What Is Cloud Native Security?

4min. read

Cloud native technologies have rendered traditional models of software development all but obsolete, doing away with the complexities of monolithic application architecture and ushering in radical changes to the modern development pipeline. This new paradigm offers numerous advantages, but it also introduces a new set of challenges. Of these, few have been as stubborn, perilous or complex as the issue of cloud native security.

Nearly all cloud native application security challenges can be traced back to the nature of cloud native applications themselves: Where monolithic application architectures are relatively static, cloud native application architectures are highly dynamic. Their use of containers and serverless functions means cloud applications are forever shrinking and expanding, moving between on-premises and off-premises, and even bouncing across multiple cloud platforms. This results in a number of security challenges.

Lack of Fixed Perimeters

In the past, application security teams only needed to secure a set number of servers running in physical data centers, using hardware firewalls to create a fixed perimeter. This doesn’t work with cloud native applications. Security teams cannot establish a static firewall around an application that may operate both on- and off-premises, across multiple clouds, and which may scale up to millions of workload instances one day and down to only a few hundred the next.

Diagnostic Difficulties

With the elasticity and complexity of cloud native application architecture, it is difficult to quickly diagnose the cause of any given security anomaly or incident. This poses an enormous challenge for security teams, as the speed with which they can diagnose and address a threat is often at least as important as the specific tools they use to address it.

Accelerating DevOps Velocity

Now that individual services can easily be taken offline and modified or replaced without affecting other parts of the application, DevOps teams can put out new releases and updates much more frequently than in the past. However, the manual provisioning and policy management processes security teams once used can no longer keep up with modern release cycles.

Key Elements of Cloud Native Security

Before they can implement more effective cloud native security solutions, security, operations and developer teams must understand the key elements of cloud native security. These include:

  • Inventory and classification: Accurate inventory and proper classification of all assets are essential to ensure security operations teams have a clear view of potential vulnerabilities across the software stack.
  • Compliance management: Systems should be designed to consistently enforce industry and/or legal regulations (e.g., standard configurations, security best practices, usage of trusted registries).
  • Network security: An organization’s strategy and provisions for ensuring the security of its assets and network traffic must include analysis of all network traffic flows, with the aim of preserving the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all systems and information on the network.
  • Identity and access management (IAM) security: IAM security is the practice of limiting cloud resources to certain individuals. This comprises activities such as access governance, privileged monitoring and user entity behavior analytics (UEBA) powered by machine learning.
  • Data security: This concerns the security of stored data, including the classification of data, data loss prevention and malware scanning for cloud storage.
  • Vulnerability management: Identification and prevention of vulnerabilities across the entire application lifecycle should include the continuous monitoring of all hosts, images and functions in the cloud environment.
  • Workload security: Protection of each distinct work function placed on a cloud instance ensures improved visibility across workloads and should also include vulnerability scanning and runtime security.
  • Automated investigation and response: Security tools should ideally offer auto-remediation and integration with the security operations center (SOC) and ticketing, in addition to third-party tools as necessary.

Cloud Native Security Strategies

A number of cloud native security strategies have emerged recently, boasting various degrees of effectiveness. These include:

  • Shared responsibility models: In these models, cloud providers are responsible for some aspects of security, and their customers are responsible for others. This concept forms the basis of all other modern cloud native security strategies.
  • Multilayered security: A cloud service is generally made up of seven layers, including facility, network, hardware, OS, middleware, application and user. Multilayered security monitors each layer to identify risks and mitigate vulnerabilities. This approach can include multiple tools, such as cloud-aware firewalls and end-to-end encryption. However, managing these disparate tools can become cumbersome over time.
  • Cloud-agnostic security platforms: By far the most effective strategy for managing cloud native security needs, these platforms can provide visibility across ecosystems (reducing cloud vendor lock-in) as well as streamline alerts and tools for overburdened security teams.

Click here to learn more about how a cloud agnostic security platform can simplify your security strategy.