2. Cloud Vulnerability Management Overview
So, how can you decrease your cloud security risks? Cloud vulnerability management is key. Unfortunately, most organizations have yet to mature their cybersecurity practices to effectively meet challenges created by cloud vulnerabilities.
A commissioned report with Tenable Cloud Security and Osterman Research found that 80% of organizations don’t have a security team dedicated to protecting the cloud and most, 84%, are only at an entry-level with cloud capabilities, meaning they’re taking ad-hoc or opportunistic approaches to cloud security. Surprisingly, about 93% of large organizations, according to the report, are operating at these same levels.
The good news is that organizations that spend about 50 hours a week or more on cloud security, for example, implementing cloud vulnerability management best practices, are reaching top maturity levels (using repeatable, automated and integrated security processes), but that only accounts for about 16% of organizations surveyed in the Osterman report.
What is Cloud Vulnerability Management?
What exactly is cloud vulnerability management? Similar to vulnerability management for traditional IT, cloud vulnerability management is a continuous process to identify and mitigate or remediate security issues, but instead focuses on risks that are unique to public, private and hybrid cloud environments. By building a cloud vulnerability management program, your security teams can get more comprehensive insight into all of your cloud assets, regardless of their short-lived nature. And, when applying a risk-based methodology to cloud vulnerability management, you can further mature your cloud security practices by gaining insight into which cloud security issues attackers may exploit that pose the greatest risk to your organization. This information, especially when paired with insight from resources like Tenable Research, AI and machine learning, can help you prioritize which security issues you should focus on remediating first — beginning with cloud apps and services development, across Active Directory, and into your live cloud environments.
Why Cloud Vulnerability Management is Important
By employing cloud vulnerability management best practices alongside your on-prem risk-based vulnerability management processes and aligning them with your existing cybersecurity and development lifecycles, your organization can get enhanced visibility into your entire attack surface, enabling more control and opportunities to reduce cyber risk.
Other reasons cloud vulnerability management is important:
Increased compliance and data security
As organizations store more sensitive data in the cloud, like personally identifiable information (PII), personal health information (PHI), and financial information, it’s increasingly critical to ensure adequate protections are in place to safeguard data securely, privately and that it’s used correctly with the appropriate authorizations.
Having a cloud vulnerability management program can also increase your organization’s confidence you’re meeting all compliance and regulatory requirements, especially as the list of industry, state-level and other standards continues to grow, become more complex, and focus heavily on cloud risk identification and mitigation. Failing to do so can result in business downtime and industry, civil and criminal fines and penalties. A cloud vulnerability management program can also help protect your brand and reputation. By implementing best practices, achieving compliance, and where appropriate, obtaining relevant cloud security certifications, you can build customer trust and demonstrate that you’re committed to maturing your security practices and preventing breaches.
Ability to flex and scale with your business
Many organizations are realizing the benefits of aligning cybersecurity goals with business objectives. Security is no longer just an “IT issue,” and now resonates across all departments, up through the C-suite and into board rooms. By implementing cloud vulnerability management standards for your organization, you can ensure your cybersecurity practices effectively evolve alongside your ever-changing cloud services and infrastructure needs. As you mature your cloud security program, your organization can move forward with rapid cloud enablement, fully reaping the benefits of cloud technologies with decreased cloud risk.
Enhanced operational resilience and business continuity
One of the key benefits of cloud vulnerability management is that it helps your security teams identify potential cloud vulnerabilities and cloud misconfigurations so they can address them before attackers have a chance to breach your cloud attack surface. By proactively discovering and fixing these issues, you can improve business continuity, reduce downtime and build incident response and disaster plans, all while enhancing your overall operational resilience.
Address supply chain risks
According to the Third Party Risk Survey from CRA Business Intelligence, nearly 60% of respondents have been a victim of a cybersecurity incident involving a third-party vendor in the past two years. On average, respondents had experienced at least two third-party attacks or breaches during that same time. Some larger organizations say this number is as many as five attacks through supply chain partners. More than half cited a software vendor as the attack vector, resulting in network outages, downtime and customer service issues. Adopting cloud vulnerability management best practices can help decrease risks along your supply chain, even through the subcontractors your vendors use. By including your best practice requirements in your service level agreements (SLAs) and contracts, you can ensure your vendors employ the cloud security requirements applicable to the data they access. And, by conducting routine cloud vulnerability assessments for your vendors, you can ensure they remain in compliance and when they don’t, mitigate those issues before a real-world cyber event happens.
