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How to Effectively Conduct a Cloud Security Assessment

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Cloud security is becoming an increasingly important concern for organizations of all sizes. With the vast amount of sensitive information being stored and processed in the cloud, as well as the sharp increase in remote work, it is essential to ensure that the cloud environment is secure and protected from potential cyber threats.

Because the majority of cloud services are administered via third-party providers, many organizations encounter challenges in protecting their data across various cloud environments. Oftentimes, this difficulty is only enhanced by the need to maintain strict regulatory compliances, while simultaneously juggling many other security priorities. Unfortunately, many organizations mistakenly assume that their SAS/cloud provider is automatically managing cybersecurity for their data, but that is usually not the case.

As such, cloud security assessments have become a vital tool for organizations of all types and sizes. Using this specific type of risk assessment, your organization can locate gaps and vulnerabilities in your cloud security posture, allowing for successful correction.

In this guide, we will walk through the key steps involved in conducting a cloud security assessment, explaining the crucial advantages of the process while providing you with practical tips to improve your cloud security posture and protect your organization’s valuable assets.

What is Cloud Security Assessment?

A cloud security assessment is the process of evaluating the security of a cloud-based system or infrastructure. This type of assessment aims to identify potential security risks and vulnerabilities within the cloud environment, while also assessing the effectiveness of existing security measures.

With a cloud security assessment, you can learn about the extent and direction of possible attacks, which serves to inform organizational efforts to tackle cloud security and governance.

What is Included in a Cloud Security Assessment?

A thorough cloud security assessment is typically three-pronged: it includes a review of the cloud provider’s security policies and procedures; an analysis of the configuration of the cloud infrastructure; and penetration testing, which involves simulating cyber attacks to pinpoint potential weaknesses in the system.

During these processes, there is equal focus on seven key components:

  • Overall security posture: Relevant documentation and other information is collected and reviewed to gain a clear understanding of the existing security posture of the cloud infrastructure.
  • Access control/management: Processes for identity/access management are assessed, including key management and user accounts/roles.
  • Network security: Firewall policies and network segmentation are evaluated, aiming to locate any common misconfigurations.
  • Incident response: The policy for incident management/response (specifically relevant to the cloud infrastructure) is reviewed, including the various processes and roles involved in a response.
  • Storage security: Cloud storage is examined, including aspects such as block-level and object-level storage.
  • Workload security: A security assessment is completed for all workloads, including functions, serverless containerized workloads, and server-hosted containers.
  • Platform services security: Configurations of any advanced service offerings (based on the cloud service provider) are assessed.

Ultimately, the primary goal of a cloud security assessment is to provide recommendations for improving the security of the cloud environment, to ensure that sensitive data is protected, and to keep the system secure against potential threats.

Why Cloud Security Assessments are Essential

A cloud security assessment is an invaluable tool for ensuring that an organization’s networks and assets are secure, properly configured, and not currently under attack.

In reviewing an organization’s network history, the assessment can identify potential weaknesses in the architecture and provide detailed recommendations for improving defenses and capabilities in the future. The assessment can include identifying gaps in an organization’s cloud security posture, comparing the maturity of the organization’s current security strategy with industry standards and frameworks, and defining a strategic roadmap for cloud security that aligns with risk mitigation and business priorities.

Through this process, an organization can ensure that their cloud infrastructure is secure and capable of withstanding potential threats.

The Benefits of a Cloud Security Assessment

Understandably, many organizations want to be sure that a cloud security risk assessment is an investment that is well worth the time, effort, and expense. The specific advantages of a professional cloud security assessment include:

  • Decreased risk of accidental misconfiguration: The custom configuration changes suggested as part of a cloud security assessment can help reduce the cloud’s attack surface and minimize the risk of unintentional misconfiguration.
  • Decreased risk from undetected incidents: Recommendations from the cloud security assessment team can improve an organization’s ability to detect and respond to potential security breaches, reducing the risk of a minor issue escalating into a full-blown breach.
  • Better resilience: A cloud security assessment team can make recommendations to help an organization recover from a breach as quickly as possible, improving overall resilience.
  • Streamlined account management: Organizations with non-optimal identity architectures can reduce their time spent on account and privilege management, while also minimizing the risk of unintentional over-privileges.
  • Identification of past security issues: A cloud security assessment can identify deviations in an organization’s cloud configuration that may have compromised security in the past, allowing for more proactive remediation and prevention in the future.

