Top 5 Cloud Security Best Practices

Article by WME - Top 5 Cloud Security Best Practices

Top 5 Cloud Security Best Practices 

Cloud is the new future and every other company is trying to find their way into a secure cloud computing environment. However, since the beginning of this trend, the biggest concern for these companies has been the safety and confidentiality of their data.

Despite many native security tools from cloud providers like Microsoft, the need for robust security measures within organizations has never been more crucial. In this article, we will explore the five essential best practices that every organization must adopt to safeguard their sensitive information effectively.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room…

1. Taking Charge of Your Security Obligations

When you use cloud services to store your data, it’s important to know who is in charge of its safety. Generally, the cloud provider is responsible for securing the overall system, but it’s still up to you, the customer, to ensure that your data is secure within that system.

You need to make sure you understand your role and take the necessary steps to protect your data. No doubt, as companies move to the cloud, more and more responsibilities are handled by the cloud provider, in this case, Microsoft. However, it’s always your job to maintain and secure your data, devices, and user accounts.

The Shared Responsibility Model of Cloud Security

The shared responsibility model defines the responsibilities of cloud service providers (CSPs) and cloud users to properly maintain all aspects of the cloud environment, including:

  • infrastructure,
  • operating system (OS),
  • data,
  • endpoints,
  • network controls,
  • and access rights.

In the context of Microsoft 365 (M365), the CSP is Microsoft, and the cloud user is the organization that subscribes to M365 services.

Responsibility of the Cloud Provider Microsoft is responsible for the security and reliability of the underlying infrastructure that hosts M365 services, including data centers, networks, and hardware. Microsoft also provides security features and controls that help organizations protect their data and applications in M365.

Responsibility of the organization that subscribes to Microsoft Cloud Services

The organization that subscribes to Azure cloud is to secure their data and applications in M365. This includes tasks such as:

  • Enabling and configuring security features and controls in M365
  • Protecting user credentials and passwords
  • Implementing data loss prevention (DLP) policies
  • Monitoring and responding to security incidents.

The shared responsibility model allows organizations to benefit from the security and scalability of the cloud while maintaining control over their data and applications. By understanding the responsibilities of both the CSP and the cloud user, organizations can make informed decisions about how to secure their M365 environment.

The Shared Responsibility Model Varies from One CSP to Other

It is important to note that the shared responsibility model can vary depending on the specific cloud service that is being used. For example, organizations that use Microsoft Azure will have different responsibilities than organizations that use Microsoft 365. It is important to read the documentation for the specific cloud service that is being used to understand the specific responsibilities of both the CSP and the cloud user.

2. Strong Authentication & Encryption

Passwords do provide the initial defense against unauthorized access, but it’s still important to acknowledge that passwords can be stolen, leaked, or compromised.

That’s why it’s crucial to implement robust authentication methods such as multifactor authentication (MFA). They significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your sensitive data. Multifactor authentication involves users providing multiple forms of authentication, such as a password along with a code sent to their mobile app, before gaining entry to the cloud environment.

Importance of Multifactor Authentication (MFA)

MFA tech has advanced a lot. They include, most famously, Passwordless technologies.

Such technologies still provide the most effective defense against password-related threats. They include facial recognition, fingerprints, or logins through mobile apps.

MFA Capabilities with Microsoft’s Cloud
Microsoft offers a range of passwordless technologies like Windows Hello, Microsoft Authenticator, and FIDO2 Security keys. By leveraging these methods, you can greatly reduce the possibility of password theft. However, making their well-optimized use can be a challenge and we are here help you with implementing MFA technologies

The Layered Authentication Architecture
By using a layered authentication architecture, Microsoft 365 helps to protect user accounts from a variety of attack vectors.

Pre-authentication: This layer occurs before the user attempts to sign in. It involves checking the user’s IP address and device information to see if they are from a trusted location.

Authentication: This is for when a user tries to sign in. It involves verifying the user’s identity using one or more of the methods.

Authorization: This layer determines what resources the user can access once they have been authenticated.

Cloud Security Relies Heavily on Encryption
Encryption involves encoding data to ensure only authorized users can access it. By implementing encryption for both data in transit and data at rest, you can protect sensitive information against unauthorized access and potential data breaches.