Common Cloud Vulnerabilities
According to the National Security Agency (NSA), “misconfiguration of cloud resources remains the most prevalent cloud vulnerability and can be exploited to access cloud data and services.”
In 2023, for example, automotive manufacturer Toyota had a data leak that exposed more than 2.15 million records in Japan. It was caused by a security issue in a misconfigured database with an affiliate that handles the company’s big data and mobility. The issue made the service accessible without authentication. The leak had existed for more than a decade.
While misconfigurations may be one of the most prominent issues for cloud security, other security issues also contribute to cloud risk:
Lack of visibility
The larger an organization is and the more assets it has, the harder it becomes to identify and track them. Many security teams struggle to do this for their on-site IT assets, networks and systems. As assets and services expand into the cloud and more cloud resources make up daily operations, the task of finding and remediating cloud vulnerabilities, along with other security issues, often feels insurmountable. The reality is, your security teams can’t secure what they can’t see. And, it’s not uncommon, especially in organizations that don’t have mature change management processes, for departments or teams to adopt publicly accessible cloud apps and services without ever letting IT or security teams know. The Osterman report found that 81% of organizations lack full visibility of all resources directly accessible from the internet and less than 40% restrict network access for mission-critical and sensitive resources.
Inadequate Access Management Systems
According to the Osterman report, 52% of organizations lack full visibility into the resources a user can access and permission levels. That’s because many security teams still use basic controls for identity and access management (IaM), not taking into account the unique risks caused by cloud access issues. They don’t have visibility into all of their cloud assets and therefore aren’t able to ensure least-privilege access to the cloud. IaM is an important tool to ensure your organization can manage authentication and authorization across all of your cloud environments. Weak access management can allow threat actors (or other unauthorized users) to access data and systems they shouldn’t. As a cloud vulnerability management tool, identity and access management protocols can ensure that only authorized users can access the minimum amount of data or resources needed to perform the functions assigned to their roles.
Insecure Interfaces and APIs
Applicable programming interfaces (APIs) are used to facilitate communication between technologies via established protocols. In a cloud environment, an API is a pathway to transfer data from services and applications either to or from the cloud. When APIs or interfaces are improperly configured or coded, it increases cloud security risks. Threat actors can use APIs to launch man-in-the-middle (MiTM) attacks to intercept endpoint communications, launch denial of service (DoS) attacks to tie up resources and to inject malicious code into programs (SQL injection). Using your cloud vulnerability management program, you can evaluate configurations, review code and identify access and management issues to stop attackers from using an API as an attack vector.
Tools and Techniques for Cloud Vulnerability Management
Cloud security is complex and requires the right tools and techniques to ensure effective cloud vulnerability management. It’s especially important as cloud environments evolve and become more complex because most legacy vulnerability management practices don’t work in the cloud and can’t keep up with the cloud’s emerging threat landscape. By using specialized tools and techniques designed for the cloud, you can proactively identify cloud vulnerabilities and weaknesses before attackers take advantage of them. While each organization’s vulnerability management needs will be different, here are some best practices to consider:
Vulnerability Scanning Tools
Vulnerability scanning tools like Tenable Cloud Security can be used for cloud workload protection to continuously scan your most critical workloads and identify risks and misconfigurations. Vulnerability scanning tools can help you identify cloud threats early, enable continuous monitoring and help prioritize remediation of the cloud risks that pose the greatest threat to your organization. Think of vulnerability scanning as a proactive approach for cloud risk management, which can help you comply with best practices, security frameworks and compliance requirements.
