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Challenges and Best Practices to Secure Cloud Migration Process

Cloud services are revolutionizing the way we build and deploy applications. Cloud migration, which is the process of migrating data and workloads from on-premises to a cloud computing environment, has become a major task for IT teams.

Challenges and Best Practices to Secure Cloud Migration Process

Challenges and Best Practices to Secure Cloud Migration Process

As part of this process, each organization must consider carefully how it will uphold security and compliance requirements in the cloud environment.

Read on this article to understand some of the challenges of secure cloud migration. Read about five best practices that you should take into account during your cloud migration journey.

Content Summary

The Challenges of Secure Cloud Migration
Automation Tools And Processes
Cloud Security Posture Management
Five Best Practices For A Secure Cloud Migration
Final Notes: A New Control Paradigm


Cloud services are revolutionizing the way we build and deploy applications. According to the RightScale 2019 State of the Cloud Report, 94% of respondents are using a public-private cloud and planned to grow their public cloud spend 24% on average in 2019. 91% of enterprises are using the public cloud, of which 84% use more than one cloud in a multi-cloud architecture.

Of the many cloud advantages, one of the most compelling is its flexibility and ability to convert large upfront infrastructure investments to smaller monthly bills (i.e., the CAPEX to OPEX shift). Other benefits include scalability on demand through cloud elastic computing, agility, the capability to run applications and workloads at high speed, and high availability.

Cloud migration, which is the process of migrating data and workloads from on-premises to a cloud computing environment, has become a major task for IT teams. Migrating workloads can be as easy as lifting and shifting Virtual Machines (VMs), using the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud service model. In other cases, migration requires modernizing legacy applications to fit the cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) service, models.

Irrespective of the preferred migration approach or cloud service model, cloud migration must always be a thought out process. This process involves extensive analysis and planning and requires a significant investment of time and effort from IT stakeholders, business leaders, and application owners.

Within this process, the organization must consider carefully how it will uphold security and compliance requirements in the cloud environment. Though the design parameters might look similar, cloud security is not the same as traditional on-premises enterprise security. Check Point’s 2019 Cloud Security Report found that 66% of respondents say traditional security solutions either don’t work at all in cloud environments or have only limited functionality.

Shortfalls in cloud security design have caused even IT giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple to suffer costly security breaches and data leaks. The 2018 Google Plus data leak allowed malicious apps to extract personal information from user profiles. The breach eventually led Google to sunset the social media platform. Along similar lines, in 2018 hackers harvested the access tokens of over 30 million EU Facebook users, gaining access to sensitive information.

In this article, we discuss some of the challenges of secure cloud migration, such as the nuances of a shared responsibility model and layered security. We will then present five best practices that you should take into account during your cloud migration journey.

The Challenges of Secure Cloud Migration

The cloud is an abstract term used to define a vast, shared, rapidly evolving, and often unknown and thus complex hosting platform. Hence, the secure migration of workloads to the cloud is equally complex and requires diligent analysis and planning in advance. Let’s explore some of the common challenges that organizations face during the migration process.

Understanding the Shared Responsibility Model

Often, customers incorrectly believe that cloud service providers (CSPs) are responsible for the security of hosted workloads, but the reality is more complicated. All leading CSPs follow their own well -defined shared responsibility model. In these models, the vendor is responsible for the security “of” the cloud platform, while the customer is responsible for anything that is hosted “in” the cloud platform.

Considering the cloud’s abstract consumption model, the physical layers of security (authorized data center access, end-of-life device disposal, perimeter security of facilities, and so on) are always the responsibility of the CSP. Managing the physical plane vulnerabilities associated with hypervisor, network, and storage is also the CSP’s responsibility.

For cloud-hosted applications, the responsibility Application-Layer Security differs based on the cloud service model being used by the customer. For example, and about the diagram below:

  • For IaaS solutions, the customer is responsible for addressing OS-level vulnerabilities, patch management, cloud network configuration based on security best practices, identity and access control of applications, and application data security.
  • The CSP handles OS-level and network-level security management for PaaS solutions, while it is the responsibility of the customer to configure the application identity and data-layer security.
  • For SaaS solutions where the security controls of the OS, application, storage, network, etc. are managed by the service provider, the customer is still responsible for proper data classification and implementing the right access controls.
Shared Responsibility Model. Source: BMC

Shared Responsibility Model. Source: BMC

Most cloud providers offer basic network-layer and data-layer security tools that can be used by customers free of charge. However, it is recommended to invest in advanced threat protection and network -layer security tools to protect against modern-day attack mechanisms. As threats evolve, the tools should also evolve to protect the cloud perimeters and connection points.

