Navigating top 10 cybersecurity risks in cloud-native environments

A 2023 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report revealed that 82% of breaches involved data stored in the cloud. This is due to a lack of visibility across hybrid environments and a patchwork strategy to protect data as it moves across clouds, databases, apps, and services.

A host of cybersecurity challenges come with a cloud-first application architecture, and multiple cloud-native environments demand meticulous attention and proactive mitigation measures. This article examines the top 10 cybersecurity risks inherent in cloud-native environments and offers effective strategies to safeguard against them.

1. Identity and Access Management Risks: In cloud-native architectures, managing users’ and services’ identities and access privileges becomes exponentially complex. With increased application-to-application communication, the validation of access is not just crucial, it’s also more intricate due to the proliferation of service identities.

Mitigation Strategy: Implement a robust identity and access management (IAM) framework encompassing multi-factor authentication (MFA), least privilege access, and regular permissions audits. Utilise identity federation and service mesh architectures to ensure secure service-to-service authentication and authorisation.

2. Remote Access Risks: The very nature of cloud services means most access is remote, significantly elevating the risk of unauthorised access. Traditional perimeter-based security models are inadequate in these scenarios, highlighting the importance of adopting a zero-trust security model.

Mitigation Strategy: Embrace a zero-trust security framework that requires all users, whether inside or outside the organisation’s network, to be authenticated, authorised, and continuously validated before granting access to applications and data. Employ endpoint security solutions and secure network access tools to manage remote connections effectively.

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3. Data Security Risks: Cloud-native environments often involve storing and processing data in the cloud to enable greater accessibility for users and applications. However, this can inadvertently increase the risk of unauthorised data extraction and corporate espionage. Mitigation Strategy: Encrypt data at rest and in transit, apply robust data access controls, and utilise data loss prevention (DLP) strategies to monitor and protect data. Adopt a comprehensive data governance framework to ensure compliance with data protection regulations and corporate policies.

4. Infrastructure Configuration Risks: The agility afforded by cloud-native infrastructures can lead to rapid and sometimes ungoverned creation of resources, potentially leading to misconfigurations and non-compliance with corporate governance and regulatory standards.

Mitigation Strategy: Establish clear infrastructure-as-code (IaC) practices to ensure consistent and compliant resource provisioning. Conduct regular configuration audits and applied automated compliance checks using cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools to detect and rectify misconfigurations and compliance drift.

5. Compliance and Data Residency: Navigating the labyrinthine landscape of data compliance regulations and data residency prerequisites within cloud-native ecosystems can be a herculean task, especially when data is dispersed across disparate regions.

Mitigation Strategy: Select cloud providers endowed with certifications and compliance capabilities that harmonise with your industry’s regulatory framework. Implement robust data classification and encryption protocols to ensure alignment with data protection statutes.

6. API Vulnerabilities: Cloud-native landscapes lean heavily on APIs as the conduits for inter-service communication. Vulnerable APIs present a ripe opportunity for unauthorised entry, malicious code injection, and debilitating denial-of-service attacks.

Mitigation Strategy: Implementing rigorous authentication and authorisation mechanisms can help bolster API security. Employing input validation and output encoding to foil injection exploits can further prevent bad actors from making an impact. Maintaining API currency through regular updates and patching to plug known vulnerabilities is key.

7. Container Vulnerabilities: Containers constitute a cornerstone of cloud-native configurations, but any misstep in their configuration or maintenance can unfurl vulnerabilities that adversaries can exploit.

Mitigation Strategy: Regularly subject container images to vulnerability scans and enforce stringent security policies for image repositories. Employ container runtime security tools to pinpoint and mitigate threats in running containers.

8. Server-less Risks: While server-less computing confers convenience, it simultaneously introduces novel vulnerabilities such as insecure deployments, event-driven susceptibilities, and potential data leakage.

Mitigation Strategy: Bolster the security of server-less functions by adhering to rigorous input validation, authorisation verification, and thorough environment isolation. Routine scrutiny of permissions and dependencies will deter unauthorised access.

9. Lack of Visibility and Monitoring: In intricate cloud-native landscapes, monitoring and identifying anomalous activities can prove arduous, potentially delaying the detection of cyber threats.

Mitigation Strategy: Deploy comprehensive monitoring mechanisms and intrusion detection systems. Harness the power of security information and event management (SIEM) tools to aggregate and scrutinise logs sourced from diverse components.

10. Third-Party Dependencies: Relying on third-party libraries, plugins, and services can introduce vulnerabilities if these components are not meticulously vetted and diligently maintained.

Mitigation Strategy: Conduct exhaustive security assessments of third-party dependencies before integration. Vigilantly track security updates and patches to swiftly rectify any identified vulnerabilities.

Organisations can navigate these challenging landscapes by adopting a proactive and holistic approach to cybersecurity in the cloud.This approach is characterised by stringent access controls, periodic assessments, and a pervasive culture of security consciousness. By doing so, they can forge resilient, secure, and compliant cloud-native systems that foster innovation while safeguarding their invaluable assets.

George Symons is the Vice President of Strategy for Cloud, Infrastructure and Security at Persistent Systems


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