Microsoft prioritizes encryption across its cloud services, ensuring that data is always encrypted at rest, in transit, and in use. Microsoft Azure Storage Service Encryption, for instance, uses 256-bit AES encryption with Microsoft Manage Keys to encrypt data at rest in various Azure services such as:

  • Blob storage,
  • Managed Disks,
  • Azure files,
  • Azure queues,
  • and table storage.

Moreover, Azure Disk Encryption provides encryption for data at rest in Windows and Linux VMs using 256-AES encryption. For Microsoft Azure SQL Database and Azure Data Warehouse, Transparent Data Encryption is utilized to provide encryption for these services.

3. Monitor Cloud Activity & Know Your Security Readiness

For cloud monitoring, Microsoft has its native tool, Microsoft Defender for Cloud.

Microsoft Defender for Cloud
It’s a cloud-native security tool that offers comprehensive security for multi-cloud and on-premises resources. It combines the features of Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) and Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) to prevent, detect, and respond to threats effectively.

By integrating data-aware security readiness and threat detection capabilities, it provides increased visibility and control over the security of various resources, including Azure Storage, Azure SQL, and open-source databases.

Microsoft Sentinel to Leverage AI

Microsoft Sentinel is another tool. It’s an AI-powered security information and event management system which is designed to uncover sophisticated threats and automate response actions. Serving as a centralized hub across multi-cloud environments, Sentinel monitors attackers as they move through different channels of attack.

Native Tool Dependency is not Enough

However, relying solely on these tools may not be enough to ensure satisfactory levels of security readiness. You need some dedicated expertise to specifically oversee your environment. You need such a helping hand for:

  • Understanding your security responsibilities and assigning roles.
  • Implementing strong authentication Implementing encryption
  • Protecting data wherever it resides or travels Regularly monitoring your cloud environment Having a solid disaster recovery plan.

It’s crucial to monitor cloud activity and be aware of your security readiness. They are two very important aspects of cloud security indeed.
By monitoring cloud activity, you can identify suspicious or unauthorized activity, such as unusual login attempts or access to sensitive data. This information can help you to detect and respond to security threats quickly and effectively.

A Cloud Security Services Experts Team Can Help You Leverage:  

  • Cloud audit logs: 
    Cloud providers, including Microsoft, typically provide audit logs that record all activity in your cloud environment. These logs can be used to track user logins, API calls, and file access.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) systems: 
    SIEM systems can collect and analyze logs from a variety of sources, including cloud services, on-premises systems, and network devices. We can use SIEM log analysis to identify suspicious activity and alert your defenses against potential threats.
  • CSPM tools: 
    Cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools can scan your cloud environment against misconfigurations & security vulnerabilities. This scan can help us improve your security readiness and reduce your risk of cyber-attacks.

Know Your Security Readiness
Your security posture is a measure of the overall security readiness of your cloud environment.
It includes factors such as the configuration of your cloud resources, the use of security controls, and the training of your users.

How To Assess Your Security Posture

  • Security assessments: Both internal and external security professionals can conduct such assessments or evaluations. These assessments can help you to identify security weaknesses and make recommendations for improvement.
  • Security benchmarks: Security benchmarks are industry-standard security controls that can be used to assess your security posture. One good example of Security benchmarks is the Cloud Security Alliance’s Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM).
  • Self-assessments: You can also conduct self-assessments of your security posture. This involves reviewing your cloud environment and security controls to identify any potential weaknesses.

Steps To Protect Your Cloud Environment

  • Set up alerts: These are for suspicious, unauthorized activities. This will help you to detect threats quickly and take action accordingly.
  • Review logs regularly: This tip will help you regularly identify any potential threats your organization might be facing.
  • Use security tools: Use security tools, such as SIEM systems and CSPM tools, to help you monitor cloud activity and improve your security posture.
  • Train your users: Train them on security best practices, such as strong password management & on how to avoid phishing emails.
  • Keep your software updated: Keep your cloud software up to date with the latest security patches.
  • Have a Security Readiness plan: This plan will help you respond to any security incidents if they occur despite efforts. It should include steps for identifying and mitigating threats and for recovering from attacks.