Different Layers of Security

All leading CSPs ensure the security of their cloud platforms by implementing a secure development lifecycle, stringent background checks, and mandatory security training for staff who have access to data centers. They also offer platform DDoS protection capabilities, regular compliance audits, and well -defined security incident response processes. Though CSPs take care of the cloud platform-level security, cloud customers need to understand that security management in the cloud follows a layered approach, and the management of security at different layers should be carefully designed and implemented when migrating workloads to the cloud.

Cloud Security Layers

Cloud Security Layers

Infrastructure Security in IaaS

Tools such as network firewalls, data encryption, network isolation, and traffic encryption can be leveraged by customers and configured by best practices. Only required traffic should be allowed to traverse through networks, and monitoring should be enabled to detect any anomalies in traffic patterns or threats.

Application-Layer Security for PaaS, Containers, and Serverless

With PaaS solutions, as well as container solutions and serverless services, the security perimeter shifts to the protection of identity and application data. Strong authentication and authorization methods, threat -modeling integration in the software development lifecycle, key rotation, credential protection, and so on should be factored into the design phase when using these services.

Network Level Security

Network segmentation for workloads should form the baseline of network security design in any cloud architecture and should be reinforced as necessary with appliances that offer advanced threat detection and protection for workloads. The network-layer and application-layer security measures protect data, but strong encryption and key management processes are also crucial to ensure storage security.

Encryption and Key Management: Management Data at Rest and in Transit During Migration

While CSPs implement server-side encryption for the majority of data services to secure data at rest, it is up to the customer to implement strong client-side encryption to protect data in transit. The APIs and SDKs of leading CSPs like Azure and AWS support the integration of encryption and data protection for services developed by their customers.

Identity and Access Management

Identity has emerged as the key security perimeter in the cloud, as credential theft is the entry point for most cyberattacks. The principle of least privilege should be followed during authorization, along with other security mechanisms like multi-factor authentication, just-in-time access, and just-enough access.

Automation Tools And Processes

Business agility is dependent on security operations, and using the right automation tools is key to keeping up with the rapidly evolving security demands of business applications. Automation also eliminates the possibility of human error while managing large, complex, multi-cloud, or hybrid cloud environments. Automation should be included in all processes, from environment provisioning to daily operations, and should be incorporated with self -learning and adaptive policies for resource lifecycle management.

Maintaining a diverse tool portfolio for security operations and automation can be cumbersome, especially when customers have to shift between tools to achieve the desired security posture. All leading CSPs offer native security and automation tools, but their scope is often limited to the specific cloud hybrid architectures supported by the platform. Customers must have a unified security operations and automation platform capable of operating in multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud architectures.

Cloud Security Posture Management

It has been noted that a majority of cloud security breaches are a result of misconfiguration of cloud services and misalignment with the recommended best practices. These errors are often due to a lack of expertise in managing the security posture of cloud environments, which is a common challenge especially for organizations adopting cloud for the first time. The need for incorporating a Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) tool becomes very relevant as it helps identify misconfiguration and security loopholes so that proactive remediation is possible. The auto-remediation capabilities built into CSPM tools ensures adherence to the security baselines defined by cloud service providers as well as compliance standards. As the tool monitors the security posture continuously, any new changes to the environment are evaluated against the best practices to prevent attacks.

Five Best Practices For A Secure Cloud Migration

Workloads migrated to the cloud need a robust and dynamic security management solution to protect your migrated workloads from today’s ever-evolving threat landscape. For example, for any new threat you detect, your security solutions should be capable of implementing automated policy updates to protect your assets in the cloud. Automated scaling and provisioning are other desirable characteristics, along with a unified management interface for workloads deployed across multi-cloud environments. Though complicated, you can achieve a secure migration to the cloud by following the right security principles and best practices and by using the right tools.

1. The architect for Cloud Security

Developing architecture with cloud security as the focus ensures that factors such as network segmentation, advanced threat prevention capabilities for perimeter networks, consistent security management across multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments, and automated policy management are given due importance in the design. To implement this design, enterprises should adopt a DevSecOps strategy, where the development, security, and operations teams work together early in the lifecycle of the application, rather than when it’s an afterthought.

