What is Cloud Workload Security?

In the world of security, a workload is “made of workloads” – in other words, the app in our language is made up of many workloads (VMs, containers, serverless functions, databases, etc.). To effectively secure an organization’s cloud deployment, it is important to secure the infrastructure itself and every level of the workloads that are hosted on it.

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What is Cloud Workload Security?

Gartner defines cloud workload protection as an evolution of application security. Cloud workloads might be defined by security professionals as the containers, functions or machines that store the data and network resources which make an application work. CIOs tend to define workloads more accurately – the full workload includes the application plus the underlying pieces of technology it is comprised of.

The Components of Cloud Workload Security

A cloud-based application is built from many microservices which power the application and make it useful.. When designing cloud workload protection strategies, it is important to consider:

  • The Application: The application as a whole contains business logic and should be a top priority for security. Applications should undergo extensive security validation and testing during the development practice and be protected with a web application and API protection (WAAP) solution at runtime to prevent exploitation.
  • The Underlying Technology that Makes Up The App: Every application is made up of numerous workloads, and each of these workloads must be properly configured and secured as well.

Addressing cloud workload security at both of these levels is essential to protecting the workload against attack. Focusing solely on the individual underlying workloads in isolation can create vulnerabilities because issues with business logic could be overlooked. Conversely, if all of the focus is placed on the application as a whole and the associated business logic, then issues with how the workloads are implemented and interface with one another could leave the application open to exploitation.

Stages of Cloud Workload Security

An effective cloud workload security strategy is both proactive and reactive. Properly configuring applications and workloads in advance decreases their attack surfaces and the potential impacts of exploitation. Monitoring and securing applications at runtime enables an organization to detect and respond to ongoing attacks as they occur.

Deploy Workload in the cloud

A strong security posture decreases an organization’s vulnerability to cyber threats and the potential impacts of a successful attack. Three important questions to ask before deploying a workload to the cloud:

  • Is the workload properly configured? Configuration errors can introduce security gaps that can be exploited by an attacker. Cloud workloads should be regularly scanned for policy violations and configuration errors.
  • Does it have any vulnerabilities? Applications can contain exploitable vulnerabilities either in the code that was developed in-house or in imported libraries and other third-party code. Applications should be regularly assessed against the latest list of known vulnerabilities, and an organization should have a strategy in place to patch or otherwise protect against exploitation of these vulnerabilities.
  • Is it operating in least privileged mode? Excessive privileges increase the potential impact of a successful attack by granting the attacker a high level of access to the target system. All applications should be running with the minimum level of permissions necessary to perform their duties.

Runtime Monitoring and Protection

Maintaining a strong security posture is a good start, but some threats may still slip by. It is also important to ensure that you are able to protect applications at runtime by answering the following questions:

  • Do you have full visibility? During runtime, it is essential that an organization’s security solutions have full visibility into the execution state of all cloud-based applications. This minimizes the probability that an attack can occur without detection.
  • Can you control execution? If a specific workload is doing something that it should not be doing, can you terminate the suspicious or malicious functionality? Ideally, this process should be automated to enable rapid response to potential threats.

Cloud Workload Security Best Practices

Implementing robust cloud workload security is a matter of following established best practices. Some principles to follow when securing a cloud-based workload include:

  • Start With the Big Picture Workload: Start with protecting the application as a whole, including the app and the APIs.
  • Secure Individual Workloads: After securing the application as whole, examine the workloads that make up the application. Ensure that they are properly configured and that the visibility and control are in place to detect and block any malicious or suspicious activities at the workload level.
  • Embrace Automation: Cloud workload security solutions should be automatically deployed and configured at both the application and the individual workload level. The rapid pace at which changes are made in the cloud means that policies and configurations must be capable of adapting quickly and automatically.

Achieving Strong Cloud Workload Security

As organizations’ infrastructure evolves, cybersecurity needs to evolve with it. Cloud-based applications and workloads require a different approach to security than traditional, on-premises applications. This is especially true for containerized and serverless applications.

Check Point provides a number of different resources for improving the security of your cloud applications. Download these eBooks on securing AWS Lambda and securing serverless applications for more information on best practices. Then, check out this webinar to learn about layering security into cloud applications.

You’re also welcome to learn more about the security threats facing cloud environments. The Check Point 2020 Cloud Security Report details the current security trends. To identify potential security holes in your cloud infrastructure, use this self-guided cloud security assessment tool.

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