Cloud Migration Security Challenges and Mitigation Strategies

Is your organization considering migrating to the cloud? Undoubtedly, cloud computing has exploded over the past few years and the number of cloud service providers in on the rise. Cloud migration involves transferring digital business operations into the cloud. The process is like a physical move that comprises moving information, applications, and IT processes from a local data center or legacy infrastructure to the cloud and vice versa.

Businesses are adopting the cloud strategy at a high rate to leverage the technology’s benefits, such as cost-saving, flexibility, security, mobility, increased collaboration, quality control, sustainability, automatic software updates, among others. Sixty-three percent of IT professionals say digital transformation is the leading factor driving increased cloud adoption today. In comparison, 66 percent indicate that security is the most significant concern for organizations operating local datacenters.

Cloud Migration Types

  1. On-premise to the cloud: The process of migrating to the cloud involves moving data, applications, and other business elements from a local, on-premise datacenter to a cloud computing environment. Experts estimate that enterprises will transfer 83 percent of workloads to the cloud this year.
  2. Cloud-to-cloud migration: A business transfers workload from one cloud platform provider to another based on the needs of changing business environment. This type of cloud migration allows an enterprise to switch cloud computing providers without first transferring their data and applications to in-house servers. The cost of cloud-to-cloud transfer should not outweigh the benefits of moving to a new cloud service provider.
  3. Reverse cloud migration: This migration process, also known as cloud repatriation or exit, is a situation where an organization moves applications and data off the cloud and back to an on-premise IT environment or datacenter. Typically, businesses transfer part or all business information and applications from the cloud to a local data center on security and control grounds. Other organizations move back to an on-premise IT environment due to relative costs incurred in the cloud. A major Fortune 500 company withdrew from the cloud, citing approximately $80 million monthly savings.

Cloud Migration Security Challenges

If a business is planning to migrate its operations to the cloud, it faces several security concerns.

Data Exposure, Loss, and External Attacks

During the migration process, businesses lose data and files because of issues like incomplete, corrupt, and missing files. Hackers target insiders to steal legitimate credentials that allow them to move freely in the cloud storage in search of valuable information.

Hackers send phishing emails to distribute malware infections that cause data loss. They leverage social engineering to steal passwords that grant access to critical business systems and databases.

Misconfiguration

In some cases, organizations transferring their applications and data to the cloud grant users permission that essentially opens new attack surfaces and unauthorized access to sandbox environments. For instance, while migrating from a local data center to Amazon Web Services (AWS), users might open a network address translation (NAT) gateway from a hybrid networking environment. This action, however, introduces the possibility of a cloud server using the NAT gateway to pull malicious content like malware from remote sources.

Insider Threats and Accidental Errors

Conceivably, employees might make errors that could corrupt, erase, or expose business data during the migration process. An employee can unintentionally share files with confidential information while transferrin workloads from exceedingly controlled in-house services. The cloud migration process also exposes data and application to insider attacks from:

  • Careless workers or partners that mishandle and steal confidential data and install unauthorized applications
  • An insider agent or an employee working on behalf of outsider hackers to send information. An external actor recruits and pays the employee to exfiltrate data
  • A disgruntled employee who decides to destroy company data to harm and disrupt business activities
  • An insider targeting to steal company data for personal gain
  • An incompetent service provider who compromise security through misuse, negligence, and unauthorized access

Study shows that financial benefits motivate 47.8 percent of malicious insiders, while espionage cause 14.4 percent of deliberate insider attacks. An undefined cloud migration process offers such workers a convenience to steal data.

Lack of Resources

A survey conducted in the US and the UK reveals that 31 percent of small and medium enterprises have reported a lack of internal skills to handle cybersecurity demands. Besides, 27 percent desires to gain access to advanced security technologies to combat sophisticated cyber-attacks. An effective cybersecurity program requires budgets to buy the latest tools necessary for developing a defense-in-depth protection posture. The solutions also demand a skilled workforce to build and maintain countermeasures for the network, endpoints, and information during the migration process.

Regulatory Compliance Violations

During the cloud migration process, businesses introduce changes to applications and information. In most cases, organizations fall behind in implementing controls that validate the security and compliance of cloud services configuration changes.

Shortcutting Security During the Migration Phase

Cloud computing service providers (CSPs) offer advanced management consoles that allow businesses to adopt a cloud service by just clicking a link and adding cloud-based infrastructure. However, this process can mislead organizations rushing into a new IT environment without assessing the security challenges involved during the process. Organizations have recorded far too many instances of new attack vectors and non-compliance concerns.

Migrating Everything at Once

The worst thing enterprises do is attempting to migrate everything onto the cloud at once. Once they get the executive’s approval to adopt the strategy, many organizations are eager to shift to the new IT environment without prioritizing data and applications to migrate first.

Insecure APIs

APIs intended to streamline the cloud computing process can create gray areas if providers leave them unpatched and insecure. In effect, they open lines of connection that hackers exploit to steal sensitive business information. Securing APIs is an afterthought that creates a false sense of security for cloud providers. Insufficient API security caused at least half a dozen high-profile data breaches in 2018. Insecure APIs affected providers and users such as Strava, Panera, Venmo, USPS, and Salesforce.

