Centralized Cloud Security: An Asset or a Liability?
By Gilad Maayan
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Centralized cloud security has emerged in response to the increasing need to defend complex ecosystems. However, before you decide on using a centralized security solution, you need to understand its benefits and challenges. This article offers a review of benefits and challenges, which may help you understand whether centralized cloud security is the right choice for you.
Traditional on-premises enterprise security environments are usually decentralized. In decentralized environments, IT teams must manage and maintain security at every single location and for every single application.
However, in cloud-based infrastructure, companies can centralize security controls for all endpoints, physical, or virtual into one Unified Threat Management (UTM) solution. UTM refers to a single security solution, and a single security appliance, that provides multiple security functions at a single point.
A unified security approach protects the entire corporate network from external threats. IT tems can manage security functions like spam filtering, firewall controls, virus and spyware protection, two-factor authentication, and Virtual Private Networking (VPN) at a company-wide scale. Centralized cloud security also eliminates the need to invest in on-premises hardware and maintenance, resulting in both cost and time savings.
How Centralized Cloud Security Works
The goal of centralized cloud security is to send instant notification of a common threat to IT teams. This notification is then translated into a policy that helps you eliminate the threat. There are no people involved in this process, it’s completely automated. This proactive and automated approach can protect companies from both disruptive attacks like Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS), and larger threats like data breaches.
Main components of a centralized security solution include:
Firewall—filter out malicious traffic from the network. Centralized firewalls can be delivered both on-premises and via cloud-based firewalls.
VPN Networking—helps to encrypt and anonymize your network traffic. Centralized networking solutions often use VPNs to ensure that outgoing traffic is protected from malicious actors.
Load balancing—help to stabilize traffic during peak use by routing traffic between different servers and databases on your network.
Common Features of a Centralized Cloud Security Platform
Before deploying a cloud security strategy, security teams have to evaluate all existing cloud controls and decide whether they are centralized. This includes features like:
Endpoint security tools—modern endpoint detection and response, and antimalware tools should work across multiple cloud environments.
Configuration and patching tools—you should use configuration management automation platforms to maintain configuration consistency for all deployed instances.
Vulnerability scanning—Most public cloud providers offer vulnerability scanning solutions. Vulnerability scanners can report on the cloud accounts configuration, which you should evaluate before deploying a security strategy.
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)—cloud SIEM solutions enable you to get all logs out of cloud environments to a central source for evaluation. Security teams can analyze these logs to get actionable insights about potential threats.
Template-based infrastructure as code—cloud operations teams should use Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools to integrate with cloud-native template technology. IaC tools enable you to define infrastructure configurations, network configuration, identity policies, and image templates.
Benefits of Centralized Cloud Security
Centralized cloud security offers many advantages for managing data threats and protecting sensitive information, and networks. The list below reviews some of these advantages.
Intrusion prevention is a security approach used to pinpoint possible threats and immediately react to them. The key functions of intrusion prevention systems are to identify suspicious activity, analyze the information about this activity, and try to prevent attacks using this information.
Intrusion prevention servers as a first point of defense to your cloud. Intrusion prevention systems recognize malicious entities and prevent their access while reporting to other security systems. The malicious intruders are blocked before they can enter your cloud system and cause damage.
Anti-Virus (AV) is a computer software used to identify, prevent, and eliminate malicious software. Antivirus software was originally designed to detect and remove computer viruses. However, modern antivirus software can safeguard against advanced threats like ransomware, browser hijackers, rootkits, fraud tools, keyloggers, and backdoors, and malicious Browser Helper Objects (BHO).
Some AV solutions also include protection from social engineering attacks, phishing, electronic spamming, botnets DDoS attacks, and Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). A centralized cloud security system should include an AV software, since all these threats are also relevant to the cloud.
Load balancing improves application responsiveness by spreading the traffic evenly between servers. Load balancing also plays an important role in cloud security. The off-loading feature of a load balancer protects an organization against DDoS attacks. A DDoS attack is an attempt to make a service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic. Load balancers can help prevent these attacks by moving malicious traffic from the company server to a public cloud provider.
Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
DLP is a strategy for making sure that end users do not send sensitive data outside of the corporate network. Exposing sensitive information can put the organization at risk of a data breach. DLP software also enables network admins to control the information users can transmit over the network.
DLP solutions in centralized security environments ensure that all the data in the cloud is encrypted and used only by authorized cloud applications. Cloud DLP solutions remove or change sensitive data before it’s shared to ensure that the data is protected when in transit.
Advanced Threat Protection (ATP)
ATP refers to a category of security tools that protect against advanced attacks on sensitive data or sophisticated malware. ATP solutions can be available as managed services or as a software. Each solution has its own components and approaches, but most include a combination of network devices, endpoint agents, malware protection systems, email gateways, and a centralized management console to manage defenses, and correlate alerts.
Challenges of Centralized Cloud Security
Centralized cloud security also presents some challenges. The list below reviews some of these challenges.
Single point of failure—a unified security solution can become a possible single point of failure, since all the security capabilities are concentrated in one appliance. Hackers would only have to disrupt one centralized system to bring down the security of the entire company.
Performance limitations—a unified security solution have a great effect on performance in terms of data throughput of the system.
Unnecessary costs—small companies may require just a few of the security features offered by centralized security systems. As a result, they may pay for features they don’t need.
A centralized security approach can manage all enterprise endpoints from external threats. Organizations can manage security functions like firewall controls, virus and spyware protection, two-factor authentication, at a company-wide scale. Centralized cloud security also provides benefits like advanced threat protection, data loss prevention, and intrusion prevention. However, there are also some risks in using a unified security platform. Companies should evaluate the benefits against the possible risks before choosing a centralized approach.
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.