Understanding Cloud Visibility and Security


Cloud environments are complex. Understanding what’s happening within them can be a real challenge, and the monitoring and visibility tools offered by cloud vendors provide only a partial solution.

To achieve true visibility into your cloud, you need a cloud governance policy and tools for enabling it. Cloud governance is a set of policies that define how your cloud is configured and which types of workloads may exist within it. By establishing cloud governance rules and automatically enforcing them, organizations can maximize cloud infrastructure security, even in multicloud environments that can’t be monitored using a single set of native monitoring tools.

This article explains the role that cloud governance plays in achieving cloud visibility and security, as well as which types of tools teams can deploy to enforce cloud governance.

Cloud Governance as the Foundation for Cloud Monitoring

Strictly speaking, you don’t need cloud governance to achieve cloud visibility. You can monitor what is happening in your cloud without a cloud governance policy in place.

However, monitoring is of little value without a cloud governance policy that defines how to interpret monitoring data. If you lack governance rules that define which types of cloud configurations are and aren’t allowed within your organization, you won’t know how to respond to an IAM policy that grants anonymous access to a storage bucket, for example, or which types of networking configurations should be in place for your cloud to meet security requirements.

In short, cloud governance forms the foundation for an effective cloud monitoring and visibility strategy.

Achieving Cloud Infrastructure Security

While cloud governance defines which configurations should be in place for your cloud to be secure, it doesn’t actually guarantee that those configurations exist. Enforcing cloud governance requirements is where cloud infrastructure security tools come into play. Cloud infrastructure security tools automatically assess your cloud environments to detect violations of governance policies or other security risks.

Broadly speaking, cloud infrastructure security tools fall into three main types of solutions.

Infrastructure as Code Security

First, you can deploy tools that automatically scan Infrastructure as Code, or IaC, configurations for policy violations or security risks.

IaC configurations are files that define how cloud environments (or other types of resources) should be configured. Teams can use IaC to provision virtual machines running in the cloud or manage object storage buckets, for example. By creating a set of IaC rules once and automatically deploying them across a cloud environment, organizations save a lot of time and avoid the risks associated with making mistakes when manually configuring cloud workloads.

However, the major security risk with IaC files is that an insecure configuration within an IaC template will be automatically deployed across your cloud unless you detect it first. That’s why scanning IaC files is one critical step in enforcing cloud governance rules and securing cloud infrastructure. By automatically parsing IaC templates for insecure configurations (such as assigning access permissions to the wrong user or enabling anonymous access to sensitive data) whenever IaC rules are created or changed, organizations can prevent many of the mistakes that lead to cloud governance violations.

Cloud Misconfigurations

While IaC scanning can help prevent governance violations before they are deployed, some insecure configurations may slip past your scans, leading to misconfigurations within your actual cloud environment. There may also be instances where you configure some cloud workloads manually rather than via IaC templates, creating a risk of insecure configurations due to human error.

Cloud security posture management, or CSPM, tools can help you defend against this category of threat. By automatically and continuously scanning your actual cloud configurations based on IAM policies, network security groups and Access Control Lists, data encryption settings, and so on, CSPM tools alert your team to insecure configurations that violate governance policies or introduce known vulnerabilities into your environment. Your team can then take steps to update the configurations (and, if relevant, modify the IaC templates that created the insecure configurations in the first place).

In some cases, CSPM tools can even remediate misconfigurations automatically by updating settings themselves. Automated remediation ensures that cloud governance violations are corrected as soon as possible, without waiting on human engineers to respond.

Cloud Visibility

The final main line of defense against cloud infrastructure security risks are cloud visibility tools, which help you detect activity that reflects insecure configurations. The activity could be the result of a live breach, or it could merely be network traffic or application behavior patterns that reflect an insecure configuration that could enable or exacerbate a breach.

Cloud visibility involves a broad category of tools that can collect and analyze many types of data sources – such as cloud audit logs, networking logs, and infrastructure performance metrics – to detect behavior that could reflect a governance violation. For example, cloud visibility tools may alert you to network traffic between two Virtual Private Clouds, or VPCs, that should be isolated from each other under the terms of your cloud governance policy. Or, cloud visibility could help you identify accounts that are creating cloud workloads that they are not authorized to generate based on your cloud governance rules.

While your primary goal should always be to prevent governance violations and insecure configurations from arising in the first place, mistakes are inevitable. Cloud visibility solutions empower you to detect and respond effectively to live risks when they arise.

A Note on Governance and Multicloud Security

Part of the value of cloud governance policies is that they can be applied not just to a single cloud, but to multiple clouds. No matter which clouds you use or which specific services you run in them, the broad rules that you define as part of your governance policies can help you manage risks across all of your cloud-based assets. That’s an advantage in a world where the typical organization uses multiple clouds.

That said, enforcing cloud governance across multiple clouds (or within a hybrid cloud environment) is more challenging than doing so within a single cloud. The main reason why is that most of the IaC, monitoring, and auditing services that cloud vendors offer work only within the vendors’ respective clouds. You can’t use AWS tooling to maintain visibility or enforce governance in Azure or GCP, for example.

When working with a multicloud architecture, then, you’ll typically need to rely on third-party governance and visibility solutions that can identify risks within any type of cloud configuration. You may also use the cloud vendors’ monitoring services to help collect data, but you’ll ultimately aggregate and analyze that data using an external solution that provides centralized visibility across your environment.

Advancing Cloud Governance

It’s one thing to define cloud governance rules. It’s another to devise a strategy and deploy a set of tools that can enforce cloud governance across all of your clouds, and at all stages of the cloud lifecycle. But doing so is critical for achieving an effective cloud visibility strategy and optimizing cloud infrastructure security.