How to Conduct a Cloud Security Audit: A 5-Step Checklist

Kaitlyn Graham | June 11, 2021 | tag: cloud security

For the first time, cloud security breaches and incidents are more commonplace than on-premises attacks. According to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), in 2020, 73% of cyberattacks involved cloud assets, compared to only 27% in the previous year.

As your business increases its dependency on digital infrastructures and introduces more cloud providers to its network, you must assess its cloud security posture – on a continuous basis.

While you should customize any assessment to your industry or size of your organization, here are some standard best practices we recommend you include in your cloud security audit.

1. Assess your cloud providers' security postures

 

No one wants to enter a relationship with a partner whose security posture isn’t what it should be. The same holds true of your cloud vendors. In addition to reviewing their security policies and protocols, you need a way to independently ascertain risk based on data-driven insights – from onboarding through the life of the relationship.

This practice may sound overwhelming, but you can easily automate this process using a tool like security ratings.

Ratings work by continuously monitoring a vendor’s security posture based on factors such as vulnerabilities, compromised systems, adherence to industry best practices, and compliance with cybersecurity frameworks. Findings are presented as an easy-to-understand numerical score with a higher rating equating to better overall security performance. If a rating is low, you may choose not to enter into a cloud services agreement with a vendor. Alternatively, if you consider them business-critical, you can work with them to improve their rating.

You can also use security ratings to keep an eye on any changes that may impact a vendor’s security posture over time. This will stop risk creeping into the relationship.

2. Use your cloud security audit to understand your attack surface

 

Your cybersecurity audit can also shine a light on where vulnerabilities and exposure exist across your attack surface.

As cloud and multi-cloud strategies evolve, managing cloud security has been a sticking point for security teams. Traditional cyber security assessment practices can be challenging to scale into the cloud, making it hard to discover and determine how secure your cloud-hosted assets are.

Bad actors know this and frequently exploit weaknesses that can arise when cloud assets aren’t monitored continuously and effectively. Compromised systems, open ports, unpatched software, and other vulnerabilities present open doors for industrious hackers.

But today’s attack surface monitoring technology has evolved to keep pace with cloud risk and is a vital part of any cloud security audit. By continuously analyzing your cloud environment, you can quickly identify gaps in your security controls and get a handle on risk across your cloud assets. With this insight, you can prioritize assets that are at disproportionate risk or most critical to your business, and better focus your remediation efforts. Furthermore, because your cloud instances may be extensive and include hidden assets common to shadow IT, you can discover risks and bring them in line with corporate security policies without overwhelming security teams.  

This form of monitoring also solves the challenge of the shared responsibility model by giving visibility into the risk profile of the cloud assets you are responsible for on a continuous basis.

3. Set robust access controls

 

Access management violations are among the most common cloud security risks (just see how much damage was caused to Colonial Pipeline, who didn’t have multi-factoring authentication requirements for employees). While your cloud provider will designate administrator-level access to trusted account managers, if those credentials fall into the wrong hands, your data may be at risk. It’s a big problem. The Verizon DBIR found that 61% of data breaches involved credentials theft.

Take the following steps to reduce risk on your side of the cloud:

  • Set strong password policies and standards
  • Make multi-factor authentication mandatory 
  • Regularly audit permissions
  • Monitor users’ activities as they interact with cloud assets

4. Establish external sharing standards

 

One of the major benefits of the cloud is convenience. It has made accessing and sharing information across the enterprise a breeze. But convenience brings risk. Employees may download a file containing sensitive information to their home network or share it with someone outside the organization.

Your cloud security audit should include a review of your data loss prevention policies. For instance, you can establish rules that limit sharing of sensitive documents, automatically warning the user against sharing the file with an external email domain or quarantining the file before it is accessed or shared.

5. Patch smarter

 

Maintaining a regular patching cadence is key to ensuring your cloud environment is secure. But getting a handle on patch management can be an unending challenge for IT and security teams. The Verizon DBIR found that patching performance is still lacking. Other studies also show that it takes the average organization 38 days to patch a vulnerability. Understaffed and struggling with alert fatigue, it can be hard to find gaps in your patching program.

But why patch harder when you can patch smarter? With security ratings, you can quickly identify unpatched systems, prioritize which patches are most critical, and allocate resources where they are needed most.

Threats are evolving. So must your cloud security audit.

 

The Verizon DBIR underscores the security challenges facing businesses as they move to the cloud. To mitigate cyber risk, your cloud security audit must also evolve.

Smart security policies that address common areas exploited by hackers are critical. But your audit must also provide broad and continuous visibility into the security posture of your cloud assets and that of your cloud vendors. Only then is focused and effective risk mitigation possible.

 

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