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Cloud Migration Security Explained

Cloud migration security is a facet of cybersecurity that protects organizations from security risks during a transition to cloud environments from legacy infrastructure, like on-premises data centers.

8 min read

What is cloud migration security? 

Cloud migration security is a facet of cybersecurity that protects organizations from security risks during a transition to cloud environments from legacy infrastructure, like on-premises data centers. Cloud migration security is vital because the overwhelming majority of companies have either begun or will soon begin a large-scale shift to the cloud, and security risks during migration can lead to system disruptions, compliance issues, and data breaches. 

The key drivers of this shift include a need to reduce IT infrastructure costs and increase development velocity. Furthermore, consumer expectations are constantly evolving, and many businesses can only keep up by leveraging the dynamic capabilities of the cloud.

Pro tip

According to Gartner, three out of every four businesses will undergo a digital transformation that hinges on cloud computing by 2026. It’s important to keep in mind that cloud migration is a radical organizational transformation that can leave businesses vulnerable—and cloud-specific security threats can be overwhelming if companies don’t plan for them.

Though migrating to the cloud can provide benefits like cost savings, efficiency, scalability, speed, and heightened security and compliance, it also introduces new risks. To tackle these risks effectively, security shouldn't be added at the end of a cloud migration process as an afterthought. Instead, it should be deeply embedded within every step of the migration. 

Suboptimal cloud migration security can lead to the loss of millions of dollars. It can also undo years of foundational work achieved on legacy infrastructure. On the other hand, an effective cloud migration can be a launchpad into the future and the upper echelons of ultra-competitive industries. Let’s take a closer look at what’s at stake.

What are the security risks during cloud migration?

1. Data compromise

The first and most obvious challenge that companies have to reckon with is the threat of data compromise, either in the form of exfiltration or accidental exposure. According to IBM's Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, the financial fallout of data breaches has been rising steadily over the past few years, including a 15% increase in the last three. During cloud migration, data compromise can be a result of many factors, including misconfigurations in cloud resources. 

2. Identity access management (IAM) lapses

Digital identities can be either humans or machines. Mistakes or oversight in the access privileges of these digital identities can broaden an organization's attack surface and increase the probability of data breaches. Poorly configured IAM controls mean that attackers can use one attack vector for initial access and then move laterally to expand the scale of damage.

3. Proliferating environments

Businesses that move from on-premises data centers to cloud-based infrastructures might find the affordability and simple scalability of SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS services lures them to inefficient adoption. While scalability can be a powerful attribute for enterprises, it can also result in cloud sprawl, which is the uncontrolled mushrooming of cloud environments. Cloud sprawl has significant security implications, including a lack of visibility, blind spots, and threat-detection challenges.

4. Understanding shared responsibility

Entry into the world of cloud computing means that businesses will likely be procuring SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS services from multiple cloud service providers (CSPs), like Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS. Businesses need to understand which security responsibilities belong to them and which belong to their CSPs. Failure to delineate security roles and responsibilities can lead to confusion, data breaches, compliance failures, and slow time to remediation. 

5. New compliance requirements

Compliance can be a challenge in any IT infrastructure because standards like GDPR, HIPAA, ISO 27001, CCPA, PCI DSS, and SOX can be complex to navigate and uphold. However, during cloud migrations, companies are confronting an unfamiliar set of regulatory requirements. In the world of compliance, businesses don't get a grace period to settle into their new IT ecosystem. That’s why it's vital to know the ins and outs of data privacy obligations as well as all industry and federal regulations. In 2021, the Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (CNDP) fined Amazon $887 million for data privacy failures. While global giants like Amazon can withstand such failures, the vast majority of others can't. 

6. API vulnerabilities

APIs are the glue that makes complex cloud environments stick together. All the seamless efficiencies of the cloud are a result of APIs. However, APIs are also potential attack vectors because they are susceptible to numerous threats and vulnerabilities. According to Google Cloud, only 4 out of every 10 companies have a robust API security plan in place. Almost half of the others have a basic API security plan in place, which is unlikely to withstand the evolving tools and tactics of threat actors. 

7. Monitoring challenges

Cloud migration shows businesses just how dynamic cloud environments can be. Visibility across these dynamic environments is a challenge. Since businesses commission and decommission cloud resources at previously unseen speeds, cloud estates constantly change shape. It’s impossible for companies to reduce the cloud attack surface, patch vulnerabilities, and identify potential data compromises without comprehensive and real-time monitoring capabilities. 

8. Insider threats

It's a common adage that humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. Insider threats can be particularly problematic during cloud migration. Insider threats include malicious activity, such as disgruntled employees stealing data, or just basic negligence. Examples of insider-related security challenges include over-privileged access for digital users, lack of security training, and vulnerable offboarding procedures.

9. Cloud security skills shortage

Cybersecurity is one of the most important skill sets to have in the 21st century. It's also one that's lacking. According to ISC2's Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2023, 67% of survey respondents claimed that they did not have the necessary cybersecurity personnel to handle cyber incidents. Furthermore, the report revealed that the top three skill deficiencies that existing cybersecurity teams have are cloud computing, AI, and zero-trust implementation, all of which are essential to protect cloud environments.

