Businesses have many infrastructure hosting solutions to choose from, from physical servers hosted in owned data centers, to colocated servers in managed data centers, to many different cloud platforms. However, in 2021, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is by far the largest infrastructure hosting platform in the world.
Businesses choose AWS because it offers a diverse array of cloud services backed by the technical expertise of one of the most valuable companies in the world. AWS lowers infrastructure management costs while providing the reliability, scalability, and availability businesses expect.
Other cloud providers offer roughly equivalent services, including Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, but AWS had the first-mover advantage, and its growth has outpaced its competition.
Cloud security is another reason businesses adopt AWS. In the early days of the cloud, business leaders were skeptical that virtualized infrastructure platforms could offer adequate security and privacy. Today, the days of the cloud security naysayers are long past. No infrastructure platform is guaranteed free of vulnerabilities, but cloud platforms like AWS are trusted by businesses, governments, and even national security services.
This article looks at some of the ways AWS enhances cloud security and makes it easier for businesses to maintain secure and compliant infrastructure hosting. We’ll also explore cloud security limitations and how companies can ensure their cloud infrastructure complies with industry best practices and regulatory standards.
What is Cloud Security?
Cloud security is the resources, tools, and practices that allow businesses to store data and run code securely in the cloud. Cloud security’s primary concern is to limit data and infrastructure access to authorized users, whether that’s a business’s customers or internal users of the cloud platform.
If a business fails to secure its cloud infrastructure, it risks exposing sensitive data, having its resources hijacked by bad actors, and subjecting its users to malware and other threats.
Cloud infrastructure faces many different security threats, including:
- Human error. The majority of cloud security vulnerabilities are caused by configuration errors and poor understanding of cloud security best practices.
- Social engineering. Bad actors use social engineering techniques such as phishing attacks and executive impersonation to gain access to sensitive cloud resources such as authentication credentials.
- Endpoint security vulnerabilities. These include software vulnerabilities and poor security practices around the devices end-users use to access cloud resources.
- Software vulnerabilities. Attackers target code hosted on cloud platforms. According to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Top Ten, the most common web application vulnerabilities include broken access controls, cryptographic failures, vulnerable and outdated components, and security logging and monitoring failures.
Cloud platforms such as AWS provide tools and services to help businesses overcome these risks. However, cloud security is only effective if businesses understand the risks and how to use the resources their platform provides to combat them.
Let’s explore five ways AWS helps its users maximize cloud security to protect their data and infrastructure assets.
1. Amazon-Managed Data Centers, Servers, and Networks
Building and maintaining secure IT infrastructure requires knowledge and experience many businesses lack. Infrastructure security is a specialized field, and without a deep understanding of the risks, it’s all too easy to deploy infrastructure that is vulnerable to attack.
AWS provides a secure baseline for infrastructure deployment. Its employees include some of the most experienced and knowledgeable cloud security professionals in the industry. They work to implement secure data centers, networks, and servers on which users can deploy their code.
Furthermore, AWS provides high-level PaaS and managed hosting solutions so users don’t have to worry about securing operating systems, library code, services such as web servers, and other aspects of server security. AWS doesn’t guarantee security, but it does provide a secure foundation.
2. Powerful Access Management Tools
The OWASP Top Ten includes two security risks related to access management: broken access controls and identification and authentication failures. Identity and access management are among the most challenging security and privacy management features to get right. Infrastructure is useless if the right people can’t use it, but opening the door to them often creates vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit.
AWS integrates a range of powerful tools for verifying identity and controlling access. The Identity and Access Management (IAM) service provides tools for managing access to AWS services and resources. It allows businesses to attach fine-grained permissions to users, groups, and roles. It also offers extra security with multi-factor authentication, and it provides federated access for systems such as Microsoft Active Directory.
IAM is the centerpiece of AWS’s access management, but the platform incorporates several additional access management tools, including AWS Single Sign-On, AWS Resource Access Manager, and Amazon Cognito.
3. Vulnerability and Breach Protection
How does a business know when its cloud resources have been compromised? Sometimes it’s obvious: data becomes unavailable, and a ransom demand is delivered—there were over 300 million ransomware attacks in 2020. But businesses would ideally be aware of breaches before the worst happens.
AWS offers several tools for monitoring cloud resources for potential breaches. Amazon GuardDuty continuously analyzes logs, using machine learning and threat intelligence to identify breaches. Amazon Inspector assesses applications for vulnerabilities. AWS CloudTrail tracks user activity and API usage, helping businesses to identify and mitigate security breaches.
4. Encryption and Data Protection
Cryptographic failures are in second place on the OWASP Top Ten. Data should be encrypted in transit and at rest, and encryption keys should be managed to limit the risk of exposure. AWS has many data protection tools that help businesses to encrypt their data.
Data storage services such as Amazon S3 and Amazon EBS can encrypt data transparently. Data is automatically encrypted as it moves between components of an AWS environment. Amazon Macie helps businesses to identify and protect sensitive data. In addition to integrated encryption services, AWS also offers a range of key and certificate management services, including AWS Certificate Manager and AWS Key Management Services.
5. AWS Firewalls
Firewalls allow AWS users to analyze and filter incoming and outgoing network traffic. AWS incorporates a multitude of firewalls, including the stateful Security Groups and stateless Network Access Control Lists. We wrote more about both in Cloud Security: What are AWS Security Groups?
In addition to network firewalls, AWS also provides more specialized firewall services, such as the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), which analyzes web traffic to identify malicious requests. AWS WAF filters attacks before they reach web applications, including SQL injection and cross-site scripting, which appear on the OWASP Top Ten.
How AWS Audits Improve Cloud Security
We’ve looked at five ways AWS empowers businesses to enhance cloud security, but the existence of these tools and services is no guarantee they are used correctly. Misconfiguration is the most common cause of cloud security breaches and data leaks.
KirkpatrickPrice is a CPA firm specializing in information security, including cloud security. Our services help businesses to verify their AWS cloud environments are secure and compliant. They include:
- Remote Cloud Security Assessments, which analyze AWS, Azure, and GCP configurations for misconfigurations and vulnerabilities.
- Cloud Security Audits, which test your cloud controls against a framework based on the CIS Benchmarks for AWS and other cloud platforms.
- Pen Testing Services, which leverage the expertise of skilled penetration testers to verify your network, web application, API, and wireless security.
To learn more, contact an AWS security auditor today or visit the KirkpatrickPrice AWS Cybersecurity Services, where you’ll find a wealth of actionable information focused on AWS security and our AWS Security Scanner.