Best Practices for Hybrid Cloud Security
Hybrid cloud environments are becoming standard operating procedure. Where once there was a stigma around being a “hybrid cloud shop,” the sentiment is quickly evaporating. According to a 2020 survey by O’Reilly, 39% of businesses are already using hybrid cloud, and that number is only expected to rise.
Put in its most simple terms, hybrid cloud is an environment that takes advantage of a mixture of on-premise, private cloud, and public cloud services to give businesses more flexibility and choice in how they process information with greater speed and agility through cloud expansion. It can even — when executed properly — improve an organization’s security posture. Embracing a hybrid cloud model, however, does require careful planning and a rethinking of security policies and procedures to understand and minimize the security risks while making full use of the benefits of fusing on-premise and cloud.
Larger development and operational teams are often already using a hybrid cloud topology: implementing solutions from diverse third-party providers and storing information on different cloud platforms.
It’s a complex undertaking, but organizations that look honestly at where development and operations teams are already and engage trusted cloud security experts to collaborate on a plan for the future will be able to embrace the benefits of hybrid cloud while managing the associated business risk.
Why should businesses consider hybrid cloud?
From a risk management perspective, hybrid cloud shines. Consider the healthcare industry as one example. Healthcare businesses need to collect, maintain, and process a wide range of information. Some of it is personal data (PD) or protected health information (PHI). Regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA, dictate enhanced data security measures for patient information. Healthcare organizations also process large amounts of data that is less sensitive than the actual PD/PHI. A hybrid cloud environment gives a healthcare business the tools to handle these different kinds of data: it can keep PD on premises where it has control all the way down to the physical layer, but store and process less sensitive data in more scalable and flexible cloud services.
Hybrid cloud also helps businesses take advantage of their existing infrastructure. Despite the cloud being portrayed so often as a new frontier, the reality is far more gradual than that. After all, as businesses consider cloud technologies, they still have technology in use that they cannot and should not stop using immediately. They have hardware that is still amortizing, or they are locked into a data center contract. Hybrid cloud brings the best of both worlds. For example, consider a business that is incorporating broader data analytics. Hybrid cloud can be the right solution for building and expanding a Hadoop cluster: more sensitive data can be stored and processed on premises, while the storage and analysis of less sensitive data can happen in the cloud where the business may be able to achieve better performance and broader data visibility. With a thoughtful hybrid cloud plan, businesses can make the most of their existing infrastructure while embracing the speed and nimbleness of cloud.
Best practices for hybrid cloud security
Though embracing a hybrid cloud environment can be challenging, keeping in mind these best practices can help businesses adopt it as smoothly and securely as possible.
Interoperability and configuration
When designing a hybrid cloud plan, a business usually must bring in new platforms and technologies alongside existing ones. This is one of the advantages of hybrid cloud, being able to reap the benefits of the cloud’s flexibility and scalability while continuing to use existing technologies. However, integrating these parts of a hybrid cloud environment raises important questions of how well cloud platforms work next to the existing solutions and how to configure the system and its components securely.
To confront these challenges, businesses must ask questions about interoperability at the beginning of the architecture phase. They need to have people with the right expertise to answer them and help shape their plan. That way, the hybrid cloud strategy can go from concept to execution as smoothly as possible, meeting both business and security goals along the way.
Visibility and automation
As environments scale into the cloud, security monitoring and intelligence needs to scale with them. At the scale of hybrid cloud, manual procedures for reviewing and contextualizing security data become asynchronous, making them ill-suited for identifying anomalies as quickly as necessary to mitigate damages. Hybrid cloud environments benefit greatly from security automation. Devices on the network need to be configured to produce the relevant logs and security data. A central system needs to be designed to intake that information, process it, and get as close to real-time threat visibility as possible.
This does not mean less need for expert security analysts. On the contrary, analysts are as crucial as ever for securing a hybrid cloud environment. However, those analysts need to be familiar with both on-premises and cloud technologies, knowledgeable about designing and optimizing the scripts behind the automation, and ready to investigate incidents in the hybrid cloud environment.
Data security considerations
A range of data security questions arise in any cloud environment. Modern data security laws, like HIPAA, GDPR, and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, put more stringent data protections in place than ever before. Though compliance can be complex, a well-thought-out hybrid cloud plan can help a business rise to the challenge.
Both security best practices and modern data security laws demand encryption of data both at rest and in transit. With some data and services on-premise and others in the cloud, any hybrid cloud plan needs to consider the business’s complex data processing needs and include a design for a secure and available connection between on-premise infrastructure and cloud infrastructure.
Identity and access management (IAM) policies also weave in questions of data security, since strong IAM policies ensure that access to information is restricted correctly. Implementing IAM correctly in a hybrid cloud environment requires a broad range of expertise, since on-premises and cloud solutions implement IAM differently. However, when used correctly, the granular policy options available in cloud solutions can increase data security by more tightly enacting the concept of least privilege.
Data residency is another question that arises in any kind of cloud infrastructure, including hybrid, since which regulations apply to certain data is determined, at least in part, by where that data is located. Hybrid cloud has some advantages in this regard: after all, with on-premise infrastructure as part of a hybrid cloud setup, businesses can keep their most sensitive data where they have the most control over it.
How a trusted partner can help
Though designing and securing a hybrid cloud environment can be complex, the rewards are worth it for many businesses. Most businesses are using a mix of on-premises and cloud technologies anyway, and secure hybrid cloud allows businesses to make the most of their existing infrastructure while embracing the flexibility and scalability of the cloud. Though there are challenges, it boils down to having the knowledge to identify and implement solutions.
Hybrid cloud architecture and security expertise can be difficult to find, and that knowledge is something that even the largest companies do not have on staff. Bringing in a third party with that experience is often a necessity. Experience is only part of the picture, however. Businesses also need to consider a partner’s approach. Hybrid cloud, by nature, is not one-size-fits-all. To succeed in designing and securing a hybrid cloud infrastructure, a partner needs to collaborate with the business to know the cloud technologies, know how they can work in concert with existing technologies in the environment, and design the best solution for securely advancing business goals.
Security Compass has deep experience across multiple cloud platforms and multiple industries. As a company that has specialized in cloud architecture and security for years, we have a broader base of hybrid cloud experience than a single business considering a move to hybrid cloud would have on staff. Our consultants not only have the technical experience, but the deep critical thinking skills to evaluate that experience, know what has and has not worked in a variety of contexts, and relate that to your plans and goals. Having that experience in your corner makes you more likely to succeed, both at the architecture phase and the security testing phase of your hybrid cloud plan.