How Do You Perform a Cloud Security Risk Assessment?

Conducting a risk assessment of your cloud infrastructure is a complex task, and generally requires the efforts of a skilled team. Because it involves extensive analysis of many different aspects of your environment and business practices, cloud security should be considered a priority for the entire organization – not just the responsibility of a single department or individual.

Let’s take a closer look at how to conduct a cloud security assessment for your organization, including steps to take before you begin the actual process.

How Do I Prepare for a Cloud Security Assessment?

When starting your cloud readiness assessment, it is crucial to first collect all relevant information about your cloud environment.

This entails acquiring details about your cloud provider(s), any third-party vendors you’re working with, and your existing security solutions and configurations. By gathering this information in advance, you can ensure a seamless and effective assessment process, pinpoint any security gaps or vulnerabilities that may exist in your cloud infrastructure, and then address them proactively.

5 Basic Steps in a Cloud Security Assessment

Step 1: Initial Evaluation

The first step in the cloud assessment process is to understand the current state of your cloud applications. This helps determine the scope of the assessment by identifying what needs to be accomplished and assessed, and what parts will be the most time-consuming.

As your organization closely examines your cloud infrastructure, it will be important to address core components such as:

Cloud policies and procedures

  • Has your organization effectively updated your security policies/procedures to include the cloud?
  • What are the procedures for when employees exit the organization or change roles?
  • What are the established protocols for navigating a data breach?

Cloud access management

  • Who currently has access to the cloud system(s)?
  • Have all employees received training for cybersecurity awareness?
  • Do you have multi-factor authentication in place?
  • What controls are implemented for guest access?

Cloud networking

  • What protective measures have been taken to safeguard against malware injection at the gateway?
  • What protections are in place (if any) to help prevent network-based threats?
  • Has all sensitive material been encrypted?

Cloud backup and recovery

  • Is there an adequate and detailed strategy in place for backup and data recovery?
  • Are you regularly testing your backups and recovery procedures to make sure that restoration can/will be successful?

Security patches and updates

  • Is your organization up to date with the most recent security patches?
  • Do you have a methodology for testing patches before deployment?
  • How regularly are you assessing your environment for system flaws?

Logging/monitoring on the cloud

  • What is your log centralization solution, and how effective is it?
  • How long are you keeping the logged data?
  • Are there records for shifts in security policies, network security groups, and policy assignments?
  • Is there monitoring for possible security breaches?

Cloud data encryption

  • Are you encrypting sensitive information, both in transit and in server storage?
  • Have all public /private keys been adequately protected?

As you can see, this phase requires a vigorous examination of the present situation, serving to guide the next steps of the process.

Step 2: Reconnaissance and Discovery

After scoping, the auditors perform reconnaissance, which involves gathering information about an organization’s assets and weaknesses to identify potential attack methods. This step is critical in understanding the target.

Step 3: Vulnerability Testing

Vulnerability testing is the process of detecting potential vulnerabilities in the already-discovered assets. Testers use various tools to search for loopholes and try to exploit them using a hacker’s mindset.

Step 4: Reporting

The output of the vulnerability testing is used to prepare a detailed report on the security status of the cloud infrastructure and applications. The report helps you understand the security posture and plan for necessary improvements.

Step 5: Retesting

Retesting is performed after fixing the issues found in the previous testing phase, allowing your organization to verify that everything is secure. Retesting is a critical phase and should not be ignored, because it ensures the security of the cloud infrastructure – in other words, it confirms that the desired outcome of the assessment was successfully achieved.

Prioritize Cloud Security and Protect Your Organization

Using a critical eye to evaluate your cloud security – and make well-informed improvements – is imperative to your overall security strategy, especially in the modern work world.

I hope you found this information helpful. As always, contact us anytime about your technology needs.

Until next time,


Meet the Author
Tim Burke is the President and CEO of Quest. He has been at the helm for over 30 years.
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