Hybrid Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Guide to Securing On-Premise and Cloud Environments

Understanding Hybrid Cloud Security

In the rapidly evolving world of information technology, cloud computing has emerged as a transformative force. However, as organizations increasingly adopt hybrid cloud models—combining public and private cloud services—the complexity of securing these environments has become a paramount concern, especially for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs).

Hybrid cloud environments offer the best of both worlds: the scalability and cost-effectiveness of public cloud services, and the control and security of private cloud infrastructure. However, this blend also introduces unique security challenges. Data and applications shared between public and private environments must be secured, and the increased complexity of hybrid environments can make this a daunting task.

The security of a hybrid cloud depends on several factors. First, the sensitivity of the data and applications involved. Not all data is suitable for the public cloud; sensitive information may be better suited to the controlled environment of a private cloud.

Second, regulatory requirements may dictate where and how data is stored and processed, particularly for industries such as healthcare or finance.

Moreover, the security of a hybrid cloud is not solely about technology— it's also about strategy. CISOs must understand how to leverage the hybrid cloud model to drive business value without compromising security. This requires a clear understanding of the organization's IT requirements, careful planning, and strategic decision-making.

One of the key strategies in securing a hybrid cloud is maintaining consistent security policies across both the public and private environments.

This includes access controls, encryption standards, and incident response protocols. Additionally, visibility across both environments is crucial for detecting and responding to security threats promptly.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the unique security challenges posed by hybrid cloud environments, the common pitfalls, and how to mitigate these risks using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

Threats and Common Pitfalls of Hybrid Cybersecurity

Hybrid cloud environments, while offering numerous benefits, also present unique security challenges. These challenges often stem from the complexity of managing security across multiple platforms and service models. Let's explore these threats in more detail:

  1. Data breaches: In a hybrid cloud environment, data is distributed across various platforms and locations. This distribution can increase the risk of data breaches. How can we ensure the integrity and confidentiality of our data across different environments? What measures can we take to protect sensitive information in transit and at rest?
  2. Inconsistent security policies: Ensuring uniform security policies across both public and private cloud environments can be a daunting task.How can we maintain consistency in access controls, encryption standards, and incident response protocols across diverse environments? How can we ensure that our security policies are uniformly enforced and regularly updated to address emerging threats?
  3. Compliance issues: Regulatory compliance becomes more complex in a hybrid cloud environment. Different cloud service providers may have different compliance standards, and data residency requirements may dictate where certain data can be stored. How can we ensure continuous compliance across multiple jurisdictions and regulatory frameworks?
  4. Shadow IT: The use of unauthorized cloud services, also known as Shadow IT, can significantly increase security risks. These services are often not subject to the same security controls and can become a backdoor for data breaches.How can we maintain visibility and control over these resources? How can we ensure that all cloud services used within the organization meet our security standards?
  5. Lack of in-house cloud security skills: Securing a hybrid cloud environment requires specialized knowledge and skills. There is often a gap in cloud security skills within organizations, which can lead to security vulnerabilities. How can we bridge this skills gap? What training and resources do we need to provide to our IT team?

In addition to these threats, organizations often encounter common pitfalls when adopting a hybrid cloud model:

  • Rushing the migration process: A rushed migration can lead to overlooked security controls, misconfigured services, and other costly mistakes. A carefully planned and executed migration is crucial for maintaining security.
  • Failing to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO): The costs of a hybrid cloud model can be deceptive. While certain costs may be reduced, others, such as those associated with managing security across multiple platforms, can increase. A comprehensive understanding of TCO is essential for making informed decisions.
  • Neglecting employee training: The successful adoption of a hybrid cloud model requires a well-trained IT team. Neglecting to provide adequate training on new technologies and security practices can lead to human errors and security vulnerabilities.

In the next section, we'll explore how the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can help mitigate these threats and avoid common pitfalls.

Mitigating Threats with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework provides a policy framework of computer security guidance for private sector organizations in the United States. It can be used to manage and mitigate cybersecurity risk in a cost-effective way based on business needs without placing additional regulatory requirements on businesses.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is designed with flexibility in mind – it can be applied to a wide range of sectors and organizations. It is also risk-based and outcome-focused, allowing for a degree of customization in its application depending on the nature and needs of the organization.

