Don't risk falling behind when it comes to cloud security

Cloud investment is central to staying competitive in modern business. Gartner estimated that global end-user cloud investment reached nearly $600 billion this year and forecasts a 20 percent increase in spending in 2024. But as investment in and reliance on the cloud increases, so must investment in cloud security.

Expanding cloud usage means an expanding attack surface for threat actors to target. Research from Vanson Bourne, commissioned by Illumio, found that nearly half (47 percent) of all security breaches now start in the cloud.

This is perhaps not surprising, given that the majority of companies are now using the cloud, and 89 percent are running most or all of their services through cloud infrastructure. But what’s concerning is the risks facing organizations.

Almost all use the cloud for storing sensitive data such as financial information, business data, and personally identifiable information (PII) and most also run their highest-value applications in the cloud. As a result, any disruption to cloud operations now means direct and often severe disruption to business operations.

The core mission of cybersecurity is to deliver resilience against cyber threats and traditional, static security measures cannot deliver the dynamic and agile approach needed to rapidly respond to and contain threats in the cloud.

Why traditional security models no longer fit

Traditional security tools such as legacy firewalls and intrusion detection systems resemble a square peg in a round hole in the cloud era. While they were once the mainstay of network security, they are misaligned and ineffective in the face of the cloud's fluidity and scalability.

Effective cloud defense demands real-time monitoring and responsive security that can accommodate complex hybrid and multi-cloud environments. It's not just about setting up barriers for intruders; it's about creating intelligent, adaptable defenses that anticipate and react to threats in real time.

The shortcomings of legacy security tools were apparent in the research, which included views from 1,600 IT security decision-makers from organizations worldwide.

Almost all of the respondents admitted they needed more visibility into connectivity from third-party software, as well as improvements to cloud breach reaction times. The latter is often a byproduct of poor visibility. If you don’t understand what is connecting to what and how, how can you put in place controls to respond to and limit the impact of attacks?

Perhaps more worrying, less than a quarter were highly confident in stopping attacks moving through their network -- the risks of which are even greater in the cloud, as attackers can easily move through different cloud environments and between on-premises systems to access critical assets.

Understanding the many impacts of cloud breaches

The financial repercussions of a major cloud incident are staggering, with 61 percent of organizations reporting losses exceeding $500,000 annually due to cloud breaches. This is not merely a dent in the finances; it's a substantial hemorrhage that can destabilize even the most robust enterprises.

Loss of revenue-generating services, productivity, and the cost of recovery were all key points flagged by IT and security decision-makers. However, the implications extend beyond mere short-term monetary loss. Reputational damage and loss of trust were among the top concerns faced by security decision-makers. Once it occurs, the loss of customer trust is a challenging chasm to bridge. It's not just about the lost information itself, it's about the broken confidence in the ability to handle confidential data in the future. The leakage of sensitive information can also have far-reaching consequences, from legal ramifications to regulatory penalties.

These impacts underscore the need for a security strategy that defends against breaches and minimizes their potential damage. Having the ability to rapidly identify risk and contain attacks in the cloud is a business necessity, and the reason why many organizations are now turning towards breach containment technologies like Zero Trust Segmentation (ZTS).

How Zero Trust Segmentation tackles the greatest cloud challenges

Rooted in the principle of "never trust, always verify," ZTS (also known as microsegmentation) is a key pillar of the Zero Trust framework, essential for achieving cyber resilience. It's a critical technology that enables a strategic shift in how security is approached. Preventing attacks is no longer the main goal; instead the objective is ensuring the organization can maintain its operations and safeguard its most critical assets even in a breach.

ZTS operates on the premise that threats can originate from anywhere -- inside or outside the network. By segmenting networks into smaller, manageable zones, ZTS limits attackers’ ability to discover the network and move laterally, ensuring that even if a breach occurs, its impact is contained, reducing its 'blast radius'.

This approach also enables a highly granular level of visibility and control, enabling organizations to better detect and proactively reduce risks as they move across the hybrid attack surface -- an area where cloud native security tools still leave critical gaps. It also affords a greater level of agility and responsiveness, offering the real-time threat response capabilities that are so essential in dynamic cloud environments.

How to implement ZTS in your business

With the benefits high, it’s no surprise the security and risk leaders are increasingly prioritizing ZTS. According to the Gartner Market Guide for Microsegmentation, by 2026, 60 percent percent of enterprises working toward zero trust architecture will use more than one deployment form of microsegmentation, which is up from less than 5 percent percent in 2023. If you are ready to embark on this journey, the following steps will help you effectively integrate ZTS into your cloud security strategy:

1) Audit your cloud security -- First, begin by evaluating your current security posture. Identify critical assets, data flows, and potential vulnerabilities within your cloud environment.

2) Establish your segmentation wishlist -- Next, develop a segmentation strategy that aligns with business objectives. Define micro-perimeters around critical assets and establish policies for access control. The smaller the segments the stronger the security -- ZTS is granular enough to isolate individual workloads.

3) Find your ideal ZTS solution -- With the groundwork done, the next task is to choose the right ZTS solution for your business. Look for a solution that offers ease of deployment, scalability, compatibility with multiple cloud environments, and the ability to seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructure.

4) Keep it up -- Once the solution is implemented, it's important to remember it isn't a one-and-done scenario. Implement continuous monitoring to track the effectiveness of segmentation policies and be prepared to adapt and refine these policies in response to evolving threats and business needs.

Building resilience in the cloud

As businesses continue to invest in their cloud infrastructures, they must also explore new ways to protect their critical cloud-borne assets. Cybersecurity is no longer just about preventing threats, needs to safeguard critical assets, maintain operational continuity, and uphold customer trust, while still enabling the business to innovate and grow securely in the cloud.

The future of cloud security demands vigilance and a strategic, adaptive approach that ZTS exemplifies, ensuring businesses are resilient and secure in the face of cyber challenges.

Raghu Nandakumara, is Head of Industry Solutions at Illumio.

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