Cloud Migration Security Mitigation Measures

This list rounds up expert recommendations about top security mitigation control for businesses planning a cloud adoption or migration plan.

Baseline the Security Before Migration

Many businesses operate a security architecture developed around isolated security devices, inconsistent application of security policies, and decentralized management of security strategies. The migration project aggravates the situation since companies opting to transfer their applications and data deploy tools to secure both in-house and remote environments. In such circumstances, an enterprise will need to control the security sprawl and implement a centralized security strategy by following these steps:

  1. Review and understand the current security posture and its implications for the business goals
  2. Determine if the organization has put in place appropriate policies and procedures for the present and proposed IT environments
  3. Perform a gap analysis for how a cloud environment will alter the security paradigm
  4. Establish the impacts of a cloud-based network on overall risk management

Similarly, a business should model and understand data flows and bandwidth requirements to ensure that recommended security controls meet performance requirements. The baseline of the current environment should also provide a map of existing roles and responsibilities, including the personnel required to migrate and operate the workloads. Enterprises should also filter out unnecessary data to save on storage costs and time.

The security team should keep in touch with the cloud service provider to query the security standards and compliance processes they deploy. The process involves communicating with the third-party regularly to enable the two teams to keep abreast of any developing changes and issues like security threats. Organizations should establish if the cloud provider performs routine system and organization controls audits and assessments.

Apply Adequate Security During the Migration Phase

Cyber attackers will exploit business systems and steal sensitive information during the cloud migration process. Accordingly, security teams should apply a wide range of security controls depending on the applications and information transferred to a cloud service. Some of data protection tools that a business can deploy include a next-generation firewall (NGFW) solution, web application firewall, security information, and event management solution (SIEM), an intrusion detection and protection service (IDS/IPS), and a cloud access security broker (CASB).

Businesses should also ensure consistency between security solutions and policy enforcement for the migration phase that spans multiple environments. In effect, they should select suitable security solutions that interoperate seamlessly throughout the entire lifecycle. For instance, security personnel should ensure that their companies encrypt data, both at-rest, and in-transit. Certainly, information is most vulnerable when exposed to the Internet. Organizations should, therefore, ensure they deploy secure transport protocols like HTTPs during data and application transfers from in-house servers to the cloud environment. Enterprises may also consider transferring their workloads via an appliance. However, it is advisable to ensure that the tool encrypts data before it leaves the on-premise datacenter.

Security teams can deploy decoys or deception documents to enable a business to detect hackers and insider leaks during the cloud migration process. This control alerts security analysts in the early stages of a breach or unusual user behavior. Besides, decoys act like a honeypot that can trick a malicious actor into thinking they have stolen valuable information while they have accessed a highly convincing fake document.

Whenever possible, an organization opting to migrate to the cloud should prevent password breaches by deploying multifactor authentication (MFA). In this practice, security experts add a policy that requires employees to verify their identity via a text or email sent to their devices while accessing remote information and applications. MFA also alerts users when a hacker attempts to access cloud profiles using stolen credentials.

Besides, organizations should ensure that cloud providers build security into the API development process. Today, users lean heavily on APIs for better integration of disparate applications hosted in the cloud, including external programs sourced and used by cloud providers and customers. Unfortunately, API vulnerabilities are not easy to spot and require specialized tools and expertise to detect and mitigate. Enterprises should insist on using API Security Gateways that adhere to fundamental secure product architecture principles, such as:

  • A lockdown and reliable operating system,
  • Integrated PKI engine,
  • Independent security certifications that validate the product’s security and
  • Self-integrity health checks that scan and detect malicious activities.

Proper Setup and Protection of User Identities

Organizations migrating to the cloud should prevent users from having permission to introduce new attack surfaces and access to sandbox environments. Keeping an accurate and complete copy of information enables a business to quickly correct any data exposure errors and loss by restoring files and systems to the original state.

Businesses migrating to a cloud environment should limit data and application access points. Granting access to many employees can cause a user to enable global permissions exposing data to open connections. In this case, an organization should understand who and what has access to data and applications in the cloud. Moreover, security teams should monitor all cloud connections thoroughly.

Ensuring Cloud Computing Service is Compliant with Applicable Cybersecurity Regulations

What security and data privacy regulations does your business have to comply with while transferring workloads to the cloud? Organizations should understand compliance implications before adopting cloud services. This measure is especially essential if a firm operates in a highly-regulated environment, such as healthcare or finance. Security teams should determine how organizations meet requirements for storage, encryption, backup, and transfer.

Virtually all major cloud services providers have compliance certifications for popular regulations, such as PCI-DSS, GDPR, and HIPAA. However, even with these accreditations, enterprises should encrypt or exclude personally identifiable information before migrating to the cloud. Some regulations may require that companies keep certain types of data on-site only.

