Over the last few years, cloud adoption has become increasingly central to organizations undergoing a digital transformation. In fact, a recent Gartner report noted that cloud adoption is among the fastest-growing IT investments across industries. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. The reason? The urgent need for secure, digital workspaces for a staggeringly large remote workforce. So, what does this accelerated cloud adoption mean for enterprise security strategy?
Firstly, we need to accept the fact that, for some people, remote working policies are here to stay. To enable this ‘new normal’, organizations have had to evaluate their core secure corporate infrastructure and operating models. But a remote workforce that uses unprotected fiber internet connections or 3G/4G networks to stay connected, presents a much wider and weaker threat surface that bad actors can exploit.
According to a recently published survey, SSL VPNs and multi-factor authentication are the most common secure remote access (SRA) tools used by companies. Other methods that support secure remote access (SRA) include identity and access management, virtualization systems with remote access, privileged access management, and session monitoring/recording. However, security threats have evolved, points of vulnerability have increased, and malicious attacks are no longer limited to end user device-based vulnerabilities. I see a growing number of browser-based threats and botnets plaguing digital ecosystems. And let’s not forget, threats can emerge from inside an enterprise too. No matter how strong or numerous your secure remote access controls are, hackers can easily breach enterprise security measures through social engineering attacks like phishing and insider threats.
What to consider when you move to the cloud
A Centrify-sponsored survey found that during the COVID-19 crisis, 73% of organizations with over 500 employees accelerated their cloud adoption plans to facilitate the seamless move to remote working. While the speed of the transition was perhaps more reactive than anything else, from my experience I can say that companies should, as far as possible, leave no stone unturned when it comes to preparing for a move to the cloud. Preparation really is the key and it begins by evaluating the security posture of your systems.
Organizations need to focus on continuous vulnerability management, cloud compliance, and posture management. They need to understand that their systems might be secure today, but what about their security after a week or a month? A threat actor can easily exploit even a small vulnerability in IT systems and cause immeasurable damage to your business. Therefore, companies need to treat vulnerability management as a continuous process. By doing this, they can quickly patch their systems and avoid malicious attacks.
Companies also need to figure out how to protect their functions or containers and even APIs.
Here, Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) must be an early priority when planning the move to the cloud. Previously, companies only had to protect their servers in data centers. But with a digital, remote workplace, they also need to protect the number of internet-connected devices their employees use for work. Bolted-on, reactive, and legacy security applications are simply not up to the task. They leave far too many gaps open that can be exploited by hackers. CSPM tools can identify those gaps and detect cloud misconfiguration vulnerabilities. This is particularly important because a single cloud misconfiguration may end up exposing hundreds of petabytes of sensitive data to cybercriminals.
Additionally, a digital workplace has no set perimeter. Employees can bypass firewalls and enterprise gateway proxies to access the cloud to either upload or download data. If you simply prohibit access, they might bypass enterprise security controls and increase the chances of cyberattacks. Therefore, I recommend that organizations make a shift in their approach to enterprise security setup: Move away from a ‘block vs. allow’ mentality towards a ‘manage and monitor’ mentality. Role-specific access is a solution that can help reduce the risk of data misuse or compromise.
Another factor is the element of visibility. Visibility is crucial if you are looking to secure data in the cloud. Enterprises must conduct their due diligence and adopt solutions that give them greater visibility into all their digital assets and user activity. Because the next generation of enterprise security will include both threat monitoring and detection and threat blocking. Organizations must leverage user behavior analytics to gain visibility into undetected and unknown cybersecurity threats. For example, by continuously monitoring the traffic on your internal networks, you can identify anomalies or unexplained deviations in user behavior that could be cybersecurity threats. This will help you to take proactive measures against security incidents.
I talked about this briefly before, but it bears repeating. Your employees are your greatest asset but your user endpoints can be your greatest points of vulnerability. Since a large part of the workforce is working remotely, businesses must patch their user endpoints by identifying the most exposed systems. They should also continuously upgrade anti-malware, firewalls, access control, and intrusion detection software.
Finally, a strong cybersecurity defense is the result of a strong cybersecurity culture. Employees must be made aware of the evolving nature and forms of cybersecurity threats to enterprise security. This can happen through regular training and clear communication from the management. Insider threats occur when employees make security errors or neglect enterprise security policies. All employees, irrespective of designation, must have a strong understanding of how and why inadvertent breaches and phishing attacks occur, so they can be watchful for them. My previous post on how to ‘Secure your Organization from Phishing attacks’ has more details on this.
The future of enterprise security
Previously, companies considered cloud security as an extra layer on top of their existing infrastructure. However, in recent years, it’s clear that the only way to ensure secure, seamless cloud usage is by adopting the right set of enterprise cloud security strategies. A robust enterprise cloud security setup with advanced behavioral analytics can not only create a more secure business environment but also improve workforce productivity.