4. Implement Zero Trust Security Architecture

The zero-trust principle is based on the idea that no user or device should be implicitly trusted, regardless of their location or network status. Instead, all access requests should be authenticated, authorized, and continuously verified before being granted.

Zero Trust Should Be Your Ultimate Security Solution 

Basically, zero trust contrasts with traditional security models, which often rely on a perimeter-based approach. In a perimeter-based model, users and devices are assumed to be trusted if they are inside the network perimeter. However, this approach is no longer effective in today’s threat landscape, where attackers can easily bypass network perimeters using techniques such as phishing, malware, and ransomware.

How Zero Trust Enhances Security

Simply, by putting more security protocols in place.

  • Authentication: It verifies the identity of every user and device. In a zero-trust environment, authentication is the strongest possible and nonstop. This means that users and devices are authenticated every time they try to access a file or application.
  • Authorization: The architecture ensures only the right users and devices can access a resource. The authorization, basically, depends on the user’s or device’s identity and the security requirements set for the resource.
  • Micro-segmentation: The security architecture divides your network into small, isolated zones. This makes it difficult for potential breachers to move laterally within the network if they can get through a device or whole system.
  • Continuous monitoring: You need a watchdog to monitor suspicious activities in your environment. Zero-trust architecture plays that role by using a variety of tools and techniques, such as intrusion detection systems (IDS) and security information and event management (SIEM) systems.

5. API Security is Paramount

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are a set of rules and protocols that allow software systems to communicate and interact with each other, enabling seamless data exchange and functionality sharing.

Cloud services often rely on APIs to facilitate access, but without proper security measures, they can become susceptible to attacks. To safeguard against potential threats, it is crucial to implement secure APIs with robust authentication and encryption protocols.

APIs have to be secure. In fact, they are extremely crucial for cloud security as they facilitate secure communication and interactions between different cloud services, applications, and resources.

Here’s Why Secure APIs Are Crucial For Cloud Security

  • Secure APIs ensure that data transmitted between cloud services and applications is encrypted and protected from unauthorized access or interception.
  • APIs play a vital role in Identity Management. They help you enforce access controls, validate user identities, and implement multifactor authentication.
  • APIs that follow secure coding practices and undergo regular security testing help mitigate vulnerabilities. As a result, they can prevent common attack vectors like injection attacks and buffer overflows.
  • Secure APIs support robust authentication and authorization mechanisms.
  • Secure enough APIs come with built-in management and monitoring capabilities to track API usage, monitor performance, and detect potential anomalies or security incidents.
  • Secure APIs help you meet regulatory compliance requirements by implementing security controls, auditing API usage, and generating comprehensive logs.
  • They ensure rate limiting and throttling mechanisms to prevent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. These measures restrict the number of API calls from individual IP addresses, preventing overload and ensuring consistent service availability.
  • They facilitate secure integration with third-party services and applications into the cloud environment.
  • APIs are vital components of a Zero Trust security architecture, where each interaction is authenticated and authorized independently, regardless of the user’s location or network environment.

Bonus: Conduct Regular Security Assessments

Conducting regular security assessments can help identify security vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of security measures. Regular security assessments can be conducted internally or by third-party security experts.

WME Security Assessment
We help you assess the security posture of your Microsoft Cloud environment to identify potential vulnerabilities, risks related to identity and compliance, and areas where your organization may be exposed.

  • Ensure security readiness
  • Identify any malicious users or activities in the environment.
  • Perform a thorough review of all configurations within M365 and Azure.
  • Assess risk factors related to user access controls, application vulnerabilities, and system security settings.
  • Ensure proper data governance policies are in place.
  • Provide recommended best practices and other areas to be reviewed to secure your services.

WME Microsoft 365 & Azure Security Evaluation: Case Study #1

Security Assessment, Remediation, and Implementation

Client industry: Banking 

Client environment: Microsoft 365 and Azure

The Problem/opportunity:

  • Customer requested a security scan and assessment of their entire infrastructure.
  • They required us to implement the results of the scan/assessment.
  • Customer also asked us to assess the potential damage of a security breach of a user’s account right before they requested the assessment.

