Cloud Security Audit: Techniques, Trends, and Tools
Cloud security audits are used to evaluate an organization’s cloud infrastructure’s security to ensure appropriate technical, procedural, or operational security controls are in place to protect the integrity and confidentiality of its information systems.
An auditor can evaluate security controls in the cloud and determine if they have been implemented correctly, if they work as expected, or how effective they are at mitigating potential threats.
A cloud security audit can also verify that cloud systems meet the requirements of industry standards or security benchmarks.
Below we explore cloud security audits, their importance, the best tools and techniques in the industry, and cloud security audit tools’ benefits and how they can protect your data.
What is a Cloud Security Audit, and why is it important?
An audit of cloud security is a way to assess the security status of a cloud environment.
An independent third party usually conducts a cloud audit.An auditor collects evidence through inspection, observation, performance, or analytics.
This assessment can either be done manually or by using automated tools.A cloud security audit is designed to detect vulnerabilities and potential risks related to cloud services.
An audit of cloud security is vital because it allows organizations to identify and mitigate the risks associated with cloud computing.Cloud services can be used to store personal identifiable information (PII) as well as other valuable data assets. Business customers must evaluate the security of their cloud service providers.
Why are Cloud Security Audits necessary?
Cloud computing is the new standard for all businesses, regardless of size. It has many benefits in terms of cost, scalability, and agility.
The cloud comes with its security risks. For many reasons, it is vital to regularly assess the security of your cloud environment and the data stored on it.
A cloud security audit helps:
- Ensure adherence to standards and regulations: A cloud security assessment helps to identify compliance risks and makes recommendations for remediation.
- Evaluate data confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA Triad): Cloud security evaluations help organizations to understand their cloud environment and identify possible threats.It helps organizations develop the appropriate controls to reduce those risks.
- Assess the effectiveness of security measures: Organizations can use a cloud security test to determine if their measures effectively detect and stop unauthorized access.
- Assessing the risk of data theft: Organizations must identify possible data loss sources and prioritize repair and maintenance. A security audit can help with this.
- Enhance your overall security position: Recognizing weaknesses in security controls allows an organization to assess its cloud security and make the necessary improvements.
Cloud Security Audit Benefits
Conducting a cloud security audit can bring you many benefits.These are just some benefits businesses could reap from a cloud security audit.
- Identifying and mitigating risks associated with the use of cloud services
- Regulating authorities must be satisfied
- Enhancing the security posture of an organization
- Reducing the expense of cloud services ownership
Cloud computing audits are always a win for businesses.Many benefits depend on which type of audit is being done, but the guaranteed results are the same:
- Cost reduction Eliminating obsolete services and unutilized resources will ensure the company has enough money.
- Higher cloud security level: A higher level of security will result in fewer breakdowns and less risk due to the infrastructure being less susceptible to malfunction.
- Improved efficiency: This results in faster, more efficient processes that use fewer resources.
- Data security: Cloud compliance and the ability to quickly recover from disasters such as unauthorized access to sensitive data or large-scale blackouts are essential for all businesses
Cloud Security Auditing Challenges
In contrast to standard IT security audits, cloud computing security audits do not require thorough certifications to address their many security problems.
Consequently, cloud security auditors frequently utilize a typical IT security audit standard to evaluate cloud security. This approach can make cloud security audits complex for a variety of reasons:
- Cloud environments are constantly changing, making it difficult to keep track of all the changes.
- Cloud providers have varying security policies, making analyzing all the risks and vulnerabilities challenging. You must exercise extreme caution while selecting test scenarios so as not to breach cloud security regulations.
- Cloud infrastructures are frequently vast and complicated, making it challenging to acquire all the necessary audit data.
- Cloud service providers sometimes have varying degrees of security, making it challenging to identify all risks and vulnerabilities.
Cloud computing security audits must comply with a standard to be effective. Consequently, cloud security audits should aim to align with some of the common cloud computing security frameworks.
Common Cloud Compliance Frameworks
These frameworks are specifically designed to address cloud compliance requirements.These frameworks should be familiarized with the details of cloud vendors and customers.