10. DevOps protection

The cloud enables businesses to rapidly build and deploy applications, which can lead to increased development velocity, and help organizations edge past competitors. However, DevOps environments can be rife with security challenges and need robust security mechanisms across all stages of software development life cycles (SDLCs). The biggest challenge here is to ensure continued agility without compromising security, a balance that numerous companies fail to achieve. 

What should be on your cloud migration checklist?

Below are the top seven security best practices that can help fortify your organization during your cloud migration journey. 

1.Conduct comprehensive assessments

Every cloud migration checklist should begin with an initial assessment. Before diving into design and execution, companies need to take an in-depth look into the data, applications, and resources they want to move to their new cloud environment.

Assessments shed light on the security implications of each resource; what risks the company is likely to face; how they should design and implement the migration of assets, data, and applications; and what security measures to take to protect crown jewels.

2. Prioritize cloud vulnerabilities

No organization has unlimited security resources. This means that organizations simply don't have the time, money, or manpower to negate every security vulnerability that will impact their cloud environments. However, understanding which vulnerabilities will have the most significant impact on their business can optimize resource allocation to address the biggest risks. It’s best practice to prioritize cloud vulnerabilities in a critical-high-medium-low hierarchy and focus on remediating issues from the top down.

Example vulnerability dashboard that helps organizations prioritize severe issues in their environment

While the prioritization of vulnerabilities largely depends on the unique contexts of each organization, frameworks like FAIR (Factor Analysis of Information Risk) and analysis models like Monte Carlo and bowtie can help with cyber risk quantification. Enterprises can couple quantitative frameworks like FAIR with various other standards like CCM (Cloud Controls Matrix), OCTAVE (Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation), NIST SP 800-53, and the ISO 27000 series to ensure more robust and comprehensive vulnerability assessment.

3. Microsegment your new cloud environment

No matter the number of security measures companies take, cyber incidents are inevitable. However, businesses that treat cloud security as a priority will not face long-lasting damage from these incidents. One of the most effective ways to minimize damage is to break down your cloud environment into microsegments. 

Businesses should plan microsegmentation from the earliest stages of their cloud migration journey. Microsegmentation helps companies section their cloud estate into smaller areas with ultra-specific rules and airtight boundaries. Even if a threat actor manages to access your microsegmented cloud environment, there will be no sweeping damage, and remediation can be swift.

4. Encrypt all data

Threat actors are after your data. Any protected health information (PHI)‍, trade secrets, customer data, personally identifiable information (PII), intellectual property (IP), health data, and government records you possess are likely in the crosshairs of threat actors. This data requires solid fortification during a cloud migration process.

Data encryption is a powerful technique to make your data illegible and inaccessible without an encryption key. If threat actors hijack your encrypted data during cloud migration, they won't be able to read its contents or leverage it in any meaningful way.

5. Implement zero trust

"When in doubt, implement zero trust." That should be the mantra in the world of cloud security, particularly during cloud migration. Zero trust ensures that no user or application in your new cloud environment has even an iota of irrelevant access.

Essentially, zero trust treats every entity in your cloud environment as a potential threat. Some common and powerful zero-trust principles that businesses should implement across their cloud environments include multi-factor authentication (MFA), constant verification, just-in-time access, and least privilege.

6. Customize compliance frameworks

Example of cloud compliance heatmap that allows you to you can assess your compliance posture at a glance

Your CSPs and cloud security solutions provider may have a solid list of compliance templates and frameworks to work with. However, as cloud migration veers into more complex stages, ensure that you customize compliance frameworks or alter existing templates to provide complete and continuous compliance with all the relevant governing bodies. Always remember that HIPAA, GDPR, and CCPA penalties can vastly outweigh all the benefits of a cloud migration process. Always treat compliance as an integral part of cloud success and security.

7. Avoid security-tool sprawl

Siloed security tools and solutions can easily result in a security-tool sprawl and become a nightmare to steward. This can lead to blind spots, festering vulnerabilities, and the increased possibility of data breaches. Furthermore, in a scenario where a critical issue arises, having separate security tools to take care of CSPM, workloads, and containers could exacerbate existing problems and introduce new challenges. The best way to avoid or reduce security-tool sprawl is to choose a holistic and interconnected cloud security platform.

How Wiz can help secure your cloud migration journey

Today’s high-octane business landscape makes cloud migration an alluring option for many enterprises. However, migrating to the cloud from on-premises infrastructure is complex. While security is just one of many variables to keep track of during migration, it’s arguably the most important. After all, it’s the key to mitigating risk during such a profoundly transformative process.

Wiz’s agentless scanning approach enables you to get full visibility into risks and vulnerabilities across AWS, GCP, Azure, and other CSPs quickly. If there are any critical risks, Wiz will provide accurate risk prioritization with context so your teams can focus on remediating only the most important risks for your cloud environment. 

Get a demo of Wiz today to understand how you can migrate your on-premises infrastructure to the cloud while keeping security at the forefront.

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