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Popular security best practices for hybrid cloud

Combining a public cloud and an on-premises environment creates unfamiliar security challenges. Learn the main security issues in hybrid cloud and the ways to combat them.

It is a challenge to secure a cloud environment, but it is even more difficult when dealing with a hybrid cloud environment. Hybrid cloud has more moving parts and complexities, so enterprises must build a security strategy that works for a blend of on-premises and cloud systems.

When building and securing a hybrid cloud, organizations encounter numerous challenges, such as dealing with differing components and various hybrid frameworks. To combat these challenges, review these hybrid cloud best practices and advanced security strategies to protect your environment.

The challenges of hybrid cloud security

The hybrid cloud model is popular because a business gains flexibility and scalability, optimizes costs and increases availability while maintaining a degree of control over its infrastructure. Unfortunately, joining two different types of environments creates a new set of security issues. Hybrid clouds are particularly difficult to secure for several reasons:

Multiple components. Hybrid clouds consist of at least two components: a public cloud and on-premises system. This mix of components is integrated to form one environment. Depending on where they came from, some components run on different infrastructure and are managed through different tools.

Complexity. Because of its complexities, hybrid cloud makes it difficult to efficiently detect and remediate security threats. When a risk arises, does it affect the public cloud portion of your hybrid environment, the private components or both? The answer is not always clear, which means an organization will need to commit time and effort to find a remedy.

Physical security responsibilities. In the public cloud, vendors assume responsibility for securing physical access to infrastructure. Hybrid clouds differ in that they include local infrastructure. Businesses must physically secure this infrastructure themselves.

Varying hybrid frameworks. To deploy and manage a hybrid cloud, a business can use public cloud vendor frameworks such as AWS Outposts, Azure Stack and Google Anthos. Other options include using a generic control plane, such as Kubernetes, or even building a custom control plane. Each of these approaches comes with a unique set of security challenges. This makes it difficult to develop a standard set of security best practices that apply to every type of hybrid environment.

Basic hybrid cloud security best practices

Since hybrid clouds and chosen frameworks vary, best practices for each type of architecture will also vary. However, certain common practices will fit most types of hybrid cloud architectures. Specifically, an organization can:

Run continuous audits

Ideally, IT teams learn about risks and threats as they emerge. Continuous audits can provide that real-time visibility. However, the challenge of continuous auditing in hybrid environments is that public cloud vendors' own tools often don't cooperate. A provider designs its tools to work only with its own public cloud services. IT teams should opt for third-party monitoring and observability tools. These tools reveal threats and anomalies in any type of cloud environment or configuration.

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Implement least privilege

In hybrid clouds, public and private cloud resources or infrastructure interact constantly. To mitigate security risks, those interactions should be limited to achieve operational goals -- this is a practice known as least privilege. For example, look at services hosted on a public cloud. These services should allow communication only with on-premises infrastructure when it's necessary. Likewise, an organization should prevent data stored in the public cloud from being accessible by applications or services hosted in the private component of a hybrid cloud, unless there is a good reason to do so.

Follow zero-trust principle

Enterprises that use hybrid clouds should follow the principle of zero trust. This means that new resources shouldn't interact with an environment until they are deemed legitimate and secure. In the context of hybrid cloud, this means practices such as not allowing new local servers to join a hybrid infrastructure until they have been vetted.

Advanced hybrid cloud security strategies

Some organizations will want more options and customization. Beyond the basic best practices, businesses can choose to add extra levels of security to meet their unique needs. Specifically, they can:

Opt for open technologies

In general, hybrid cloud environments are easier to observe and manage when they are based on open technologies. Such technologies are typically infrastructure- and tool-agnostic, which makes data collection and analysis easier. It also gives businesses the flexibility to choose from a variety of security monitoring and remediation tools that can target different requirements. With more options, IT teams can build a more customized security strategy.

Hybrid cloud environments are easier to observe and manage when they are based on open technologies.

Implement unified security management

Establish a uniform set of security standards and tools that you can apply across the hybrid environment. Standardization can lead to fewer oversights than when attempting to secure public and private components of your hybrid environment with different strategies. In practice, unified security management means the use of strategies that simplify tasks and operations, such as applying a single identity and access management framework to the entire hybrid environment.

Embrace AI and automation

It's important not to overstate the ability of AI to detect and resolve every security risk. But, automation and AI tools can be useful for helping to discover risks within complex hybrid environments. For example, cloud data loss prevention tools can automatically discover sensitive data. This data may lurk within your hybrid environment in places you wouldn't think to check manually.

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Backup data

Data backups are critical to safeguard against attacks such as ransomware. Be sure to store backups separately from the hybrid environment. Resources that run in the hybrid cloud shouldn't be able to access backups, no matter where they are based. Keeping them in the same place increases the risk that attackers who breach the environment can also destroy that backup data.

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