Understanding Cloud Native Security

Gilad David Maayan
Published 04/17/2024
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Understanding Cloud Native SecurityWhat Is Cloud Native Security?

Cloud-native technologies, such as containers and serverless functions, are at the cutting edge of information technology. Cloud native applications, designed to be hosted on the cloud, offer scalability, resilience, and flexibility that traditional applications cannot match. But with new technologies come new security challenges.

Cloud native security, at its core, is about securing cloud-native applications and the infrastructure they run on. Cloud applications are fundamentally different from traditional applications, and the security strategies used for them need to be different as well. Cloud native security involves securing the application code, the runtime environment, and the infrastructure on which the application is hosted.

Cloud native security is a proactive approach. It involves anticipating and preventing threats before they occur, rather than reacting to them after the fact. This is why it is often associated with DevSecOps, a philosophy that integrates security into every stage of the software development lifecycle.


Security Challenges in Cloud Native Environments


Complex and Dynamic Architectures

One of the main security challenges in cloud native environments is their complexity and dynamism. Cloud native architectures often involve a mix of different technologies, including containers, microservices, and serverless functions. These technologies are combined in complex ways, and they can change rapidly as new features are added or existing ones are modified.

This complexity and dynamism can make it difficult to maintain a comprehensive overview of the security landscape. It can be challenging to ensure that all components of the architecture are secure, and that security policies are consistently enforced across the entire environment.

Moreover, the distributed nature of cloud native architectures can also pose security challenges. With components scattered across multiple locations, it can be difficult to monitor and secure all of them effectively. This is especially true when components are hosted on third-party platforms, which may have their own security policies and controls.


Rapid Deployment and CI/CD Pipelines

Another major security challenge in cloud native environments is the speed of development and deployment. With the help of Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, new code can be pushed into production in a matter of minutes. While this speed can be a significant advantage in terms of innovation and responsiveness, it can also pose security risks.

For instance, if security checks are not integrated into the CI/CD pipeline, insecure code could be deployed without being detected. This could lead to security vulnerabilities being introduced into the production environment, potentially exposing sensitive data or allowing unauthorized access.

Furthermore, the fast pace of deployment can make it difficult to keep track of all changes, making it harder to identify the source of security issues when they arise. This is why it’s crucial to incorporate security checks into the CI/CD pipeline and to maintain detailed logs of all deployments.


Lack of Visibility

Finally, a lack of visibility can also pose significant security challenges in cloud native environments. With so many components spread across different locations, it can be difficult to maintain a clear overview of the entire environment.

This lack of visibility can make it harder to detect and respond to security threats. For instance, if an attacker manages to compromise one component of the architecture, they could potentially move laterally to other components without being detected.

Moreover, a lack of visibility can also make it difficult to ensure compliance with security standards and regulations. Without a clear view of the entire environment, it can be challenging to verify that all components are following the required security practices.


Key Components of Cloud Native Security

Here are the key elements that can help an organization achieve cloud native security.


Container Security

Containers, lightweight units that encapsulate an application and all the files, configurations, and libraries it needs to function, are a fundamental part of many cloud native architectures, and securing them is crucial for protecting the overall environment. Container security involves several aspects:

  • Isolation: It’s important to ensure that containers are properly isolated from each other, to prevent potential security threats from spreading from one container to another. This is typically achieved through the use of namespaces and cgroups, which restrict what each container can see and do.
  • Images: It’s crucial to secure the container images themselves. This involves scanning the images for vulnerabilities, and ensuring that they are sourced from trusted repositories. It’s also important to keep the images up to date, as outdated images can contain security vulnerabilities.
  • Monitoring: It is equally important to monitor the runtime behavior of containers, to detect any potential security threats. This can involve monitoring system calls, network traffic, and other activity to identify any unusual or suspicious behavior.


