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Securing Your Multicloud Strategy: Asset Visibility and Multicloud Security

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Digital transformation has created new, highly complex cloud environments that are difficult to manage. Companies are moving applications to the cloud, using multi-vendor solutions, and having many more users and devices than before. While multicloud environments bring efficiency and cost benefits, they also render management processes more complex, requiring closer monitoring of resources. The complexity is the inevitable result of each cloud service provider's (CSP) having its siloed systems and resource configurations. 

Per Flexera State of the Cloud Report, 89% of respondents reported using multicloud, and 80% followed a hybrid approach, combining private and public clouds. See the latest cloud computing statistics.

Consequently, it causes a visibility challenge. For example, workloads on one cloud might not be entirely visible to IT Ops professionals who are to protect and secure the workloads in another. This guide will guide you through the key aspects of multicloud and asset visibility for multicloud security.

You can download this free guide as PDF; click the image below to download it.

multicloud security guide
downloadable guide on multicloud asset visibility

What is multicloud?

Multicloud is the use of more than one cloud vendor and sometimes a hybrid cloud (a mix of private and public clouds) to meet service and infrastructure needs. Instead of being locked into a single vendor, organizations can take advantage of what's best for their particular applications and requirements.

What is multicloud security?

Multicloud security refers to the set of practices, technologies, and policies implemented to ensure the protection and compliance of data and applications across multiple cloud environments. It involves securing workloads and assets hosted in various cloud platforms, including public, private, and hybrid clouds, while maintaining visibility and control over the entire infrastructure.

Multicloud security aims to minimize the risk of data breaches, data loss, and downtime caused by cyber threats, human error, or compliance violations. It also includes measures to ensure data privacy, regulatory compliance, and business continuity in a dynamic and distributed IT environment.

Benefits of multicloud

  1. Agility:  Enterprises now expect their technology to deliver business agility - the ability to quickly adapt to changing market conditions, customer expectations, and competitive pressures. Cloud providers can help achieve this by offering quick access to new capabilities that can be rapidly applied on the fly. With multiple cloud vendors, businesses can respond faster in order to outmaneuver competitors.
  1. Differentiation: Technology alone no longer gives businesses a competitive edge. Today's key differentiator is how companies apply technology to solve real-world problems or innovate products and services. multicloud helps organizations differentiate by providing access to an unprecedented number of services that can be combined in new ways to build next-generation solutions.
  1. Flexibility: multicloud offers flexibility, choice, and freedom. You can choose which public cloud providers or services to use and when to ensure you get the best deal at any given time.
  1. Innovation and creativity: multicloud lets you add new functionality on top of existing capabilities without disrupting your operations. This reduces risk and enables faster experimentation, helping you stay ahead of the competition.
  1. Improved availability, performance, and disaster recovery: With multiple clouds, you can run multiple workloads across different geographic regions, switch between providers if one is down or not working as it should be, and create diverse load-balancing options.
multicloud concept

Challenges of multicloud

Despite its numerous benefits, the multicloud approach comes with several challenges that need to be addressed.

Difficulty to manage:

From setup processes to individual developer tools, using cloud services from multiple providers can become complicated and troublesome to manage. Each provider comes with different setup and management processes, and failing to meet them correctly could decelerate business agility. The dispersion of configurations, resources, accounts, and costs adds up to organizations' struggle to manage assets across multiple providers.

Difficulty in tracking costs:

Another potential concern about multicloud is the difficulty of tracking costs as they are divided between multiple providers. This could mean that the cost advantages of a multicloud strategy could be reduced.

Security concerns:

Due to complexity, multicloud environments present several security risks, including; misconfigurations, user access controls, visibility, workload freshness, and data governance. To go into detail, misconfiguration of security or privacy settings is a common security risk for companies migrating workloads. 

The difficulty of managing configurations grows exponentially with multicloud adoption as it increases the responsibility of IT teams.

You might also like Top CAASM Tools For Cloud Security.

Why do companies turn to multicloud?

The public cloud is not a silver bullet, and no one-size-fits-all approach exists. For this reason, many organizations are turning towards multicloud as a way to meet their business needs and get the most out of the cloud by utilizing multiple vendors. 