Intrusion Detection Systems
Intrusion detection systems (IDS) proactively monitor cloud endpoints for potential breaches or other security incidents. Tenable, for example, can help you monitor your files, system settings, applications, logs and network traffic as part of a proactive and continuous approach to cloud vulnerability management. An intrusion detection system can help you find these threats faster, decrease attacker dwell time and ensure fast and effective incident response whenever you have unauthorized access or the system spots suspicious activities. An IDS can also send you real-time alerts so you’re never caught off guard by a missed security incident.
Penetration testing is a valuable tool to help your teams stay one step ahead of attackers. Generally conducted by a third party, penetration tests seek out vulnerabilities and other security weaknesses in the cloud just like a threat actor would, exploring ways to exploit those issues to access your cloud environments and cloud data. Pen tests are a proactive solution that identify both known and unknown cloud security issues so your teams can make plans to remediate them. Penetration testing can also validate your cloud security controls function as intended and seek out other potential attack vectors across your cloud attack surface.
Vulnerability Insights and Threat Intelligence
There are nearly 237,000 common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVE) in the National Institute of Technology’s (NIST) National Vulnerability Database (NVD). In the first month of 2024, NVD had already reviewed more than 2,000 CVEs. While this is an excellent resource of information about common vulnerabilities, most security teams feel overwhelmed when they use it — not just because of how many CVEs are in the list, but how many of them have a common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS) rating as either critical or high severity. For CVSS V3, there are nearly 23,000 CVEs rated critical with more than 60,000 rated high. Those are staggering numbers for even the largest, well-prepared security teams. To mature your cloud vulnerability management practice, consider using other resources as supplemental vulnerability intelligence tools. For example, Tenable Research has insight that’s specific to cloud threats. And, Tenable uses AI tools to help teams prioritize cloud risk mitigation that applies specifically to your organization’s unique profile.
Strategies for Cloud Vulnerability Management
Cloud vulnerability management strategies help organizations proactive seek out and find cloud security issues. These strategies can help you identify and analyze your cloud security risks so you can make plans to mitigate them before you experience a data breach. Cloud vulnerability management strategies and security frameworks help organizations comply with relevant cloud security compliance requirements, support cloud security program maturity and can also help you align your program with business goals so your executives and key stakeholders can understand cloud risks in business context.
Risk-Based Vulnerability Management
A risk-based strategy for cloud vulnerability management assesses vulnerabilities based on their potential impact and likelihood an attacker may exploit them. By prioritizing high-risk vulnerabilities, your organization can allocate resources more effectively and accurately to address your most critical cloud security concerns. With Tenable, for example, risk scores and contextual insights can help your teams focus on vulnerabilities that pose the greatest threat and enhance the overall effectiveness of your security measures.
Prioritizing Remediation Efforts
Because there are so many critical and high-severity CVEs, it’s a good practice to adopt a strategy to prioritize your cloud vulnerabilities. This helps speed up and streamline remediation processes to mature your cloud cyber hygiene. Tenable can help you build a prioritization strategy with detailed vulnerability assessments and threat intelligence. You get insights into the likelihood and impact of exploitation and practical remediation recommendations to address vulnerabilities with the highest risk first.
Enhanced Role of Automation
The more your attack surface expands, the harder it is to track and manage vulnerabilities. If you’re using manual processes, for example, tracking cloud vulnerabilities in a spreadsheet, it’s nearly impossible to get the comprehensive vulnerability insight you need. More manual processes also increase the chance of human errors and may create blind spots that put your cloud at risk. Automated cloud vulnerability assessment and management tools like Tenable can help you automate many of these tasks across public, private and hybrid cloud environments. Automation strategies can accelerate vulnerability identification and remediation while enabling your teams to respond to cloud threats in real-time. By employing automation, you can free up your skilled professionals to focus on more strategic tasks and proactive risk identification and mitigation.
Incorporating AI and Machine Learning
AI and machine learning are emerging tools for cloud vulnerability management. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start developing an AI strategy so you don’t get too far behind the AI wave. Cloud vulnerability automation enables advanced threat detection and analysis so your teams can identify patterns, anomalies and cloud security risks in real-time. With AI and machine learning tools, you can adopt and employ adaptive security measures that evolve with the dynamic nature of cloud environments.
