How to perform a Cloud Security Assessment?

Payal Wadhwa

Payal Wadhwa

Jan 09, 2024

While 39% of organizations experienced a cloud data breach the previous year, 75% continued to host more than 40% of sensitive data on the cloud. As a CISO, you are always at the forefront of the battle between hosting data on the cloud and safeguarding data.

The cloud has become the foundation of modern IT infrastructure and navigating the intricacies of data hosting is the only way forward. This is where cloud security assessments come in. They allow security professionals to identify faulty security settings and loopholes while enabling them to truly harness the many benefits of the cloud.

Read on to understand cloud security assessments, how it is performed, the benefits of conducting periodical cloud security assessments, and challenges associated with them.

What is cloud security assessment?

Cloud security assessment is a systematic review of the cloud environment to identify risks and vulnerabilities that could impact the data resources. It enables organizations to proactively identify security weaknesses and compliance gaps in the cloud-based system and create a remediation plan.

What are the benefits of cloud security assessment?

Cloud security assessments provide visibility across known and unknown vulnerabilities across the cloud landscape. The assessments help initiate data-informed decisions for closing security gaps. These also enable proactive threat detection, configuration management and compliance checks. All these measures in turn translate into a robust security posture.

Here are some of the benefits of cloud security assessment:

Risk reduction

Cloud security assessments employ several tools and techniques to uncover potential security risks that can escalate into security incidents. Risks related to misconfigurations, access management, encryption misses, lack of firewall rules, and unpatched vulnerabilities, among others, are identified for prompt response and minimized impact.

Compliance management

Cloud security risk assessments can help pinpoint compliance gaps by evaluating the effectiveness of cloud security controls. Frameworks like GDPR and HIPAA have several cloud security requirements that need periodical reviews. For example, GDPR allows for portable data transfers when individuals raise such requests. Cloud security assessment can ensure that the data is securely transferred to the data subject in such scenarios.

Improved security posture

Cloud risk assessments evaluate the security capabilities of the cloud infrastructure such as adequate access controls, security patches, endpoint security, etc. This is followed by regular updates in policies contributes to organizational and operational maturity, making it more resilient to security threats.

Enhanced incident response preparedness

Cloud infrastructure security assessments can identify vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit and help prioritize security issues. It can also evaluate the effectiveness of mechanisms like intrusion detection systems that aid in preventing security incidents and enhancing incident response plans.

Cost savings

The assessments help trim costs across a spectrum of functions. Fewer incidents result in significant cost savings. Keeping compliance in check helps reduce costs associated with data breach notifications and regulatory penalties. Lastly, timely redressal of misconfigurations and other security concerns help reduce administrative overheads due to operational efficiencies.

How to perform cloud security assessment?

A cloud security risk assessment evaluates the security loopholes and compliance gaps in the cloud infrastructure from various angles. This is done by cataloging cloud resources, conducting thorough assessment, and recommending changes. With that in mind, here are the 6 steps to perform a cloud security assessment.

Discovery of cloud resources

Make a list of all assets hosted in the cloud architecture including all digital assets such as databases, servers, applications, workstations, network devices etc. Additionally, gather cloud infrastructure diagrams, configuration information, policies, etc. Remember to include information about third-party vendors the organization makes use of. This gives a comprehensive understanding of the assets and resources that need protection.

Assessment scoping

Shortlist the processes, tools and people that will be a part of assessment. Narrow down the scope by identifying the type of data stored or processed by the cloud application to mark critical services. These can be business-critical processes like web servers and application servers, cloud services responsible for processing compliance data, any external facing APIs etc. Finalize the outcomes to be achieved from the cloud assessment framework in the scope statement. 

Threats and vulnerability detection

The next step is to identify and score internal risks, external risks, and compliance violations. Find out vulnerability criticality:

  • Make use of vulnerability assessments and pen-testing tools
  • Evaluate access controls and permissions
  • Examine encryption keys and network security, including firewalls
  • Review security configurations
  • Verify compliance adherence

Make a risk matrix to understand risk severity and prioritize risk response.

Documentation and reporting

Document the identified gaps in current security solutions to generate actionable insights from initiatives taken at every step. Prepare a high-level summary for management review. For security teams you can have a detailed report with technical jargon and details. Also include proof of concept, references for findings and recommendations for remediation.

Remediation plan

Based on the detailed recommendations, create a remediation plan outlining actionable steps to be initiated. Define roles and responsibilities and a stipulated timeline for each task. Allocate the necessary budget and tools for corrective action. Arrange for security awareness training to ensure best practices for cloud security when implementing corrective action.

Monitoring and enhancement

Establish key performance indicators to measure the success of remediation measures. Schedule regular meetings to discuss the number of vulnerabilities resolved and other essentials. You can also test the effectiveness of remediation measures through internal audits and make any changes in the plan if required for continual improvement.

Challenges you may face while performing cloud security assessment

While cloud infrastructure assessment is a high-impact exercise that benefits the organization in the long term, security practitioners may encounter specific challenges. These may be attributed to the complex nature of cloud environments and practices like shadow IT.

Let us look at the top challenges faced when performing cloud security assessment:

Dynamic and multi-cloud environments

According to recent statistics, multi-cloud adoption worldwide stands at 94%. A multi-cloud service often implies different interfaces and configurations, making the assessment process complex. Additionally, the new architectural approach of microservices can lead to fragmented distribution of assets causing other security challenges.