The multi-vendor approach is more popular than ever these days among organizations that want to:

  • Avoid vendor lock-in
  • Take advantage of specific strengths from multiple providers
  • Have more control over data
multicloud computing

The visibility challenge in multicloud

Multicloud brings the benefit of avoiding vendor lock-in, but it also comes with data sprawl. Therefore, visibility across multiple cloud providers and tools is a key challenge to face. Multiple vendors create multiple data sets, likely analyzed and assessed by different people. Then, count in the siloed development teams across an organization using multiple clouds. 

Given that it takes a lot of manual work to stitch together the gaps and management between siloed assets, not to mention the siloed development teams, multicloud presents a visibility challenge to a considerable extent.

"The movement of workloads from private underground facilities to cloud provider-operated data centers has the potential to introduce significant efficiencies but also introduces a security risk. This is a vulnerable transition point that attackers will exploit," -Leon Kuperman, CTO, and Co-Founder at CAST AI (source: CyberNews)

Using a single cloud vs. multicloud

An organization using a single cloud vendor has only one environment to track, monitor, and secure. On the other hand, multicloud environments cause security gaps due to the visibility factor. The cloud services, applications, tools, and platforms across an organization ultimately turn into a patchwork that is hard to see the details of and manage properly–No unified view of all assets in one place to monitor.

As the multicloud trend grows, the industry breeds new solutions for its challenges. The most prominent or "in spotlight" ones are:

  • Cloud-native solutions like AWS Config or GCP Cloud Monitoring
  • Cyber Attack Surface Management (CAASM) solutions

What is cloud asset visibility?

Cloud asset visibility is an essential part of the cloud security posture of an enterprise. As a refresher, cloud assets are any object you create or upload to a cloud service provider (CSP), such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or Alibaba Cloud. Examples of cloud assets include instances, storage buckets, and databases. Organizations need to know what assets exist on their CSPs for security and compliance purposes.

Traditionally, asset visibility practices relied on manual processes. Responsible teams used to conduct and record visual assessments and evaluations manually. However, these manual methods are antiquated by the modern digital world's standards and cannot address the ever-expanding and evolving cyber environments. In order to ensure security and compliance across digital resources, security teams must be able to monitor and know all the assets they are defending. 

multicloud security concept

Why is asset visibility important?

It enables IT and security teams to discover all assets in an environment and locate the ones with critical vulnerabilities,

  • Identify vulnerable, unused, or outdated versions of assets to reduce costs and mitigate risks,
  • Detect asset changes and accelerate incident investigations,
  • Collect compliance and governance evidence faster,
  • Monitor access controls,
  • Uncover change histories and detect the actors of a resource configuration change.

How does asset visibility enable security?

Cloud environments are complex and constantly changing. Assets come in different shapes, sizes, and colors — they can be created in minutes and "spun up" when needed. Additionally, new applications are being pushed to production every few weeks or even days. This dynamic nature makes it difficult for organizations to maintain complete visibility over their cloud assets. At the same time, fast-paced modern software development teams adopt faster release cycles and continuous deployment, which often means less time for security testing.

How can you move fast when you need to ensure that your assets and sensitive data are protected? The answer is by increasing asset visibility. It's almost impossible to effectively manage or secure what you can't see. But when you have a good grasp of where your assets reside and how they communicate, it becomes much easier to track down weaknesses in your cloud environment and close those gaps before they become major problems.

1. Eliminating unauthorized access

Another critical aspect of resource visibility is ensuring that no unauthorized access makes its way into a digital environment. A rogue device or improper access control on an internal cloud-based app could be a minefield for security risks. The longer they remain undetected, the worse the damage could be. Leveraging IAM security best practices can improve your cloud access security posture.

Suggested reading: API Key Security Best Practices

2. Unified view of asset inventory

The dynamic nature of cloud computing makes it difficult for organizations to maintain complete visibility over all of their resources. Without proper asset visibility, it's impossible to know what is running in their cloud environments at any given time or where sensitive data is located. In that respect, a centralized view wipes out blindspots. Learn how to create an asset inventory for cloud.

multicloud security

3. Minimizing misconfigurations

Many company-wide used cloud apps, how they are being used, or how/when/by whom they are configured might be a mystery for IT teams. Without visibility and control, they face security risks, compliance issues, and wasted costs. Asset visibility brings misconfigurations to the surface, enabling security teams, DevOps, or DevSecOps teams to carry out their operations faster and securely.