- Cloud Security Alliance Controls Map: This primary grouping of Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM) serves as security vendors’ guidelines. It increases the security control environment’s strength and simplifies auditing.This framework also helps potential customers assess the risk position of cloud vendors.
- FedRAMP: Organizations looking to do business in the Federal government’s cloud must comply with this data security regulation. FedRAMPv’s purpose was to ensure that all cloud deployments made by the Federal government are protected at the highest level.
- Sarbanes-Oxley: A set of guidelines that govern how publicly traded companies report financial information to protect customers against fraud and errors. SOX regulations don’t address security issues, but SOX covers many IT security controls to ensure data integrity.
The following security-specific regulations can be beneficial for organizations that handle sensitive data.These frameworks offer the structure and methodology to avoid security breaches.
|Service Organization Control (SOC)2||Audit for outsourced services||Technology Agnostic||American Institue of CPAs|
|ISO 27001||Traditional Security Audit||Technology Agnostic||International Organization for Standardization|
|NIST 800-53 (rev.5)||Federal Government Audit||Technology Agnostic||National Insitute of Standards and Technology|
|Cloud Security Alliance (CSA)||Cloud-Specific Audit||Dedicated to Cloud Security Auditing||CSA|
|Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS)||PCI Qualified Security Assessor Cloud Supplement||Cloud Specific and provides guidance||PCI DSS|
|Center for Internet Security (CIS)||Cloud-Specific Audit||Dedicated to Cloud Security Auditing||Center for Internet Security (CIS)|
Auditing Cloud Security: Techniques and Procedures
There are many techniques and procedures involved in cloud security audits. Generally, the audit technique should be an information-centric approach to analyze cloud, hybrid, and on-premise data, processes, and applications.
The audit must analyze information and data life cycles to identify which controls to apply to a process step or place where data resides or is in transit. It must establish where the data will reside and analyze data retention and media to the end of its life to determine if the data must be encrypted.
The audit process should also aim to uncover “shadow IT” software. Unsanctioned data-sharing applications cause the most legal, reputational, and financial issues.
Below, we explore the areas you should aim to cover as part of your cloud security audit.
Cloud Security Audit Checklist
- Review organizational strategy and risk appetite, roles, and responsibilities, insurance, and governance tasks
- Monitor usage of cloud services through vendor-provided dashboards or logging information available to the client.
- Address issues promptly based on governance requirements and defined roles/responsibilities.
- Perform a data flow and privacy assessment by reviewing the data throughout its life cycle. Is it vulnerable at any point?
- Ask for an overview of the dedicated, single-tenant, and shared (multi-tenant) cloud services the CSP provides.
- Review data transfer to the CSP.
- Data segregation: Review shared environments for data segregation, logical separation, and security in a multi-tenancy environment or utilize separate servers.
- Data recovery: Review if the CSP can do a complete restoration in the event of a disaster or if they have data replication capabilities available for an alternate data location. Review where that alternate location is in addition to its recoverability capabilities.
- Where are the data centers located? Can the CSP commit to specific privacy requirements?
- Review the applications and operating systems utilized. Use a data life cycle approach regarding what is stored and where.
- How often are infrastructure components updated, such as hardware and software?
- What practices are employed for patch and vulnerability management? How does the CSP ensures these program practices do not create a security risk for client infrastructure?
- What is the vulnerability remediation process?
- Review security monitoring processes utilized by the CSP.
- Are there established application-level reviews, a defined Software
Development Life Cycle process and change notification and release management?
- Does the CSP follow the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) and SANS top guidelines for secure application development?
- Is access to assets restricted, and is the access continuously monitored?
- How is employee or third-party access to client data controlled?
- Are staff background checks employed? How extensive are these background record reviews, and are they reoccurring?
- Vulnerability management: Patch vulnerabilities in virtual machine templates and offline virtual machines.
- Network management: Secure network traffic between distributed cloud components. Detection for defense against attacks originating from within the cloud environment.
- Review the perimeter for exposure to distributed denial-of-service attacks against public-facing cloud interfaces.
- System security: Review where there may be vulnerable end-user systems interacting with cloud-based applications.
- Discuss how the CSP handles secure intra-host communications among multiple virtual machines.