The WME Solution: 

  • Due to the recent security breach, we first used tools including eDiscovery to assess what happened and the potential damage including the data loss that had been done.
  • We identified what areas and data elements did the bad actors gain access to and provided recommendations on how to remove the security vulnerabilities.
  • During this entire engagement, we identified all the IP addresses that were used by the bad actors to gain access to the client’s M365 environment and blacklisted them all.
  • As a custom action, we turned Geo fencing on for all users. We also reported all the data areas that could have been accessed by the bad actors. We also gave an abstract report on the categories of data they were interested in.
  • Based on the results of that scan, we implemented all high-priority and critical recommendations as well as all low-impact recommendations.
  • Due to the criticality of the matter, we completed the whole task in just two weeks rather than a typical four to six weeks.
  • As a standard practice, we also shared metrics-based reports to describe the progress we were making daily.
  • To ensure an uninterrupted environment, while we implemented efforts to solve client’s problem, we used an Agile type of daily call to review the last 24 hours’ progress and present to client what would be done in the next 24 hours.

Challenges We Faced & Solved:

Challenge # 1:

The hardest challenge was to complete a highly sophisticated security scan and remediation task in just two weeks. Whereas such tasks typically take at least 4-6 weeks of tedious work. 

Challenge # 2:

Another challenge was to satisfy the customer’s demand to monitor and get involved with the effort which we normally do by ourselves.

The Final Outcome:

Finally, the customer was 100% satisfied with the results WME provided. We were able to move the customer’s Overall Compliance Score from 21% to 99%.

WME Microsoft 365 & Azure Security Evaluation: Case Study #2

Security Assessment, Maturity, and Implementation

Client industry: Engineering

Client environment: Microsoft 365 and Azure

The Problem/Opportunity:

  • The customer requested a security scan and assessment of their entire infrastructure.
  • They wanted us to implement the scan/assessment results to secure their system.
  • They required us to provide Intune-related services enrolling their devices.
  • The customer also asked us to assess the potential damage of a security breach of a user’s account right before they requested the assessment.
  • As they were receiving tremendous spam, ransomware, and phishing attacks, WME had to remediate the whole security vulnerability and restore the environment to an absolutely safe state.

The WME Solution: 

  • We identified all the exploitations, quickly remediated all the vulnerabilities, and secured the whole environment to increase the Maturity level by two.
  • We also provided some high-level support for the organization’s staff while transforming their products.
  • Using Business Cloud Integration, we designed and deployed Microsoft Security tools and Property tools to allow for quick automation of the platform and migration of the data wherever required.
  • We also provided recommendations to cut costs for the client’s security measures.

The Steps & Approach We Adopted:

  • We Provided a Cyber Security Assessment: This particular approach was necessary to identify security risks in the client’s whole environment. This information was automatically provided as a Segway to prioritize security investments and improve the organization’s security posture.
  • We assisted with providing an updated organization’s maturity level: This metric was used to identify areas where security improvements and continuous monitoring were needed. This information was used to develop and implement a security improvement plan and strategy to automate WME tools.
  • Preventing Future Cyberattacks: The implementation of security was defined to help to protect the client organization from cyberattacks. This includes implementing security policies and procedures, implementing security controls, and training employees on security procedures.

The Final Outcome:

  • The client was 100% satisfied with the results we provided. We improved the customer’s Overall Compliance Score from 21% to 99%, and their Identity score to 100%.

Wrapping it up:

Securing your data in the cloud is paramount. There are no second thoughts on that. This is, indeed, of utmost importance to protect your business from cyber threats. Do follow the five most crucial Cloud Security Best Practices we’ve just discussed.

However, I’m sure by going through the above-mentioned WME security assessments, you should have a clear insight into what it takes to really secure your cloud environment. You need strong authentication, encryption, and a Zero Trust security architecture, all of which are highly sophisticated jobs and only a few companies can afford to have in-house resources to manage them on their own.

Clearly, it’s an expert’s job!!

So, to ensure the confidentiality and safety of your sensitive information, get in touch with us. Our cloud security experts will help you stay one step ahead of potential threats. With the right approach and the support of a trusted cloud security provider, you can confidently embrace the future of cloud computing. Stay secure and stay protected!

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