You might also want to avoid the common Amazon S3 Bucket misconfigurations.

4. Expediting incident investigations

Visibility across assets in an organization's entire cyber landscape enables security teams to investigate incidents faster and detect the underlying cause. Based on the most basic level of Swann's Incident Response Hierarchy, the ability to name all the assets they are defending is critical for security teams. 

Modeled after Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Incident Response Hierarchy describes the capabilities that an organization must have in order to protect assets against security threats. Ergo, asset visibility is the foundation of security defense.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid for multicloud security

Best multicloud solutions for asset visibility

Leading cloud vendors, AWS, GCP, and Microsoft, offer native tools to help you keep track of your cloud resources and resource configurations. These tools consolidate your resources across the cloud and continuously monitor their configuration changes to close potential security and compliance gaps. While each tool has its own capabilities and drawbacks, the cost aspect is hard to disregard.

resmo for multicloud security solution

1. Resmo

Resmo is a continuous cloud and SaaS visibility, security, and compliance solution. It provides unified visibility of your SaaS and cloud assets to empower IT and security teams to expedite their operations and strengthen security postures. Whether your organization uses a single cloud service provider or multicloud, Resmo seamlessly integrates with them to bring 360-degree visibility into your resources.

Here's how Resmo helps modern development, DevOps, DevSecOps, IT, and security teams to uncover blindspots on cloud stacks:

Integrate with multiple cloud services

Resmo integrates with leading cloud providers, including AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Instead of implementing the asset visibility service of each cloud provider in your IT landscape, you can consolidate all resources in one place. 

  • Continuously assess resources against security and compliance rules
  • Query your cloud resources with SQL
  • Track configuration change histories

Receive real-time notifications on rule violations

Get real-time notifications when your rules are violated so that you can close security gaps as they open. Connect Resmo with notification channels like Slack, email, webhook, and Opsgenie.

Advantages Over Native Solutions

  • Unified view of multicloud assets
  • Integrations with SaaS tools like Slack, PagerDuty, GitHub, and Jira
  • Real-time notifications through channels that are already used in day-to-day operations
  • Ability to group resources 
  • Reduced costs

Discover your multicloud assets in one place.

cloud services

2. AWS Config

AWS Config is an AWS service that helps you assess, evaluate, and audit your AWS resources. It is designed to continuously monitor and record your AWS resource configurations and evaluate them against a set of desired configurations. Using AWS Config, you can observe the changes made to your configurations, map the relationships between your AWS resources, view change histories, and audit for overall compliance. 

Use cases:

  • Discover AWS resources in your account
  • Manage configuration changes, observe when resources are created, changed, or deleted
  • Get notifications when a change occurs through the Amazon SNS topic
  • Assess compliance with internal policies or regulatory standards
  • Troubleshoot operational issues faster
  • Detect potential security vulnerabilities

For further information on AWS Config, see Introduction to AWS Config: Simplified Cloud Auditing

Drawbacks to Consider:

AWS Config may not be a full-coverage solution for the multicloud if you are using multiple cloud providers from different CSPs because:

  • It is best for only AWS services, so organizations using multiple CSPs will need additional tools.
  • Config operates with CloudWatch and SNS to ensure that you are notified when a change occurs. There will be more configurations to manage with every service added to your cloud environment. 
  • It adds up to the overall cloud cost with each configuration recorded.

3. Microsoft Defender for Cloud

Depending on your visibility needs, the most-suited solution for Azure cloud environments might change. However, the closest to AWS Config is Microsoft Defender for Cloud. Formerly known as Azure Security Center and Azure Defender, Microsoft renamed its cloud asset visibility tool as Microsoft Defender for Cloud. 

It is a cloud security posture management (CSPM) and cloud workload protection (CWP) solution. Defender for Cloud enables you to detect weaknesses across your cloud configuration, enhance your security posture, and protect your workloads across multicloud and hybrid cloud environments.

