6 Steps to Implementing Cloud Security Automation

Cloud security automation is crucial for protecting your team’s cloud environment from today’s ever-changing threat landscape. Automating security protocols can be overwhelming — especially if your team is new to cybersecurity. Luckily, a straightforward six-step process can take you from default security protocols to a customized, automated cloud security framework.

1. Evaluation and Risk Assessment

The first step to automate cloud security is a thorough evaluation and risk assessment. Before automating anything, you need to understand how your cloud environment is running. This first stage will identify key automation opportunities, highlighting vulnerabilities and risk factors. That data will be the foundation of your cloud security automation strategy.

Suppose you or your organization have not run a cybersecurity risk assessment before. In that case, a basic five-step approach can prevent confusion. While the risk assessment should include all the organization’s systems, prioritize cloud-related data and infrastructure. Keep in mind an app can be highly secure and still be high risk.

A risk assessment should highlight the threats facing your organization’s most important data, apps, systems, and infrastructure. Cybersecurity risk rankings indicate what could occur in the case of compromise. Ideally, all high-risk systems and data are highly protected. Take note whenever the risk assessment reveals something is both high risk and highly vulnerable.

At this stage, it’s also important to establish your organization’s goals for cloud security. After thoroughly reviewing the risk assessment results, pinpoint a few measurable areas for improvement. For example, you may want to automate some system updates using scripting or implement an automated API security scanner.

These targets will be the foundation of your cloud security automation strategy. It may even be helpful to rank a few goals from highest to lowest priority. This will provide a starting point for your team to focus on as you begin implementing automated cloud security solutions.

2. Expand Cloud Visibility

A crucial part of effective cybersecurity is visibility, but it can be easy to miss things in a cloud environment due to its dispersed nature. Securing the cloud effectively requires expanding your visibility of your cloud resources.

During the risk assessment stage, you may have even stumbled on risks or opportunities you didn’t realize you had. Those are signs you need to improve your visibility of your cloud environment. Building out a cloud asset management platform can pool all your cloud resources into one hub where you can keep an eye on things.

A cloud asset management platform acts as a control center for your cloud environment. It includes all the devices, apps, services, servers, and systems running in your cloud environment — and any critical data, such as usage statistics.

Remember to include physical devices in your management platform. It’s easy to concentrate on software when working with the cloud, but an increasing number of cloud systems rely on input from physical technologies. Those same devices may depend on the cloud to operate correctly.

A great example of this is IoT appliances. These devices are great for automating data collection from sensors, but they are also highly vulnerable to DDoS attacks and often suffer from poor visibility. IoT devices have notoriously weak default security parameters, as well. As a result, it is crucial to have high visibility of IoT devices’ activity and connections to ensure tight security.

Many pre-built cloud asset management platforms are available today, although building your own is possible. However, check with your cloud provider before purchasing or building a management platform. Some may offer one with your subscription, or have a partnership or discount available for 3rd party management platforms.

3. Automated Cloud Security Basics

Once you have a clear understanding of the principal risks and priorities in your cloud environment and a way of monitoring all of it, you can begin implementing automation. It is often a good idea to start with basic automated cloud security measures. This includes automation that covers high-risk gaps and establishes a minimum security level for the whole cloud environment.

For example, every cloud environment should utilize encryption, which most of today’s leading cloud providers offer some level of. You should encrypt your cloud data in three stages (  — transit, rest, and in-use. This protects your data from unauthorized use, even if it is somehow intercepted or compromised at any stage.

The encryption does not automate any processes but ensures data is safe as it moves through your cloud environment. This allows you to implement automated strategies with less anxiety about potentially putting your data at risk.

Automated cloud data backups are another crucial security measure to implement. Data backups to the cloud are becoming more common today, but you can also back up data already in the cloud. Automating regular backups is a crucial part of any disaster recovery plan, including natural disasters and cyber-attacks.

The cloud is more resilient to natural disasters than on-prem servers, but accidents can still happen. Whether it’s the result of a cyber-attack or an unfortunate accident, losing crucial data causes about 60% of small businesses to go under within six months of the loss. So, ensure your cloud data is backed up in a different server location than the data center your cloud resources usually run from. You could even store backups in on-premises data storage. The important part is to make sure backups are happening autonomously at scheduled intervals.

