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hybrid cloud security

What is hybrid cloud security?

Hybrid cloud security is the combination of technologies and practices that protect a hybrid cloud user's sensitive data, infrastructure and applications. A hybrid cloud environment combines elements of in-house or third-party private clouds, on-premises data centers and public cloud services to function as a single infrastructure.

Hybrid cloud environments let organizations reap the benefits of both public and private clouds. They can also be challenging to build and maintain, as cloud engineers and architects must ensure compatibility between multiple infrastructure components.

Specifically, the strengths and weaknesses of hybrid clouds permeate organizations' approaches to cloud security.

What are the benefits of hybrid cloud security?

With the appropriate configuration, hybrid cloud environments can benefit an organization's security posture in several ways, including the following:

  • Redundancy. Because there are multiple components to a hybrid cloud environment, one component can take over for another in the event of an outage, avoiding a service interruption. This makes the cloud environment more resilient and supports business continuity.
  • No single point of failure. Hybrid clouds are often multi-cloud environments that diversify an organization's data. Data is spread out across both private and public clouds. This makes it less likely that ransomware or malware attacks will have a severe effect on the organization, because sensitive data can be stored in the private cloud.
  • Flexibility. Hybrid cloud allows for agile responses to new threats. Most sensitive data and critical workloads can be stored in private infrastructure. As business needs, threats and data sensitivity changes, it can be moved from the public to private cloud or vice versa.
  • Control. A main concern with public clouds is that the infrastructure belongs to the cloud provider, who takes on the responsibility of securing it. With hybrid clouds, organizations have more control over security strategy because they have partial ownership of the environment. They have more control over where data is stored, how breaches can be prevented and how breaches are handled.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Organizations can store sensitive data on more expensive private clouds but save on overhead by storing less-sensitive data on more cost-effective public clouds.
  • Compliance. Hybrid cloud environments enable organizations to better comply with regulatory requirements such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Companies can move sensitive data to and from the public cloud as the regulatory landscape changes.

What are the challenges of hybrid cloud security?

Despite the benefits of hybrid clouds and hybrid cloud security, there a several unique challenges in securing a hybrid cloud environment. These include the following:

  • Consistency. It can be difficult to keep security configurations across both public and private environments consistent. Changes in the private cloud's security configuration must be reflected in the public cloud's configuration and vice versa. Inconsistencies can result in exposure of critical workloads to unauthorized users or cause data loss.
  • Delegation. Security and compliance responsibilities are shared between the organization and the public cloud provider. It's important to understand which aspects of cloud security belong to the organization and which are delegated to the third-party provider.
  • Monitoring. Because hybrid cloud environments are more complex than single public or private cloud environments, it becomes harder to monitor network traffic and correctly identify threats.
  • Incident response. With the limited visibility of public cloud environments, it can be difficult for hybrid cloud administrators to track down the root cause of, isolate and mitigate incidents. The troubleshooting process varies between public and private systems, with different logs and incident response tools. Different data privacy requirements across clouds can also complicate log analysis.
  • Orchestration. Hybrid cloud administrators need to orchestrate the complex hybrid environment. Cloud orchestration platforms can help with this, but each platform has unique strengths and weaknesses.
  • Application security. It can be difficult to manage the security requirements of each application individually -- including authentication, monitoring, compliance and risk management.
  • Attack surface. More endpoints and networks can increase vulnerabilities.
  • Visibility. It can be difficult to maintain visibility and control over distributed resources.
  • Physical security. Hybrid clouds involve private clouds, for which the organization must assume security responsibility, including the physical location of the private cloud hardware.

What are the components of hybrid cloud security?

Hybrid cloud security involves many components and can't be delegated to just one technology. Some of the components of hybrid cloud security include the following:

  • Authentication. This involves using identity and access management tools to verify users and manage access control.
  • Configuration. Configuration involves managing, evaluating and updating cloud access or security policy documents.
  • Vulnerability scanning. Vulnerability scans identify, mitigate and report on vulnerabilities present in private and public clouds.
  • Microsegmentation. Microsegmentation splits a network into multiple, definable zones. This gives administrators control over east-west traffic and helps prevent lateral movement from attackers.
  • Compliance management. Compliance management tools are used for regulatory adherence.
  • Security information and event management. SIEM involves real-time monitoring and analysis of security alerts.
  • Workload security. Individual applications, workloads and services in the hybrid cloud environment are protected.
  • Perimeter defense. This involves securing the edge of the network with firewalls, VPNs and API gateways.
  • Data transfer. Cloud administrators make sure that data remains safe at rest and in transit between clouds.

Best practices for hybrid cloud security

To mitigate the challenges of hybrid cloud security and ensure a hybrid cloud environment is secure, some best practices include the following:

  • Use encryption. Comprehensive encryption should be used in both private and public clouds, for data in transit and data at rest.
  • Run audits. Run continuous audits with the help of third-party observability and monitoring tools to learn about threats and risks as they appear. Run chaos testing, fuzz testing and penetration testing to discover new threats and strengthen security posture.
  • Use least privilege. Limit the communication between public and private clouds to only what is necessary to achieve operational goals. Allow communication with on-premises infrastructure only when necessary.
  • Use zero-trust policies. Zero-trust models deny access to resources by default and grants limited access to only necessary resources for users and entities. A new resource shouldn't interact with the cloud environment until it is confirmed to be secure. That means local servers must be vetted before joining a hybrid environment.
  • Use open technologies. Because hybrid environments can be complex, infrastructure- and tool-agnostic technologies make hybrid clouds easier to manage and give security teams greater flexibility in determining strategy because they aren't locked-in to a specific set of tools with limited compatibility.
  • Use unified security management. Standardize security tools and policies across the hybrid cloud environment. Doing this can mitigate the complexity of the hybrid cloud environment.
  • Use Artificial Intelligence. AI can help with vulnerability management and SIEM by parsing complex environments and finding potential threats that administrators might miss.
  • Automate orchestration. Automating orchestration can help implement uniform security tools and policies across private and public clouds.
  • Back data up. In the case of security incidents or outages, data backups across private and public clouds are important to prevent data loss or compromise.
  • Invest in training. Develop a knowledge base and training programs to cultivate security expertise within the organization. Carefully document security procedures for compliance as well.
  • Consider regulatory requirements. Workloads should be delegated to private or public clouds in alignment with regulatory requirements. For example, some regulations might require a certain data type or workload stay in a local, private environment.

Examples of hybrid cloud security technologies

Some examples of technologies used in hybrid cloud security include the following:

  • Multifactor authentication. MFA is used across both public and private components of the hybrid cloud to enhance access security. By requiring multiple forms of verification, MFA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Hybrid-specific security platforms. These are security platforms specifically designed for hybrid cloud environments. These platforms provide a unified view of security across both private and public clouds, offering features such as centralized policy management, security monitoring and incident response.
  • Cloud access security brokers. CASBs are security policy enforcement points placed between cloud service consumers and cloud service providers. They help ensure network traffic complies with the organization's security policies. They do many types of security policy enforcement, including encryption, tokenization, logging and malware detection.
  • Software-defined networking. SDN is an approach to networking that uses software-based controllers or APIs to direct traffic on the network and communicate with the underlying hardware infrastructure.
This was last updated in December 2023

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