What is cloud security monitoring?

Cloud security monitoring refers to the practice of overseeing both virtual and physical servers to inspect data for threats and bugs. Cloud security monitoring solutions often depend on automation to measure and assess activities related to data, applications and infrastructure.

How cloud security monitoring works

Cloud security monitoring solutions can be built natively into cloud server hosting infrastructure, or they can be “bolted on” through third-party services or security management tools.

As with SIEM, cloud security monitoring involves collecting log data across servers. Advanced cloud monitoring solutions parse through data for anomalous indicators. They then send alerts as needed, enabling incident response.

Cloud security risks

Cloud security monitoring helps offset cloud security risks. These include:

  • Misconfigurations. In 2022, Check Point researchers found that 27% of businesses had incurred a public cloud infrastructure breach. Among these incidents, nearly 25% were due to cloud infrastructure security misconfigurations.Examples of misconfigurations include unintentionally enabling unfettered outbound access or exposing an S3 bucket. It goes without saying – misconfigurations can prove extremely harmful to an organization’s reputation, resulting in profit losses, fines and reputational damage. Get a 7 step checklist for misconfiguration prevention here.
  • Data loss. While the collaboration and “shareability” capabilities inherent in the cloud can prove extremely useful from a productivity standpoint, they also make it easy for employees to share data with the wrong parties. For instance, employees could accidentally forward data to an employee imposter (read about these types of scams here). More than 60% of cyber security professionals describe data loss and leakage as top cloud security concerns.
  • API vulnerabilities. Cloud applications leverage APIs to communicate with one another. However, those APIs aren’t always secure. Cyber criminals can create Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks to exploit APIs. In turn, the criminals can gain access to corporate data.
  • Malware. Malware is a major menace in the cloud. Because employees upload and download information from the cloud on a continuous basis, there are an endless number of opportunities for cyber criminals to launch malware attacks. These include hyperjacking and hypervisor infections.
  • IAM complexity. In a cloud environment, identity and access management (IAM) can prove tricky, especially for large organizations that need to distill who has access, who needs access…etc. IAM challenges in the cloud also include ‘zombie’ SaaS accounts (inactive users) and improper user provisioning and deprovisioning.Hybrid environments, where users require access to a variety of SaaS apps and on-prem applications, can add a layer of complexity to Identity Access Management. This can lead to misconfigurations and security gaps.

Benefits of cloud security monitoring

Cloud security monitoring can yield the following benefits:

  • Enhanced compliance. Cloud security monitoring is a must within nearly every major set of regulations. For instance, HIPAA or PCI-DSS. Cloud-centric organizations leverage cloud security monitoring tools to avoid compliance violations and corresponding financial penalties.
  • Vulnerability identification. Automated monitoring solutions can efficiently inform IT and security teams about behavioral anomalies. In general, automation offers an increased level of observability and visibility to cloud managers, for cloud environments.
  • Business loss prevention. A missed security event can lead to adverse effects. What the cyber security team didn’t see can lead to ransomware threats, operational shut-downs, decreased customer trust, and decreased market share. Cloud security monitoring not only assists with business continuity and data security, but it also helps organizations avoid business meltdowns.
  • Elevation of security maturity. Organizations with mature information security models focus on pursuing a multi-layered security approach. Think of a cloud monitoring solution as one of several security layers. In addition, it provides enhanced visibility into the overall environment.

Cloud security monitoring challenges

  • Lack of strategy. One common cloud security challenge is lack of a cloud security strategy. In many cases, organizations have rapidly migrated to the cloud (for one reason or another; the pandemic, new hybrid or remote work policies…etc,) without having created a clear cloud security strategy. Cloud stakeholders should be prepared to address questions such as:
  • How can we enhance visibility into cloud policy changes and configurations?
  • What is our strategy for monitoring cloud assets?
  • What is our strategy around cloud access management?
  • How should we handle backups, including offsite copies?
  • What level of access will our cloud provider retain when it comes to company data?
  • What do their permission levels look like?In the absence of a well-defined strategy, an organization may miss out on some of the benefits associated with a cloud security monitoring solution.
  • Alert fatigue. According to one survey, 61% of teams get more than 1,000 alerts per day, while 14% of respondents received as many as 10,000 alerts per day.As the statistics above indicate, some cloud monitoring tools inundate stakeholders with alerts. In turn, IT and security teams end up with sub-par insights into what they should really be focused on.
  • Lack of context. Logs and alerts hold value when an organization’s staff can effectively interpret them. Security teams should know what to monitor and why, and upon receiving alerts, should know how to respond. A top-tier threat detection and response platform includes remediation guidance, playbooks and prioritized alerts.

Cloud security monitoring best practices

Implementing the following best practices around cloud security monitoring can result in a more strategic approach, enhance environment visibility, and establish multi-layered security measures, safeguarding organizations from advanced threats.

  • Evaluate cloud service providers carefully. The key players in the space are Google, Amazon and Microsoft. They’re fairly comparable in reference to security. However, regardless of the vendor, organizations should evaluate compliance levels and data/network availability to ensure alignment with unique, organizationally specific requirements.
  • Perform a cloud infrastructure inventory. To discover potential cloud risks (including shadow IT), organizations need to conduct comprehensive assessments of cloud infrastructure. Organizations are advised to conduct routine audits and to maintain a clear record of cloud environment modifications. This can help identify the origins of misconfigurations.
  • Adopt a multi-layered cloud security strategy. Establishing security layers is critical for enhancing visibility across an organization’s technology stack. Although native cloud monitoring tools can play a role, integrating specialized tools tailored to various tech stack components, including physical hardware and orchestration, is vital.

For more cloud security insights, please see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, to receive more timely cyber security insights and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.