Cloud infrastructure has become the operating system for digital transformation initiatives. Enterprises are rapidly adopting cloud infrastructure to gain competitive advantages, and the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that such strategies are imperative. However, while the initial cloud adoption steps seem straightforward, achieving and maintaining a secure cloud posture is often a foggy adventure.
What is Cloud Compliance?
Cloud computing has introduced several advantages, such as scalability, elasticity, and cost savings. However, the ability to secure cloud infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges for cloud adoption. Consequently, several compliance benchmarks have appeared in the last few years to provide enterprise security guidelines. Adhering to cloud compliance benchmarks provides good baseline security. The available cloud compliance benchmarks can be categorized into three groups: government standards, industry-specific standards, and traditional security standards.
These are standards initiated and maintained by national and regional governments. Examples include:
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) - The United States government owns and operates NIST as a regulatory organization. NIST establishes several guidelines for Information Technology, including cloud computing.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) - This European Union (EU) initiative provides stringent privacy and security regulations for handling data belonging to EU residents.
Several industries emphasize specific security requirements, some of which are standardized. These standards are crucial for implementing security practices important to particular industry verticals. Some examples of these standards are:
Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) - This legislation of the United States government is designed to regulate the security of electronic health records. It is mandated for US-based organizations and gradually gaining wider acceptance.
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) - The PCI DSS is an international standard to prevent credit card fraud. Several approaches are used to achieve this, including protecting cardholder data and sensitive authentication details from unauthorized access.
Classical Security Standards
Some security standards pre-existing in cloud computing have been updated to include cloud-specific requirements. Such measures are crucial for organizations that maintain legacy systems or hybrid cloud architectures. However, traditional security standards are generally pretty popular as they enable a deeper understanding of cloud security from the view of conventional systems and security experts.
ISO 27001 - This is an international standard for managing security risk based on the ISO/IEC 27000 standards. The standard is suitable for organizations of varying sizes and enables the protection of digital information via comprehensive ISMS.
Centre For Internet Security (CIS) - The CIS is a non-profit organization with the mandate to make the internet safe by providing security controls and benchmarks. The CIS has produced security benchmarks for the major cloud service providers.
Why is Cloud Compliance Important?
Several recent factors have caused a rapid migration to the public cloud, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for agility, and the desire to gain competitive advantages. However, while cloud adoption is quickly achieved via automation, preventing violations of compliance benchmarks is challenging.
Shared responsibility model - The public cloud services providers utilize a model in which security is shared between them (providers) and cloud users. In this model, the cloud provider is responsible for securing the underlying hardware and some foundational components, such as virtualization layers. On the other hand, customers must take care of logical security aspects such as virtual firewalls, object storage, databases, etc. Unfortunately, not all customers understand this sharing formula; this often leads to unintentional exposure of security gaps. On the flip side, attackers have also identified these lapses and constantly scan cloud interfaces to identify and exploit unprotected cloud resources.
Adherence To Regulatory Requirements - Violations of regulatory requirements incur massive fines. It could often have negative consequences on the reputation of defaulting enterprises.
Gain Trust From Customers - Most customers want to engage in only businesses with certain compliance levels. Therefore, this measure is often necessary as it demonstrates the effort invested in ensuring secure cloud postures.
Continuous Cloud Compliance
Continuous cloud compliance introduces agility to compliance processes by leveraging event-driven or time-based mechanisms. This agile approach addresses several security challenges in cloud infrastructure and prevents gaps that attackers might exploit.
In general, compliance regulators do not offer tooling support for enterprises; enterprises are expected to identify and use appropriate approaches. Some approaches are highly manual, involving manually constructed compliance checks, e.g., custom-made scripts. These approaches are not feasible for most enterprises as they require in-house cloud security engineers, which are often expensive and difficult to find. Also, the cloud service providers quickly roll out services, and this rapid cadence introduces difficulties in expanding compliance checks for the new services. Furthermore, highly scalable and available compliance mechanisms are required to cater to the rapid deployment of infrastructure and applications, which often introduce vulnerabilities.
Continuous cloud compliance addresses these issues by consistently monitoring cloud infrastructure for violations. This agile approach is more advantageous than point-in-time checks, as changes in the infrastructure could cause regression in previously compliant cloud resources.
How Mitigant Helps With Cloud Compliance
Mitigant is a SaaS solution enabling continuous compliance for enterprises. Our goal is to enable continuous compliance mechanisms for enterprises so that they can focus on their core business objectives with confidence. Mitigant frees up cloud security resources by providing an intuitive and easy-to-use platform that serves as a security enabler. We cover several compliance benchmarks and add checks not included in these benchmarks. In addition, our platform uses innovative methods to enable cloud security and resilience for enterprises.
Co-Founder & CTO, Mitigant. | Contributing Author - O'Reilly Security Chaos Engineering Book. | AWS Community Builder