Kubernetes and Orchestration Security

Another key component of cloud native security is Kubernetes and orchestration security. Kubernetes is a popular platform for orchestrating containers, and securing it is crucial for protecting the overall environment. Kubernetes security involves several aspects:

  • Securing the Kubernetes API: This is the API used to control the orchestration of containers. This involves ensuring that the API is only accessible to authorized users, and that it is protected against potential attacks.
  • Securing Kubernetes nodes: These are the machines that run the containers. This involves securing the operating system, ensuring that the nodes are correctly configured, and monitoring them for potential security threats.
  • Securing the Kubernetes network: Kubernetes can use several networking schemes which connect nodes and pods, and allow them to communicate with each other and the outside world. This involves ensuring that network traffic is encrypted, that access to the network is controlled, and that network policies are correctly enforced.


Microservices Security

Microservices are an architectural style commonly used in cloud native environments, where an application is structured as a collection of loosely coupled, independently deployable services. Each microservice runs a unique process and communicates with others using a well-defined API.

Given their distributed nature, securing microservices requires a different approach compared to traditional monolithic architectures. Each microservice should be treated as a separate security boundary. This requires implementing robust authentication and authorization mechanisms, ensuring secure inter-service communication, and regularly scanning for vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, since microservices often persist data independently, data security also becomes paramount. Each service should only have access to the data it needs, reducing the blast radius in case of a security breach. Embracing a security-centric approach from the initial stages of designing microservices architecture can significantly reduce the risk of potential threats.


What Is a Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP)?

Over the years, several technologies have been introduced to help with various aspects of cloud native security. Recently, analysts have called for unification of cloud native security technologies into one platform that could protect cloud native applications from end to end. This is known as a Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP). CNAPP is a security platform specifically designed for cloud-native applications, which offers real-time threat detection and response, vulnerability management, compliance assessment, and more.

CNAPPs blend with the dynamic nature of cloud-native environments, allowing for continuous monitoring and protection of workloads across the application lifecycle. They provide visibility into the security posture of applications, enabling organizations to identify and remediate potential threats proactively.

CNAPPs integrate with DevOps tools and processes, facilitating seamless security automation. This not only enhances the overall security but also reduces the manual effort required from security teams.


Best Practices for Cloud Native Security

Now that we’ve covered the basic elements of cloud native security, let’s explore a few best practices that will help you secure cloud native systems in your organization.


Embrace a Shift-Left Security Approach

Traditionally, security checks were conducted towards the end of the development lifecycle. However, this often led to vulnerabilities being detected late in the process, making them expensive and time-consuming to fix.

By shifting security left, you integrate security practices early in the development lifecycle. This approach involves developers, security, and operations teams working together from the initial stages of application development, ensuring that security is baked into the product rather than being an afterthought.

Incorporating security early allows for early detection of vulnerabilities, reducing the overall risk. It also fosters a culture of security awareness among the development team, making them more proactive in addressing security concerns.


Adopt a Zero Trust Security Model

In a Zero Trust model, no user or system is trusted by default, irrespective of their location or network. Instead, each request is thoroughly verified before granting access.

Implementing Zero Trust in a cloud-native environment involves several measures. These include robust user and device identity verification, least privilege access, micro-segmentation, and continuous monitoring of network traffic for anomalies.

While adopting Zero Trust is complex, it significantly reduces the attack surface and provides better control over resources, making it a worthwhile investment for enhancing cloud-native security.


Enforce Network Security and Segmentation

In a cloud-native environment, network security and segmentation play a crucial role in securing applications. By segregating the network into smaller segments, we can limit the lateral movement of potential attackers, thereby reducing the overall impact of a breach.

Network segmentation involves setting up separate network zones and controlling traffic between them using strict access controls and firewall rules. This not only enhances security but also improves network performance by reducing unnecessary traffic.

In addition to segmentation, other network security measures such as intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), secure network protocols, and regular network vulnerability scanning are also essential for a secure cloud-native environment.

To conclude, cloud-native security is a multifaceted domain that requires a deep understanding and strategic approach. By understanding its key components and implementing these best practices, organizations can significantly enhance their security posture while reaping the benefits of cloud-native applications.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.