trial and error or research, they learn which security design gaps are most common and focus on exploiting them.  

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) development, for example, which gives developers an efficient way to manage distributed systems, cloud applications, and service-based architectures, can lead to design gaps. These vulnerabilities put cloud security at risk, especially if your team:

  • Uses open source or shared components or IaC templates that have vulnerabilities but provide you with no visibility into the risks they create
  • Doesn’t have IaC language expertise, which makes manual code review time-consuming and inefficient 
  • Inadvertently creates “ghost resources” by improperly tagging cloud assets, thereby allowing hacker activity to go undetected in the actual cloud environment
  • Needs to change configuration in the production, which could introduce risk due to negatively impacting infrastructure 

In a perfect world, all code would be free of design gaps that create cybersecurity vulnerabilities. DevOps teams could take as much time as they need to develop software without pressure to take a product to market faster than competitors. But it’s not a perfect world. Teams do feel that pressure, as well as facing the challenges of complex, time-consuming security checking and a lack of skilled team members who understand vulnerabilities and can correct them. Then, unfortunately, IaC can include design gaps – and, proving the adage that haste makes waste, may delay a release due to the risks it poses, leading to missed opportunities. 

Furthermore, teams have traditionally tested software late in the development process, after a monolithic application was complete or even after the application is deployed. However, the problem with this strategy is that when design gaps are discovered, it requires taking time to go back, find the problem, correct it, and then see the impact those changes made to the application’s other features and functionality. It’s inefficient, time-consuming, and it’s distracting – it forces developers to switch gears from the project at hand to go back and correct problems. It’s also expensive with respect to time, labor, and delays.

The better strategy is to shift left with security, moving it earlier in the development process, to build security into the design phase of development before potential misconfigurations impact the application and user experience. Costs to catch and correct design flaws can decrease by a factor of 100 when compared to traditional develop-then-test-and-remediate strategies. Shifting left makes applications more secure from the start. It can also create better UX and loyalty – as well as better working relationships between the DevOps and security teams.

 

The First Line of Defense

Evolving a DevOps team into a DevSecOps team that addresses security throughout the development process, however, is often not a simple undertaking. Processes need to address security in all stages of the software development life cycle from IaC security checks, automated security design integration, security compliance enforcement, and change management. Simply declaring that security is shifting left doesn’t mean your team has the right tools or expertise to build securely or address design gaps effectively. Moreover, a solution that checks code for misconfigurations after development is complete won’t deliver the results you need. Your team will find the greatest value from a tool that works along with them to provide instant security feedback. This is critical to keep security debt – and the time and costs to remediate security design gaps – at a minimum at all times.

 

Set the Pace

Your DevOps team no longer has to feel the pressure of choosing between speed-to-market and cloud security. Identifying design gaps and remediating them immediately will enable your team to securely code at the speed of modern development, providing developers with the IaC benefits of systems free from physical hardware but with fewer risks. It will also elevate your brand as a leader in cloud security, rather than one that makes headlines for the wrong reasons. 

Cyberattacks continue to grow in frequency, scope, and complexity, and legacy processes won’t enable your team to secure your IaC. Make it a priority from the top down in your organization, establish procedures that shift security left, and never face massive cloud security issues that security design gaps can create. 

Don’t wait until after an application is built or deployed to check for misconfigurations or errors. Integrate security practices into the design phase of the development lifecycle. If your organization needs help shifting left, contact the professionals at oak9.