Best Practices in Cloud Vulnerability Management
Cloud vulnerability management is an essential component of cloud security and helps protect your cloud assets while maintaining data security and integrity. With the many risks that exist within dynamic cloud computing environments, it is crucial to adopt best practices to mitigate these risks and protect sensitive information. Best practices such as conducting regular cloud security risk assessments and adopting cloud security frameworks can help you meet compliance mandates and respond to emerging cloud risks. Here are four best practices to consider:
Conduct Ongoing Vulnerability Assessments
Ongoing vulnerability assessment is an essential for ensuring cloud security. It involves a thorough scanning and evaluation of your cloud environment to find potential security weaknesses. By automating your cloud security assessments, your organization can simplify remediation prioritization, proactively address emerging threats and effectively manage cloud vulnerabilities. Ongoing vulnerability management practices like vulnerability assessments reduce the risk of exploitation and strengthen the overall security and resilience of your cloud infrastructure.
Adopt a Patch Management Strategy
Patch management is a process of regularly updating and applying patches to address known vulnerabilities in cloud software, systems and applications. When you patch cloud vulnerability promptly, you can reduce your attack surface, mitigate exploitation risk and enhance your overall cloud security posture. As a best practice, patch management can decrease the window of opportunity for potential attackers who may try to exploit your cloud security issues and misconfigurations.
Use Data Encryption
Encrypting stored and transmitted data is a crucial step to protect sensitive information within cloud environments. Encryption algorithms secure data stored in cloud databases or transferred between servers and endpoints. By implementing strong encryption measures, your organization can prevent unauthorized access and data breaches and stop threat actors from monitoring your cloud communications. Data encryption enhances data confidentiality and integrity while it is stored and transmitted in the cloud.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a best practice that adds another layer of protection beyond traditional username and password logins. MFA requires users to provide additional verification factors, such as one-time codes or biometric information, which significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Implementing MFA is an effective way to enhance access controls, mitigate the impact of compromised credentials and fortify the authentication process in the cloud.
The Future of Cloud Vulnerability Management
Looking forward, cloud vulnerability management will be driven by transformation, for example, increased usage of containerized workloads; technology advancements; more and complex regulatory and compliance standards; emerging cloud threats; and increased use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. As these environments evolve into more integral parts of business operations, proactive and adaptive strategies will define the future.
Advances in Cloud Security Technologies
As cloud security technologies advance and to make cloud infrastructures more secure, cloud service providers (CSPs) and cloud security vendors will likely increase investments in sophisticated tools like cloud security posture management (CSPM), cloud-native application protection platforms (CNAPP), CWPs and AI-powered vulnerability assessment and management. Expect to see more enhanced threat detection, automated responses and security measures integrated within cloud platforms. These changes should create a more resilient defense against cloud threats. Over time, these advanced security measures will likely become standard practice for cloud services, which will enhance cloud protection.
Changing Regulatory Landscape
The cloud security regulatory landscape is constantly changing, with increased focus on data protection and privacy. Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S., along with similar mandates, will influence how organizations manage cloud vulnerabilities. Also in the U.S., expect to see more state data security and privacy laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that will include security standards for cloud environments, as well as more legal requirements that will push organizations to adopt a more dynamic approach to cloud vulnerability management.
More Emerging Threats
As the use and adoption of cloud technologies continue to increase, so do associated risks. These risks are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated, making it crucial to address them quickly and effectively. With the emergence of new attack vectors like containerized malware, serverless exploits, and increased insider risk, it's important to have proactive defenses and access to cloud threat intelligence and remediation guidance.
More Adoption of Machine Learning and AI
Machine learning and AI will be more important as cloud vulnerability management advances. These technologies will improve threat detection, automated alerts and response strategies, and streamline the analysis of vast amounts of data to identify patterns and anomalies in cloud and hybrid environments. Organizations are likely to adopt AI-based tools that handle everything from automated vulnerability patching to real-time threat modeling. This will be increasingly important as the industry continues to struggle to find skilled personnel to fill cloud security job openings. By 2028, the global AI in cybersecurity market is expected to reach nearly $61 billion, seeing a CAGR of nearly 22% between now and 2028.