Blog   |   Automation   |   March 7, 2019

The Time-Saving Power of Cloud Automation

Automating Cloud Security Frees Your IT Team to Focus on What They Do Best

Cloud security and compliance keep a lot of people up at night—and rightly so. If security best practices aren’t followed, cloud environments can be quite vulnerable. There is good news, however: although hackers are sometimes portrayed as highly sophisticated digital thieves, almost all major security and data breaches to date have happened due to configuration errors and violations of security best practices.
When systems become large and complicated human error is almost inevitable. Modern software development and especially cloud-native development involves hundreds of interconnected microservices, sometimes deployed on multiple environments and developed by different teams. Even the most paranoid developers can miss something and leave a door open for a security breach.
Happily, securing your cloud-based application and data at least well enough to avoid nearly all of the types of breaches companies have experienced to date simply requires ensuring best practices are always followed. Especially at scale, that means having the proper organizational procedures and technology in place to ensure everyone is handling security correctly. In practice, this means using cloud security automation to minimize the opportunities for human error and ensure not only that you’re complying with relevant data protection laws but also your own corporate policies regarding data management.

Understanding Cloud Security

One of the challenges with successfully securing a cloud environment is a skills gap. Getting security and compliance right in a cloud environment is fundamentally different from doing so in an on-premise system. Moving from a monolithic application structure to a containerized, microservices-based architecture also increases complexity, and thus the likelihood of human error, while also expanding your potential attack surface.

Building a Strategy

Software developers and IT security teams use automation tools to do the things that machines do better than humans—ensuring that permissions are configured in exactly the same way every time, for example. This is so that humans have more time to do the things that machines can not do.

Strategy should have some human touch, while implementation, in most cases, is best done through automation.

When it comes to cloud security and compliance, it is not just about choosing the right automation tools and magically becoming compliant after implementing them. Without a clear idea of what you need to do to improve your overall security, you won’t be able to choose the right automation tools or make sure that those tools can work together. Best practices checklists, especially those associated with dynamic monitoring capabilities, can help develop strategies and—because the real world is not the ideal world—can be the next-best-thing to a coordinated, company-wide security strategy. Strategy should have some human touch, while implementation, in most cases, is best done through automation.

Following Best Practices

While cloud security can be complicated, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are established best practices when it comes to securing Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure or Google Cloud environments, and almost all attacks that have happened to date have been a result of a failure to follow those best practices, either through human error or, unfortunately, negligence.

What Automation Can Do For You

Here are some specific ways that automation tools help increase security and compliance of your cloud-based applications.

Manage Permissions

Following best practices when it comes to configuring user permissions in AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), Azure Active Directory, or Google Cloud Identity and Access Management is your first line of defense against security breaches. Using an automation tool to handle access management is one way to prevent mistakes from giving a compromised account—or an internal threat, which unfortunately is something companies have to worry about—access to sensitive data or the ability to influence the company’s cloud deployment. Key components to managing IAM include the following:

  • Configure permissions based on roles rather than individual users
  • Give each role the minimum amount of access required for his or her job
  • Enable multifactor authentication
  • Enforce responsible password policies, including rotating IAM access keys, requiring regular password expiration and using strong passwords throughout the entire organization

Ensuring these best practices are followed organization-wide, on all the cloud deployments, requires using automation tools to manage roles, permissions, users, and passwords. Without automation, the risk of human error is high.

Athough hackers are sometimes portrayed as highly sophisticated digital thieves, almost all major security and data breaches to date have happened due to configuration errors and violations of security best practices.


Secure Your Data

Misconfigured Amazon Simple Storage Services (S3) buckets, Azure Block Blobs, or Google Cloud Storage is another major cause of security breaches, specifically data leaks, which is both a security and compliance problem. This is also true of databases. The root cause is often traced back to using several types of data storage and databases—along with multi cloud deployment—meaning you need to correctly configure your databases, data storage, data import/export tools and backup tools on AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. The solution:

  • Make sure your S3 Buckets, Block Blobs or Google Cloud Storage are not publicly readable or writeable
  • Encrypt everything, including data in Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), Azure Blob Storage and Google Persistent Disk as well as in databases, including Amazon RDS, Azure’s SQL Database and Google Cloud Spanner
  • Follow the same least-possible-access principles as with user permissions, so all databases have the most restrictive access possible


Monitor, Logging, and Alerts

Once you’ve correctly configured access for users and locked down your data storage and databases, you need to monitor your entire application as it runs. Even with impeccable set-up, applications have a lot of moving parts and it’s difficult to impossible to predict how it will behave as containers move around clusters, storage objects attach and detach from clusters, and thousands of requests are processed. Particularly if you’re using a CI/CD pipeline, your application is also being continually updated, potentially multiple times per day.
While theoretically the set-up process can be managed manually, at the monitoring, logging, and alert stage you must have a tool in place to ensure consistent, continuous compliance and security. Here’s a non-comprehensive idea of what has to be monitored as the application runs:

  • Any change in permissions/access for individual users, entire roles and/or databases
  • Unusual activity anywhere in the application
  • Dynamically check any points of access to your application
  • Ensure security best practices are continuously followed as the application runs

Making sense of the hundreds of components that make up a modern application and monitoring them all, continually, isn’t possible manually. Using cloud automation tools not only makes this monitoring possible but allows for self-healing. In many cases, automation tools can fix the security vulnerabilities it finds, ensuring your application is secure 24 hours a day while limiting human involvement to the cases that can’t be solved with automation.

What Happens When You Automate Security and Compliance?

A responsible cloud security strategy is not about being 100% impermeable—that might not be possible. It’s about following the best practices that are established by compliance regulations and ensuring that your application is as secure as possible. Cloud automation ensures that human error during the set-up stage doesn’t leave your application or data vulnerable to attack. Automated monitoring is the only realistic way to ensure that your application stays as secure as possible at all times and that security vulnerabilities aren’t introduced, either by updates or by unexpected interactions between the application components. While this won’t decrease your security risk to zero, it will dramatically decrease the risk of a data leak or other security breach.
Security automation can also provide legal protection. From a legal perspective, a data breach that happens to a company that is fully compliant with data protection regulations and follows industry-accepted security protocols is very different from a non-compliant company.
The bottom line in cloud security is that continuous security and compliance is only possible with automation tools to ensure across-the-board access management and to monitor and dynamically fix security vulnerabilities in real time. In addition, it allows your IT team to use their time to work on the types of projects that can’t be automated—like developing security strategy or finding ways to meet customers’ needs with new features.

What is CloudCheckr?

CloudCheckr is the world’s leading independent cloud management platform (CMP). Our enterprise-ready applications for finance, IT, and information security teams, run today on the most popular cloud providers—with an easy to use single dashboard. To see automated cloud security in action, schedule a custom demo with one of our cloud experts or get started with a free 14-day trial.