What Is Cloud-Native Security?

4 min. read

Cloud-native security refers to a set of security practices and technologies designed specifically for applications built and deployed in cloud environments. It involves a shift in mindset from traditional security approaches, which often rely on network-based protections, to a more application-focused approach that emphasizes identity and access management, container security and workload security, and continuous monitoring and response.

In a cloud-native security approach, security is built into the application and infrastructure from the ground up, rather than added on as an afterthought. This requires a combination of automated security controls, DevOps processes, and skilled security professionals who can manage the complex and dynamic nature of cloud environments. The goal of cloud native-security is to protect against threats and vulnerabilities that are unique to cloud environments, while also ensuring compliance with regulations and standards.

Cloud-Native Security Explained

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.

Understanding Cloud-Native Architectures

Microservices Architecture

Microservices architecture is a software development approach that structures an application as a collection of small, loosely coupled services. Each microservice is responsible for a specific business capability and can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. This modular approach allows for greater agility, flexibility, and resilience in cloud-native applications.

From a security perspective, microservices architecture introduces challenges related to securing the communication between services, ensuring data integrity, and protecting sensitive data as it flows across multiple services.


Containerization is the process of encapsulating an application and its dependencies into a lightweight, isolated unit called a container. Containers provide an efficient and consistent runtime environment, allowing applications to run consistently across different infrastructure platforms. Containers are also portable, making it easier to move applications between different environments, such as development, testing, and production. But containerization also introduces new security challenges, including vulnerabilities within container images, container isolation, and the need for secure container orchestration.

Orchestration with Kubernetes

Kubernetes is a widely adopted container orchestration platform that automates the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. It provides a robust framework for managing the lifecycle of containers and ensures the desired state of the application is maintained. From a security perspective, Kubernetes presents challenges related to cluster security, access control, and monitoring.

Cloud Native Goes Beyond Fixed Perimeters

In the past, application security teams needed only to secure a set number of servers running in physical data centers with hardware firewalls that created 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’s difficult to quickly diagnose the cause of any given security anomaly or incident. This poses a challenge for security teams, as the speed at which they diagnose and address a threat is 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 the shared responsibility model, cloud providers are responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure, while the customer is responsible for securing their own applications, data, and access to the cloud.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. But managing these disparate tools can become cumbersome.
  • 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.

Cloud-Native Security FAQs

What are the security risks of cloud-native applications?

Cloud-native applications face various security risks, including container-based vulnerabilities, unsecured APIs, data breaches, insecure network connections, and cloud misconfigurations. These risks can lead to data theft, data loss, compliance violations, and reputational damage.

How does cloud-native security differ from traditional security methods?

Cloud-native security differs from traditional security methods in that it requires a more dynamic approach that is adaptable to the constantly changing nature of cloud environments. Traditional security methods often rely on perimeter-based defenses, while cloud-native security focuses on microsegmentation, Zero Trust, and continuous monitoring and mitigation.

What are some best practices for securing cloud-native applications?

Best practices for securing cloud-native applications include implementing strong access controls, implementing secure coding practices, using encryption for data at rest and in transit, regularly patching and updating software, performing vulnerability scans and penetration testing, and continuously monitoring for suspicious activity.

What are some common security tools and technologies used in cloud-native environments?

Common security tools and technologies used in cloud-native environments include container security platforms, cloud access security brokers (CASBs), identity and access management (IAM) solutions, network security solutions, and log analysis tools.Today, though, most organizations have consolidated their security solution in a comprehensive, code-to-cloud CNAPP.

What is the role of DevOps in cloud-native security?

DevOps plays a critical role in cloud-native security by incorporating security into the entire application development and deployment lifecycle. DevOps teams use tools and processes, such as infrastructure as code, continuous integration and delivery, and automated testing to build secure and resilient applications.

How do you ensure compliance with regulations and standards in a cloud-native environment?

To ensure compliance with regulations and standards in a cloud-native environment, organizations should conduct regular risk assessments, implement security controls and monitoring, perform audits and assessments, and document policies and procedures. Compliance can also be achieved through the use of third-party certifications and audits.

How do you monitor and detect security incidents in a cloud-native environment?

Monitoring and detecting security incidents in a cloud-native environment involves using tools like log analysis, intrusion detection and prevention, and security information and event management (SIEM). It also involves implementing automated responses to security incidents and conducting regular incident response testing and training.

Learn more about how a cloud agnostic security platform can simplify your security strategy.