The microservices approach divides the software applications into smaller, independent services. Microservices perform specific functions and can be deployed independently without deploying the complete application.These services communicate with each other through APIs which implies multiple APIs, endpoints, and additional components to monitor.

How do you solve multi-cloud complexities?

Here are some security best practices to help you solve the complexities of multi-cloud environments:

  • Use policy synchronization across clouds (same security settings and policies for multiple environments using automated tools)
  • Leverage single sign-ons for centralized authentication
  • Have a consolidated logging and security monitoring strategy
  • Ensure cloud compliance across these complex environments with automated tools like Sprinto

Rising threat sophistication

There is a need to adapt to the evolving nature of the threat landscape continuously. The attackers are exploiting previously unknown vulnerabilities (zero-day exploits) and using multiple attack vectors that can remain hidden for long (advanced persistent threats). This rising threat sophistication makes it hard to rely on security assessments.

How to fight rising threat sophistication?

  • Stay updated on the latest threats: subscribe to newsletters, follow thought leadership articles from cyber security influencers etc.
  • Integrate with threat intelligence feeds
  • Conduct continuous vulnerability scans and proactive patch management
  • Test and enhance your incident response plan
  • Stay up to date with the latest regulatory requirements

Compliance complexities

Industries subject to multiple stringent regulatory requirements such as GDPR and HIPAA cannot solely rely on cloud infrastructure security assessments to pinpoint gaps. While it addresses aspects of regulatory compliance, there are problems it cannot solve. For example, accurate interpretation of compliance regulations as applicable to business, keeping up with industry standard updates, proper evidence collection for compliance audits etc.

How to ensure compliance management?

  • Subscribe to industry newsletters and publications
  • Appoint a separate compliance team for continuous compliance monitoring
  • Use compliance automations tools for comprehensive coverage of regulatory requirements.

Sprinto is purpose-built for cloud-first companies to enable granular-level compliance checks across the infrastructure. The health dashboard shows you a live status of compliance and raises automated alerts for any compliance misses. The platform also notifies security operations teams on controls that are missing threshold scores and initiates remediation tasks based on criticality.

Shared responsibility model challenges

The shared responsibility model advocates that cloud security is a joint responsibility between cloud service providers and customers. While CSPs must address infrastructure-related threats, customers are accountable for the data they store in the cloud and ensure best practices. However, this creates ambiguity while determining the scope of cloud security assessment and does not indicate where the responsibility of CSP ends.

How to solve challenges associated with the shared responsibility model?

  • The responsibility boundaries are different in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS—the responsibility of CSP is higher in the case of SaaS. It is essential to have a clear understanding of the responsibilities for each service and document these.
  • Don’t use default settings as preferred configurations. Customize these as per risk appetite and monitor them closely
  • Implement encryption best practices, IAM policy enforcement, and network segmentation.

Shadow IT

Shadow IT is using IT software or hardware by individuals without authorized approval. The usage may be for individual purposes or work-related tasks. These practices affect the visibility into the IT landscape, impacting the results and accuracy of cloud security assessments.

How to deal with shadow IT challenges?

  • Use endpoint detection and response tools for remote device monitoring and DLP tools to eliminate data leaks
  • Arrange workforce training to educate them about IT best practices
  • Survey your employees regularly to understand the hardware and software they are using

Final thoughts

Cloud security assessments help evaluate the defense capabilities of the cloud and help detect and safeguard networks from potential threats. But in an age that calls for heightened security awareness, you need a combination of tools and tactics to address your cloud security weaknesses, both the known as well as the unknown. Incorporating a compliance automation tool like Sprinto as an enabler can help you improve your cloud security posture and enhance your blod security strategy.

Sprinto can help streamline the assessment process by automating vulnerability scans, reducing incident response time, and providing data-driven insights on risk. It can integrate with 100+ cloud service providers and ensure cloud compliance across 15+ frameworks. 

Rapidly expanding cloud companies across the world use Sprinto to power their cloud security programs and achieve compliance excellence. Read how NitroPack fast-tracked compliance and strengthened security with Sprinto’s automation capabilities.

Let’s show you how it’s done. Speak to our experts today.

FAQs

Who is responsible for performing cloud security assessments?

Cloud security assessments can be conducted in-house by your security teams. It can also be conducted by third-party experts in cloud security. While the former can be cost-effective, the latter can give an unbiased view of the security weaknesses.

What is the difference between a cloud security audit and a cloud security assessment?

A cloud security audit aims to evaluate the alignment of security controls with policies, regulatory requirements, and other benchmarked criteria. It can be conducted by an internal or external auditor and is a more extensive procedure. Cloud security assessments aim to identify vulnerabilities and security weaknesses posing risks to the cloud environment. In-house security teams or third-party specialists conduct it for ongoing improvement.

What are some tools used for cloud security assessments?

Some tools used for cloud security assessments include AWS inspector, Nessus, Qualys, OpenVas and Azure Security center.

Payal Wadhwa

Payal Wadhwa

Payal is your friendly neighborhood compliance whiz! She turns perplexing compliance lingo into actionable advice about keeping your digital business safe and savvy. When she isn’t saving virtual worlds, she’s penning down poetic musings or lighting up local open mics. Cyber savvy by day, poet by night!

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