The framework comprises five key functions:

  1. Identify: Develop an organizational understanding to manage cybersecurity risk to systems, assets, data, and capabilities. This includes understanding the business context, the resources that support critical functions, and the related cybersecurity risks.
  2. Protect: Implement appropriate safeguards to ensure delivery of critical infrastructure services. This involves limiting or containing the impact of a potential cybersecurity event.
  3. Detect: Develop and implement appropriate activities to identify the occurrence of a cybersecurity event. This means being able to identify the occurrence of an event in a timely manner.
  4. Respond: Develop and implement appropriate activities to take action regarding a detected cybersecurity event. This includes establishing communications with internal and external stakeholders.
  5. Recover: Develop and implement appropriate activities to maintain plans for resilience and to restore any capabilities or services that were impaired due to a cybersecurity event.

In the context of a hybrid cloud environment, the NIST framework can be a valuable tool for managing cybersecurity risks.

It can help organizations identify their assets across both public and private cloud environments, protect these assets through consistent security policies, detect security events across multiple platforms, respond effectively to incidents, and recover from cybersecurity events.

However, applying the NIST framework in a hybrid cloud environment is not without challenges. It requires a clear understanding of the shared responsibility model in cloud security, where security responsibilities are divided between the cloud provider and the customer.

It also requires a robust security zoning strategy, which involves defining the security requirements for each zone in the hybrid cloud environment.

Protect your hybrid cloud

Securing a hybrid cloud environment requires a comprehensive approach that addresses various aspects of security. Here are some key areas to focus on, with examples that consider both on-premises and cloud-based solutions:

  1. Identity Management: Establishing a robust identity management strategy is crucial. This could involve creating a hybrid identity adoption strategy that uses both on-premises databases and cloud-based user databases. For example, you might use an on-premises Active Directory (AD) with an AD connector for multi-cloud environments, or set up a federated user database in the cloud. This approach allows you to leverage built-in Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) roles in the cloud and map them to existing roles. If that is completed, then leverage the possibility for integrating new SaaS applications with SAML2.0 or SCIM with the cloud Identity Provider (IdP). Read more about hybrid identity with Azure AD.
  2. Data Security: Protecting data involves multiple layers of security, including encryption at rest and in transit, access control, and data integrity. For instance, you might use server-side or client-side encryption for data at rest, which can be achieved with on-premises encryption solutions or cloud provider services. Implement strict access controls using on-premises systems for internal data and cloud-based controls for data in the cloud. Use HTTPS for data in transit to ensure data security, regardless of whether the data is moving within your on-premises network or to and from the cloud. Read more about data security in hybrid environments.
  3. Data Backup: A comprehensive data backup strategy is essential for protecting against data loss. This could involve reassessing existing on-premises backup solutions, leveraging the cloud as a backup destination with client-side encryption, and ensuring the capability to handle new data models. For example, you might use an on-premises backup solution for your internal data and a cloud-based solution for data in the cloud, using client-side encryption for additional security. Read more about hybrid data backup strategies.
  4. Network Security: Network security involves planning security zones and mapping them to individual Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) or Virtual Networks (VNets). This includes leveraging a hub and spoke connectivity design and a centralized security VPC/VNet for a centralized approach. For example, you might plan your security zones carefully and map them to individual VPCs/VNets, using a combination of on-premises firewalls for internal traffic and cloud-based security groups for traffic in the cloud. Read more about network security in hybrid environments.

Hybrid Cloud Threat Detection

Detecting and responding to threats in a hybrid cloud environment is a critical aspect of maintaining security. It's essential to have a comprehensive visibility into your cloud environment to detect any anomalies and respond to them promptly.Here's how you can achieve this:

  1. Audit Logs: Audit logs record events for a specified period, providing a trail of the activities that have occurred. In a hybrid cloud environment, you can export audit logs via AWS CloudTrail or Azure Event Hub to your existing log collection or Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platform. This allows you to monitor activities in your environment and identify any unusual or suspicious behavior. Read more about AWS CloudTrail and Azure Event Hub.
  2. Event Logs: Event logs record significant incidents in your system, including any errors or status messages from software or hardware components. You can use existing agent-based security log exportation methods for servers and virtual desktops. This provides you with a detailed record of events, helping you to identify and respond to any security incidents. Read more about Event Logging.
  3. Flow Logs: Flow logs capture information about the IP traffic going to and from network interfaces in your Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). In a hybrid cloud environment, you can export flow logs from VM associated Security Groups. This gives you visibility into your network traffic, allowing you to identify any potential threats and respond to them accordingly. Read more about VPC Flow Logs.