Use cases:

  • Assess the security configuration of your resources
  • Audit for compliance against regulatory standards
  • Protect workloads running in Azure, Google Cloud Platform, AWS, and on-premises against threats
  • Detect vulnerabilities

Also read: Azure Security Best Practices

4. Google Cloud Asset Inventory

Google Asset Inventory is a metadata inventory service that provides visibility into resources and policies and aggregates them all in one place to help you better understand your assets across projects and services.

Suggested reading: Google Workspace Security Best Practices

Use cases:

  • Gain visibility into resources from GCP services such as Google Kubernetes Engine, Compute Engine, Cloud SQL, Cloud Storage, assets from Anthos deployment, and various policies like IAM policy and Org policy.
  • Locate assets, run data analysis, security, compliance, and auditing
  • Snapshot your inventory at any point-in-time
  • Continuously monitor and assess resources.
  • See change histories
  • Get real-time notifications by setting up Cloud Pub/Subchannels.
  • Integrate with BigQuery to run queries
multicloud security management concept

Multicloud management best practices

With the expansion of attack surfaces as an aftermath of a multicloud approach, organizations must be able to evolve their security defenses around sheer asset visibility and automation. Only then can they reach maximum productivity and efficiency in their day-to-day operations. 

Note: One thing to keep in mind above all else is that cloud vendors rely on shared responsibility models. That is to say, a CSP handles the data center, servers, and other hardware for you, but the greater part of the responsibility lies with the customer. Organizations are responsible for ensuring their workloads are secure, data is compliant, and access controls are managed properly. 

1. Consider Visibility Tools Offered by Cloud Vendors

By implementing a cloud management tool that collects all resources, and assesses, and records configuration changes across all services offered by a CSP, you can get a holistic view of your assets. However, the drawback is that these tools are most beneficial for organizations that use a single cloud service provider. In the case of multicloud usage, there will be multiple tools and siloed visibility–Not to mention workload increase and deceleration of DevOps, DevSecOps, and security teams. For the best practice solution, see the last chapter.

2. Prioritize Cloud Governance & Access Controls

Cloud governance refers to a set of policies, structures, and rules to improve data security and ensure that asset deployment and other aspects are correctly managed. It is one of the biggest challenges for the multicloud management process. Cloud management and security teams must be able to manage cross-cloud configurations, deployments, policies, and access controls through centralized cloud observability.

3. Ensure Application and Workload Visibility

Visibility is the cornerstone of multicloud maturity. While some cloud providers offer native tools for visibility, it still represents a challenge across multicloud ecosystems. Organizations must ensure that each workload is secure and no integrated applications expose sensitive data. This can be achieved using cloud management platforms to monitor all cloud assets and consolidate them on a central source.

4. Scale Visibility based on Protection Needs

Most cloud services provide tools for scalable protection, such as policies to assess configurations against best practices. However, scaling protection may not fix all misconfigurations or guarantee proper access control. Cloud workload protection platforms, security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) tools can be considered solutions. In all cases, security teams should automate monitoring tasks across clouds to improve efficiency and focus on more critical tasks instead.

5. Assign Visibility Permissions

There are numerous roles in a multicloud environment, including infrastructure, operations, DevOps, engineering, security, and application owners. All have unique requirements and access permissions for the data they need to see in order to make decisions. Assigning visibility permissions in a multicloud environment based on personas can boost employee focus and security.

Wrap-up

As modern development environments move to the cloud, organizations look for practical solutions like the multicloud approach. Using multiple cloud providers' services helps avoid vendor lock-in and utilize the best offers in terms of costs and efficiency. Despite its benefits, organizations must understand the challenges that come with multicloud and the methods of facing them. 

Visibility is one of the most challenging hindrances between secure and compliant digital landscapes. Unless properly monitored and managed, the growing complexity and expanding attack surfaces render cloud assets exposed to cyber-attacks. Although there are many methods to address visibility issues, centralized resource visibility and monitoring are currently the ideal solution. Aggregating data from multiple clouds and gathering it all in one place to manage empowers teams to dramatically reduce efforts and costs, allowing them to rule out manual errors from the process.

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