Access control is the third must-have protocol to implement before automating security on a larger scale. It is all too easy for unauthorized users to move through cloud environments since they are dispersed and untethered to physical devices. Effective access control automates the process of denying access to unauthorized users and accounts.

4. Implement Case-Specific Cloud Security Automation

Now that some basic cloud security measures are in place, you can automate more complex processes. At this stage, refer to the goals you established in the first step of the cloud security automation process. Use those aims to identify what you want to automate first, and focus on one or two new integrations at a time.

In this stage, your team will automate higher-risk, more complex security protocols beyond the basics. Each organization’s cloud security automation strategy will differ significantly depending on your unique risk factors and cloud environment.

For example, your team might use a lot of APIs in your workflows. APIs are great for getting different apps and services to work well together but can also be big security risks. Luckily, you can automate API security scans to verify that the tools your team is using are trustworthy. Workload security scans can also be automated.

Similarly, you can use MFA and 2FA to automate identity verification and strengthen your access control. Scripting is another excellent cloud security automation tool to try out. Scripting can automate repetitive security processes like configuration or server updates.

Certain circumstances may also warrant unique cloud security automation tactics. For example, if some of your team members work remotely, you face unique cloud security risks. Muli-factor authentication and automated security updates using scripting will be especially helpful in this situation.

What if you want to automate specific processes on some cloud applications but not others? In this case, you can separate your cloud environment into isolated segments. You don’t need a private cloud to do this, either. You can use a hypervisor to create a remote server in any cloud environment, even shared public clouds.

A virtual private server allows you to customize the security protocols of different chunks of your cloud environment. In fact, segmenting your cloud resources can even improve cybersecurity. It prevents bad actors from gaining complete access to your cloud resources and limits the potential blast radius of a cyber attack.

5. Integrate Automated Threat Monitoring

Threat monitoring is a critical component of any cloud security automation strategy. Automating this is a high-risk process, so it is best to implement automated threat monitoring without any distractions. When trusting an AI to key an eye on your cloud environment, you must dedicate time and effort to ensuring you use a trustworthy algorithm.

Many organizations are diving into AI tools today, including cybersecurity algorithms. Running AI in the cloud allows you to use those tools without intensive on-prem computing resources. AI can be helpful for employees, customers, maintenance, security, and more, but it does come with some risks.

For example, poorly trained AI models can suffer from outdated data, compromised data, or even data bias. Researching an AI model and its developer carefully is crucial before investing in any AI security tools. Look for an algorithm trained on a large data set that gets updates regularly. Timely updates are vital for preventing zero-day attacks.

Schedule a pilot program once you identify an AI threat monitoring program that fits your cloud environment well. There are many ways to go about this. For instance, you could automate threat monitoring in one segment of your cloud environment and continue manual monitoring in others. Closely track and analyze the algorithm’s performance during this testing stage.

You can integrate AI into your cloud environment if it is more effective than manual monitoring. If the algorithm’s performance is disappointing, don’t be afraid to try out other AI threat monitoring tools. Take your time to find the model that gives your cloud resources the best protection possible.

6. Track, Evaluate, and Adjust

Each time you integrate a new automated cloud security measure, carefully track and evaluate its performance. Ideally, automated tools will save time and catch more suspicious activity. If something is hurting the network or simply not practical, take time to adjust it or replace it with a different automated security tool.

Automating security in the cloud is an ongoing process. It requires regular check-up sessions to evaluate success and identify what needs updating. Remember — the cloud threat landscape is always changing. Some automation solutions may eventually go out of date or become obsolete. Carefully monitor security news and emerging threats, and analyze your automation strategy for ways to stay ahead of hackers.

Automating Security in the Cloud

As more and more operations, businesses, tools, and computing environments move to the cloud, building resilient cloud security is increasingly important. You can use these six steps to go from zero cloud security to a robust and flexible automated cloud security system. Continuous improvement is critical to adapting to emerging threats, so repeat this process periodically and closely monitor automated security performance.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Ola Dapo; Pexels; Thank you!

Zac Amos

Zac is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he covers tech trends ranging from cybersecurity to IoT and anything in between.

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