Logs are the only means of revealing any ongoing breach or to do forensics. SIEM is a center of security visibility. By collecting and analyzing logs from the cloud, you can gain valuable insights into your security posture, detect threats early, and respond to them effectively.

Responding to Threats in Hybrid Cloud

Responding to threats in a hybrid cloud environment requires a proactive approach and the ability to act quickly and effectively when a threat is detected.

Best Practices to Respond:

  1. Contingency Planning: Having a contingency plan in place is crucial for responding effectively to cyber threats. This involves identifying potential threats, assessing the impact they could have on your organization, and developing strategies to manage these risks. A contingency plan should cover both on-premises and cloud-based resources and should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it remains effective.
  2. On-Demand Response: In the event of a security incident, it's important to be able to respond quickly. This could involve isolating affected systems to prevent the spread of a security threat, conducting a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the incident, and implementing measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. On-demand response capabilities can be enhanced by leveraging automation and orchestration tools that can quickly execute response actions when a threat is detected.
  3. Incident Management: Effective incident management is crucial for minimizing the impact of a security incident. This involves establishing an incident response team, defining incident response procedures, and regularly conducting incident response drills. Incident management should cover both on-premises and cloudbased resources and should be integrated with your overall security strategy.
  4. Threat Intelligence: Leveraging threat intelligence can enhance your ability to detect and respond to threats. Threat intelligence involves collecting and analyzing information about current and emerging threat trends and using this information to enhance your security measures. This can help you stay ahead of potential threats and respond more effectively when a threat is detected.

Recovery from a Cyber Attack in Hybrid Cloud

Recovering from a cyberattack in a hybrid cloud environment requires a well-planned and coordinated approach.

Best Practices for Recovery:

  1. Incident Response Plan: Having a well-defined incident response plan is crucial for effective recovery. The plan should outline the steps to be taken in the event of a cyberattack, including identifying the affected systems, containing the threat, eradicating the threat, and restoring normal operations. The plan should cover both on-premises and cloud-based resources and should be regularly tested and updated to ensure its effectiveness.
  2. Backup and Restore Procedures: Regular backups of your data and systems can significantly reduce the impact of a cyberattack.In the event of a cyberattack, you can restore your systems to their state at the time of the last backup, minimizing data loss and downtime. Your backup and restore procedures should cover both on-premises and cloud-based resources and should be regularly tested to ensure they work as expected.
  3. Disaster Recovery Plan: A disaster recovery plan outlines the steps to be taken to recover from a major incident or disaster, such as a largescale cyberattack or a natural disaster. This includes restoring IT infrastructure and systems, recovering data, and ensuring business continuity. Your disaster recovery plan should cover both on-premises and cloud-based resources and should be regularly tested and updated.
  4. Communication Plan: Communicating effectively during and after a cyberattack is crucial for managing the situation and minimizing damage. This includes internal communication within your organization, communication with customers and stakeholders, and communication with law enforcement and regulatory bodies. Your communication plan should outline who needs to be informed, what information should be shared, and how the communication should be carried out.
  5. Continuous Improvement: After a cyberattack, it's important to learn from the incident and improve your security measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. This involves conducting a postincident review to identify what went wrong, what went well, and what can be improved. The findings from the review should be used to update your security measures, incident response plan, and other relevant procedures.

Conclusion: Embracing Hybrid Cloud Security

In conclusion, securing a hybrid cloud environment is a complex but crucial task. It requires consistent security controls to maintain visibility and control.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Accept the Challenge: Security may not be the most glamorous aspect of IT, but it's undoubtedly one of the most important. As a cybersecurity professional, you may not always be the favorite person in the room, but your role is vital. Embrace the challenge and continue to fight for the security of your organization's data and systems.
  2. Secure Before Deploy: Always prioritize security before deploying any new systems or applications. This proactive approach can help prevent security incidents and ensure that your organization's data and systems are protected from the start.
  3. Consistent Security Controls: Consistency is key when it comes to hybrid cloud security. Apply consistent security controls across all onpremises and cloud-based resources to maintain visibility and control. This includes consistent log collection and analysis strategies, consistent security policies, and consistent use of security tools.

Securing a hybrid cloud environment is a continuous process that requires ongoing effort and vigilance. But with the right strategies and tools, you can effectively manage the security risks associated with hybrid cloud and ensure the security and integrity of your organization's data and systems.