For example, network segmentation and security controls should be included in the infrastructure-as-code template through DevSecOps, which can help identify issues or potential roadblocks earlier on. This is much more effective than trying to update the infrastructure after hosting the applications, which could affect the application’s availability.

Network segmentation using a hub-and-spoke topology is a common cloud deployment strategy. Each spoke is an isolated environment comprising one or more network subnets on which application stacks can be installed and run. Each spoke implements security controls that are appropriate for the workload it is running. Traffic in and out of each spoke flows through a hub to which any number of spokes can be attached. Multiple hubs can be used, where one hub handles ingress and egress traffic from and to the Internet, while the other hub manages lateral corporate traffic.

Multi-cloud and hybrid architectures pose an even bigger challenge when different application tiers are distributed across varying cloud and on-premises environments. Such architectures demand security solutions that can control traffic in all connected cloud platforms, adapt to application changes, and be managed from a unified interface. Consider the below example of a business system that uses utilizes AWS for their frontend (web and app server) and Azure for their backend (DB/data lake, etc.).

Managing security policies over multiple environments can be very complicated; similarly for identifying and resolving a security event.

An updated approach is to create an application identity-based policy. The policies should also be configured to be updated automatically based on the lifecycle of the application.

Multi-cloud deployment sample architecture

Multi-cloud deployment sample architecture

This allows the customer to pre-configure a security policy based on the application roles. These same roles and identities will show up in the logs (regardless of their location or the actual IPs that are being used by these servers).

Any new instance that shows up in the network will automatically be added to the security policy based on its application role and will not require downtime or a policy installation.

2. Leverage Native Cloud Solutions

Major CSPs offer native capabilities that can be configured by customers to address security needs at different layers for workloads migrated to the cloud. For example, Azure VNets and Amazon VPC offer basic network-layer segregation for application tiers. Peering can be used to implement a hub-and-spoke topology and basic network routing. Features like network security groups and network ACLs can be used to implement traffic control in Azure and AWS.

You can use web application firewalls to protect applications from common web exploits and vulnerabilities. Azure Security Center analyses Azure components against security best practices to provide a security posture overview and remedial actions. Similarly, Amazon Inspector provides security and compliance assessments for applications hosted in AWS.

It should be noted that many of these cloud-native solutions are highly proprietary with minimal interoperability with other cloud or hybrid environments. They can be used to provide security to lower environments like sandboxes, but environments that host actual customer data would need advanced threat prevention security measures, such as IPS, anti-bot, antivirus, anti-malware, and DDoS protection.

3. Monitor and Automate from the Start

Applying DevSecOps methodologies during cloud migration helps with the continuous monitoring and mitigation of any identified vulnerabilities. For example, when using containers for a microservices-based architecture, it’s recommended to implement security measures in the image build process, usually by using a build pipeline.

Ongoing monitoring should be implemented after migration to provide unified threat visibility across the cloud and on-premises. The monitoring solution should also be capable of consolidated logging and reporting to ensure compliance with security standards. While native tools like Azure Security Center and AWS Security Hub provide these capabilities to an extent, cross-cloud workload monitoring capabilities are limited. This means that the need for advanced security and compliance management tools should be factored into the design.

Automating security policy configuration is equally important. Manual operations can lead to errors and delays that augment a culture of shadow IT, where users purchase cloud services directly with their credit cards and often without considering enterprise policies and best practices, putting enterprise applications and data at risk. Cloud security should act as an enabler, rather than a roadblock. Automation is as relevant in initial provisioning as it is in ongoing operations. The tools used should have built-in intelligence to identify changes to the environment (such as a new spoke network) and to add necessary security policies automatically.

4. Implement Continuous Compliance

Migrating workloads to cloud calls for a shift in the security and compliance management process compared to when the resources were deployed on-premises. Continuous governance of security and compliance plays a crucial role in thwarting off possible cloud attacks and data thefts. Continuous compliance is a multi-step process, which starts with getting a deeper insight into the configuration of the cloud environment. This includes visibility of the assets configuration, network security settings, the interaction between cloud components, level of exposure to the internet, etc. Different industry verticals have different compliance and regulatory standards in the cloud and hence the IT team should have a good grasp on the scope of these requirements. The next step is to evaluate the compliance framework against the existing configurations to identify gaps, make necessary exceptions, and proceed to customize the settings as required.