- Who controls encryption keys? How are the encryption keys monitored?
What are their storage and backup locations? Review encryption certifications and determine what they apply to, and test them.
- How does change control occur for the cloud provider infrastructure, such as system patching, firewalls, intrusion detection, anti-malware, virtual environment management, and hardware equipment?
- Describe the ability of the CSP to troubleshoot performance issues due to continuous environment changes.
- Review demonstrations and frequency of application and penetration scans as part of the certification controls, as well as continuous monitoring and scans when changes occur to the code used for SaaS applications.
- Application security: Review the controls to monitor the cloud provider staff’s circumvention of application access controls.
- Define the maximum available cloud resources.
Logs and Audit Trails
- Are logs and audit trails kept?
- How does the CSP provide for tamper-proofing of logs and audit trails?
- Is there dedicated storage for logs and audit trails?
- Can the CSP provide timely forensic investigations, e.g., eDiscovery and system analysis?
- The client should review Service Level Agreement (SLA) uptime tolerance levels and check for “additional subtractions” disclaimers for the stated level.
- Review storage options, storage area network/network attached storage device (SAN/NAS), and connections to cloud client services.
- Does the CSP have resiliency (e.g., cluster systems, redundancy, and failover capabilities) and tests these abilities after changes or system updates?
- Does the CSP test restores, and what actions require additional fees?
- Where is the location of the backups (e.g., on-site, off-site, replicated to another site)?
- What file and directory versioning is available?
- Does the Cloud Service Provider (CSP) have an incident response plan?
- What measures are employed to guard against threats and errors, use of multiple CSPs, and denial of service (DoS) protection?
- When does peak demand occur, and does the CSP have the capacity to handle the maximum load?
- What service levels does the CSP offer under Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity conditions?
Identity and Access Management
- Provide information about cloud provider staff authentication, access restriction, and segregation of duties
- Describe physical security measures in CSP data centers, including server spaces and host/network access.
- Consider single-sign-on (SSO), client identity management software, or two-factor authentication.
- Which system components, software, and/or client users are within the client’s administrative control?
- Understand the environment for the service boundary: This includes the connection points to and from the data with encryption utilized for data in transit, data at rest, and the type of encryption
- Ensure that the CSP provides SSL from an established Certificate Authority (CA): The SSL CA should have its practices audited annually by a trusted third-party auditor, such as Symantec Webtrust audit or AICPA Webtrust Audit requirements
- Determine the type of encryption: SSL should provide a minimum of 128-bit, 256-bit optimum encryption based on the 2048-bit global root
- Is there any encryption utilized for data at rest? For data in storage, how are encryption keys stored? For data backups that are data encrypted in transit or at rest? How are keys managed?
- How are digital identities and credentials protected in cloud applications?
- What client data is stored and used, and what is its disposal process?
- Under what conditions might third parties (including government agencies) access confidential data?
- Is there a guarantee that third-party access to shared logs and resources will not reveal critical, sensitive information?
- What are the vendor’s compliance requirements? The supplier should be PCI, HIPAA, FedRamp, CSA, SSAE16 (SOC1-financial, SOC2-IT controls, SOC3-attestation), and ISO compliant.
- The supplier should demonstrate financial sustainability
- Review vendor’s commitment to their and third-party compliance.
- Discuss CPS’s commitment to security compliance and update intervals.
- Have a contract: Right to audit and inspect; prompt data removal and destruction; change control notifications; intellectual property; cloud personnel recruiting standards; and training, confidentiality, backups, outsourced services, certifications, and maintenance renewal intervals
- Ensure supplier assures data storage in a contractually agreed-upon place
- How will the cloud provider tell the client of a potential breach?
- What forensic investigation tools and cloud provider staff training are in place to log and preserve alleged violation evidence?
- Security issues, data breaches, and SLA failures need agreed-upon remedies
- Archiving: Based on company needs, review preservation, retention, eDiscovery, and disposal policies
- Review data rights by verifying the client organization own all data and apps, including duplicated copies, with the right to remove any customer information if directed with assurance documentation and swiftly as agreed by the client and CSP
- Change the cloud contract as operations change
- Specify any costs for service cancellation, delivery, or data deletion