Establish Proper Logging and Monitoring

Businesses migrating to the cloud environment should establish proper logging, monitoring, and analysis of security in the cloud, especially when transferring data and applications from in-house servers. They should identify simple script errors that can potentially bring business operations to a halt or open loopholes that hackers exploit. Automation procedures during cloud migration present unexpected nuisances that enterprises should address. Security teams can deploy granular monitoring of cloud resources access and control. Security information and event management solution (SIEM) is essential since it enables users to centralize alerts and logging while incorporating analytics, automation, and machine learning to detect and flag unusual activities. User analytics and monitoring platforms help detect breaches quicker by analyzing behavior to create a standard user profile for an employee and the device they use to access cloud resources. If any activity is abnormal from the user profile expectations, the monitoring system immediately sends an alert to security teams, indicating the presence of an outsider.

Data Backup before the Migration

An organization opting to transfer applications and data from on-premise data centers to the cloud should back up information in separate locations. A complete backup and restore solution for cloud workloads gives a business the ability to perform business process restore in case or challenges during the migration stage. In essence, a company can implement a third-party backup solution that features capabilities such as data recovery options, backup to a separate cloud provider, easy to use solution, automatic operations, scalable storage, security certifications, and data privacy protection.

Phased Migration

Moving workloads to the cloud is not a straightforward process of copying bytes into a designated storage type. The migration activity involves proper preparation before the copying starts. A good practice to prevent errors that could result from migrating everything at once consists of identifying and prioritizing data and applications. Businesses can then consider implementing a phased migration to allow security personnel to develop familiarity with cloud security challenges and measures. In this case, they can start moving low priority applications and redundant data to enable security teams to test configurations and detect and remediate security gaps before transferring confidential data and systems.

Phased migration strategy can effectively prevent cloud vendor lock-in. Initial expectations for a cloud service provider are typically positive. However, businesses may discover after starting the migration process that a vendor lacks proper security practices necessary to protect sensitive data and applications. If a company was moving everything to the cloud, the process of changing vendors become lengthy and costly, forcing the organization to stick with one provider who does not meet their security expectations. Migrating a workload in phases enables an organization to assess the cloud provider’s capabilities and compare their findings with the migration goals.

Implement a Disaster Recovery Strategy

A 2019 report reveals that 96 percent of firms suffered at least a single outage in the first few months of cloud adoption. Various factors, including hardware failures, power outages, software bugs, data corruption, external security breaches, and accidental user errors, caused these outages. Seventy-five percent of small and medium businesses lack suitable disaster recovery plans. Another 39 percent SMBs lack an incident response plan to respond to unexpected cyber risks and data breaches while migrating to the cloud. The study also shows that 59 percent of enterprises will deploy cloud-based disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) by 2021.

In addition to security concerns, the availability of a cloud environment is another big fear that most enterprises face while migrating to the new IT setting. A business requires a suitable disaster recovery plan to maintain availability, performance, and protection of business data and applications during the transfer process.

Employee Awareness

A study shows that only 45 percent of organizations provide employees with formal security awareness training that is mandatory for all workers. Ten percent of businesses have optional training programs. Only 6 percent of companies offer monthly training, while 4 percent do it quarterly. These findings reveal that only 10 of the 24 percent of firms with formal programs provide training frequently.

Businesses should educate employees about cloud migration security risks. Besides, the team handling the task should understand the appropriate access and integration requirements with on-premise systems. This practice helps an organization to identify and address the weakest penetration during the workload transfer window. Businesses should not stop researching and learning in an industry that is changing and adapting. Employees should understand the latest cloud vulnerabilities and trends. For instance, if the migration journey involves the Internet of Things (IoT), businesses only see the thin end of the wedge when it comes to understanding the technology’s risks and protection measures. In effect, organizations should invest in research and training about cyber threats and controls needed to secure novel technologies.

Cloud service providers operate a shared responsibility model that businesses should understand. Users’ responsibility depends on the type of cloud services they purchase. Cloud providers offer reliable resources and services to enable organizations to handle the aspects of cloud security under their docket.

Outsourcing Security Roles to an MSSP

An organization migrating to the cloud requires a different set of skills to manage the move from a local datacenter. In most cases, designing a cybersecurity program and hiring the right experts to implement and maintain it is costly and requires pricey and dedicated appliances and licensing. Besides, businesses need enough time to train internal staff to handle security issues during the migration phase.

In such cases, an organization can partner with a managed security service provider (MSSP) to empower its cybersecurity strategy with outsources personnel, processes, and technology. Outsourcing security requirements to an MSSP offers superior data and application protection, saves cost, enables a business to focus on other activities, and manages incidents encountered in the process. MSSPs maintain a leading-edge set of security technologies and approaches that security experts have deployed across many companies facing a variety of threats during cloud migration journeys. They offer affordable security operations center-as-a-service and cyber threat hunt operations that leverage advanced technologies and capabilities like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and threat intelligence.

Ultimately, successful cloud migration should also involve migrating appropriate security posture to the new IT environment. Automation, cloud computing benefits, and ease of cloud management offered by providers should not trick organizations into shortcutting security when transferring data and applications to the cloud. Careful preparation before embarking on the cloud migration journey saves an organization from unforeseen cyberattacks and enables successful completion of cloud adoption. The process requires attention and adequate resources from an enterprise to implement relevant control to detect and respond to security challenges faced during cloud migration.

 

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