To ensure continuous compliance, the process should be automated so that reports are generated in predefined frequencies and respective owners notified about the findings in real-time. To take this one step forward, auto-remediation should be configured to take actions like tagging resources that are not aligned with baselines, apply security policies, or enforce corrections. In addition to configuring processes and tools for continuous compliance, organizations should also be able to generate accurate reports for audits. Implementing a continuous compliance practice is relevant during cloud migrations as it gives an overview of the overall security posture of migrated environments and aids in implementing preventive actions wherever possible.

5. Minimize Your Security Solution Footprint

Security and compliance form the cornerstone of a well thought out cloud migration strategy. With multi/hybrid cloud architectures becoming commonplace, using multiple solutions to manage the security postures of migrated environments can lead to management inefficiencies. If the security solutions are not well integrated, it could lead to a “tools sprawl” and the IT team gets burdened with additional maintenance overhead for individual tools. The security team should be cross-trained in different tools, but note that the learning curve could affect the velocity of cloud migration.

It is recommended that enterprises adopt a solution stack that is as streamlined as possible from trusted providers — a platform that can deliver end-to-end security and compliance for connected cloud environments during cloud migration and ongoing operations.

The platform should deliver the following capabilities:

  • Advanced threat prevention in real-time through multilayered security approaches, using features like firewall, IPS, anti-bot, antivirus, application-layer DDoS protection, anti-malware, and zero-day attack protection.
  • Secure connectivity to cloud resources from untrusted networks or mobile users through IPsec VPN, SSL encryption, and multi-factored authentication.
  • Data movement monitoring and the ability to enable preemptive protection against loss of sensitive data.
  • Quick deployment and configuration in target cloud platforms with a choice of pricing models, such as bring-your-own- license (BYOL) or pay-as-you-go (PAYG), depending on the preferred CAPEX or OPEX model.
  • Unified management of security policies from a single console for environments spanning multiple clouds and – premises data centers, as switching between tools impacts productivity.
  • Automated and dynamic security policy optimizations based on updates to cloud-defined elements like tags, objects, security groups, etc.
  • Single-pane visibility of threat status and security posture across hybrid clouds, multi-cloud, and on-premises infrastructures.
  • Continuous compliance monitoring, advanced automation, and alert mechanisms to protect against deviations.
  • Cloud Security Posture Management with auto-remediation capabilities. The solution should be able to monitor and remediate misconfigurations drifts according to predefined best practices for CSPM solutions.

Final Notes: A New Control Paradigm

Cloud migration is a crucial milestone in the digital transformation journey of organizations. It is a multi-phase journey that starts with an analysis to identify the right migration approach for different types of workloads. The IT team should prepare for challenges throughout the journey, starting with gaining a deep understanding of the shared responsibility model for security.

Security paradigms used in modern-day dynamic cloud environments are far removed from the traditional concepts of perimeter security devices and gateway firewalls. Today, the approach is more holistic and is empowered by DevSecOps processes like CI/CD. Security should be factored into the cloud environment in the earliest planning and design stages, taking into account all the relevant layers: infrastructure, application, network, data, and access control. The cloud migration strategy should also factor in security considerations for multi-cloud environments. Selecting the right automation and CSPM tools is important to implement an agile and end-to-end cloud security management process.

In this article, we described security best practices for cloud migration that are a valuable reference point irrespective of the target cloud service provider(s). A security-first design approach is crucial, as integrating additional controls as an afterthought could result in unexpected disruptions. Monitoring, automation, and continuous compliance management are the other recommended best practices to be implemented for secure cloud migration. A combination of cloud-native, as well as advanced security management solutions, should be used to achieve an optimal security posture. However, it is also imperative to keep the tools’ footprint minimal to avoid configuration and management overheads.

As environments become more complex, it is even more challenging for security teams to gain end-to-end visibility that is a prerequisite for a robust and sustainable enterprise security posture. Tools and processes can become a bottleneck in meeting rapidly evolving requirements, with repercussions on both business productivity and agility. These challenges can only be addressed by using the right set of security solutions and processes across all workloads as they migrate to and operate in the cloud.

Source: Check Point

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