Cloud App Security Defined
Cloud application security, or cloud app security, is the practice of deploying technology, processes, policies and controls to protect applications and data in cloud environments. As an organization migrates data and assets from on-premises data centers to the cloud, the number of vulnerabilities and the size of the organization’s attack surface grow increasingly larger. To prevent data breaches and costly threats like ransomware, security teams must implement superior cloud app security solutions.
Cloud app security requires a multi-layered approach that includes regular security audits, optimal patching cadence, strong authentication and powerful cloud security technologies. Ideal solutions will simplify cloud security by delivering comprehensive visibility, unifying security policies in on-premises and cloud environments and streamlining compliance efforts.
Cloud Application Security Threats
The security of applications and data in the cloud may be impacted by various risks and threats:
- Misconfiguration. This is perhaps the most significant threat to cloud app security. Since many application security tools must be configured manually, human error can play a prominent role in misconfiguration, leaving cloud apps open to attack.
- Software vulnerabilities. There are tens of thousands of known vulnerabilities in software applications, with more vulnerabilities discovered daily. Cybercriminals constantly discover how to exploit these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to applications and systems.
- Lack of visibility. In complex multi-cloud environments, IT teams may have difficulty visualizing all assets, let alone managing and protecting them from security threats.
- Inexperienced staff. Many companies lack the skilled expertise to stay on top of rapid developments in the threat landscape. As a result, inexperienced IT personnel can unintentionally expose the organization to cyber threats.
- Denial of Service (DOS) attacks. As organizations rely more heavily on cloud applications for business-critical processes, denial of service attacks can more easily threaten business continuity.
- Compliance issues. Companies that lack proper technologies for authentication, storage and auditing will find it hard to stay compliant with frameworks like HIPAA, GDPR and PCI-DSS.
- Unsecure filesharing. Users who become frustrated with complex and burdensome security protocols may turn to unsecured sites and applications to share data and files, creating vulnerabilities that can compromise assets.
- Account hijacking. Sophisticated attackers can often access critical systems by stealing account credentials and turning cloud applications into dangerous attack vectors.
- Human negligence. Employee errors have led to some of the most dangerous data breaches. Attackers often exploit human error through phishing attacks and other schemes that dupe users into sharing sensitive information.
- Outdated firewalls. As threats evolve and attackers become more sophisticated, security architecture and firewalls must be constantly updated. When overwhelmed IT teams fail to update systems and apply patches, vulnerabilities in cloud applications can be easily exploited.
- Unsecure APIs. An easy target for hackers, especially when access controls and encryption protocols are not up to par.
Best Practices for Cloud Security
Organizations can improve cloud app security by following several best practices:
- Inventory all cloud apps. Visualizing the attack surface is the first step in protecting it. IT teams should be able to discover and inventory all cloud applications, assess them for known vulnerabilities, understand related compliance requirements, and prioritize and remediate any issues.
- Build awareness. Security awareness training for employees can help to reduce human error, encourage certain behavior and teach employees to recognize the telltale signs of phishing schemes and other attacks.
- Adopt an optimal patching cadence. Updating and patching cloud applications regularly is one of the best ways to protect critical infrastructure from the latest threats.
- Automate processes. Automating security processes frees IT teams to focus on strategic priorities while reducing the potential for human error.
- Implement strong access controls. Multifactor authentication can help to block the vast percentage of threats to cloud app security.
- Minimize the attack surface. Because every cloud application increases the size of the attack surface, IT teams must constantly search for and remove applications or workloads that are no longer needed. Cloud application security solutions can help by providing visibility across the entire cloud environment, enabling IT to monitor and track a comprehensive inventory of applications, workloads and assets.
- Understand the “shared responsibility model”. Security for cloud services is often governed by a “shared responsibility model” where cloud service providers are responsible for securing infrastructure, leaving the safety of everything else to the customer. It’s imperative that IT teams are clear about this distinction and fully understand the role they must play in securing applications and data.
- Control shadow IT. Developers and users often leverage applications and infrastructure without the knowledge of IT. These instances of unauthorized “shadow IT” are not adequately secured and may be accessed with passwords that can be easily compromised. Superior cloud app security solutions deliver visibility into all IT assets, allowing teams to discover shadow IT and curtail it or bring it in line with security policies.
Implementing a Cloud Access Security Broker
One of the most powerful ways to ensure cloud application security is with a Cloud Access Security Broker – or CASB.
Residing between an organization’s on-premises infrastructure and the cloud service provider, a CASB can manage and enforce various data security policies and practices, including authentication, encryption, authorization and alerts. CASBs improve visibility into how data is being used and accessed across endpoints while allowing organizations to extend security policies from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud.
CASBs impact cloud application security in four critical ways:
- Improving visibility. CASBs enable IT teams to view and inventory all cloud services – including shadow IT – and any risk factors associated with cloud assets.
- Enhancing data security. CASBs provide Data Loss Prevention (DLP) capabilities for all data within the cloud and data traveling to and from it.
- Defending against threats. CASBs identify malicious activity, mitigate malware and protect businesses from third-party or internal threats.
- Ensuring compliance. CASBs can help organizations comply with regulations concerning data privacy, safety, and adherence to a wide range of regulatory standards.
Cloud App Security with Forcepoint CASB
Providing full visibility and control over both sanctioned and unsanctioned cloud apps, Forcepoint CASB offers the industry’s most comprehensive cloud app security coverage. This Forcepoint solution enables IT teams to discover cloud application use, analyze risk and enforce appropriate controls for SaaS and custom applications – while allowing end users to access the apps they need without restriction.
With Forcepoint CASB, organizations can:
- Enforce security policies for managed and unmanaged devices based on granular control over applications.
- Gain visibility into the use of shadow IT.
- Uncover risky usage of sanctioned cloud apps – as when users download sensitive data on their personal devices.
- Unify on-premises and cloud security policies, saving time and effort by creating policies once and applying them across all environments.
- View real-time activity monitoring and analysis for every cloud application.
- Manage compliance efficiently with pre-defined policies for common regulatory, compliance and IP protection use cases.
- Achieve compliance in the cloud with full audit and granular control over cloud app usage and activities.