Tips for agencies to improve cloud security posture

Enhancing cloud security requires a concerted effort from federal agencies, emphasizing the importance of proactive measures and continuous improvement.

The FITARA 17.0 scorecard highlights a significant gap in federal cybersecurity that, for the better part of the past two decades, has existed across government agencies. With scores plunging this year, largely due to the introduction of a new cloud security category, it’s evident that opportunities exist for better securing and embracing cloud technologies.

As more organizations and federal agencies move to the cloud to enhance productivity and maximize cost efficiency, bad actors are also seeing unequivocal success in targeting vulnerabilities across hybrid cloud environments. In the last year alone, nearly half of all cyberattacks originated in the cloud, underscoring the critical need for a reassessment of current security measures and the implementation of robust strategies to fortify operations in the cloud.

As agencies grapple with the complexities of securing their most essential digital assets in cloud environments, it becomes imperative to acknowledge and understand current cloud security shortcomings while also establishing a plan for continuous improvement.

The evolving landscape of cloud security

Ninety-eight percent of all organizations currently store their most sensitive data in the cloud, rendering them lucrative targets for exploitation. The staggering financial toll of such breaches, amounting to $4.1 million lost in the past year alone, underscores the gravity of the situation.

Traditional security measures, primarily reliant on perimeter-based defenses, face significant challenges in effectively safeguarding cloud assets. The dynamic nature of cloud environments, coupled with the intricacies of shared responsibility models, cloud misconfigurations and an increasingly connected software supply chain, all complicate security efforts significantly.

Misconfigurations, weak authentication mechanisms, and inadequate access controls emerge as common vulnerabilities, exposing agencies to heightened risks and unintended consequences. Additionally, bad actors’ relentless pursuit of exploiting weaknesses underscores the urgent need for agencies to reassess their security posture and adopt proactive measures to mitigate emerging threats, bolster operational efficiency and build resilience in sensitive environments.

Key strategies for improving cloud security

Prioritizing increased end to end visibility – The first step for agencies looking to build resilience in the cloud is to first gain end-to-end visibility, across hybrid IT environments. Agency heads should focus on understanding and monitoring all layers of the cloud infrastructure, from the network and applications to user activity and data flows. Limited visibility can result in significant consequences, such as blind spots in monitoring and detection capabilities. These blind spots not only impede timely identification of security incidents but also exacerbate the risk exposure, leaving agencies vulnerable to prolonged attacks.

Cloud visibility is not merely a convenience; it is a strategic necessity. In a world where cyber threats are increasingly sophisticated and regulatory scrutiny is heightened, organizations cannot afford blind spots in their cloud environments. By understanding the intricacies of cloud environments, agencies can more proactively identify vulnerabilities, detect anomalous behavior, and respond to security incidents in a timely manner.

Continuous monitoring across workloads – Once end-to-end visibility is established, agency leads will have a much easier time monitoring and managing activities and communications in the cloud. By implementing robust monitoring mechanisms that provide real-time insights into cloud activities, agencies will be better able to continuously monitor workloads, detect threats early, and respond quickly when breaches or attacks occur to minimize potential damage.

Continuous monitoring offers many benefits, including early threat detection and rapid incident response. Real-time alerts and notifications also play crucial roles in this regard, promptly notifying security teams of suspicious activities or anomalies. Leveraging monitoring tools and technologies specifically tailored for cloud environments enhances visibility, allowing agencies to gain insights into resource utilization, network traffic, and user behavior.

Adopting an “assume breach” mindsetAdditionally, it’s imperative for federal agencies to acknowledge and operate under the mindset that security incidents are inevitable. Rather than solely focusing on prevention, this approach emphasizes proactive detection and response strategies.

Threat intelligence sharing and cross-sector collaboration play a crucial role in staying ahead of evolving threats, enabling agencies to anticipate and prepare for potential risks and bolster their defenses accordingly.

An effective incident response plan is also essential for effectively managing security incidents, once they occur. This plan should outline clear roles and responsibilities, establish communication protocols, and define escalation procedures. By preparing for various scenarios in advance, agencies can minimize the impact of security incidents and mitigate potential damage.

Embrace containment strategies to limit the inevitableLastly, preparing for and proactively mitigating the impact of security incidents helps safeguard critical assets and preserve business continuity. This proactive approach to security empowers agencies to stay resilient in the face of evolving threats, preventing breaches from becoming cyber disasters and ensuring the integrity of their cloud environments.

Segmentation using the principles of zero trust offers an effective approach to containment, limiting lateral movement and preventing the spread of threats across the IT environment. Fine-grained access controls further enhance security, restricting access to sensitive resources and data based on the principle of least privilege.

Building a more resilient future

With the increasing adoption of new technologies by bad actors, it is paramount for agencies to prioritize security measures to safeguard sensitive data and protect networks in mission critical environments. Agencies must embrace proactive approaches to cloud security, including increasing visibility, enabling continuous monitoring, and enforcing an “assume breach” mindset to better detect and respond to threats more effectively, enabling them to also minimize the risk of data breaches and disruptions.

Enhancing cloud security requires a concerted effort from federal agencies, emphasizing the importance of proactive measures, continuous improvement, and innovation. And while cloud security might not yet be up to standard among federal agencies, I’m hopeful that agencies will reflect on the latest scores and prioritize more effective cloud security strategies in the year ahead.

Gary Barlet is federal chief technology officer for Illumio.

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