Organizations are moving to multi-cloud environments in droves, largely because the cloud is fast, agile and powerful.
But is it secure? Inherently — no.
Just like on-prem, multi-cloud environments have significant security risks that must be addressed if your goal is to supercharge your team’s productivity while keeping your organization and your customer’s data safe. But doing so is no small feat.
On-prem zero trust typically applied to anyone outside the network – if you were not working inside the network, you were not granted privileged access. The cloud is a different animal. Since there is no network perimeter, and users are often located in various locations across the globe, user identity now defines who has access to what.
Therefore, if we want to define zero trust for the cloud generation, it is incumbent on us to accept that all users — human and machine IDs alike — must be granted privileged access only when it is necessary. However, most security management teams agree that putting effective privilege access management (PAM) in a multi-cloud environment into practice is extremely difficult.
Some see this problem and try to build bespoke, in-house solutions. And while we will always applaud when an organization is diligent and innovative, the hard truth is most of the time, the in-house solutions fail. The reasons for failure vary, but the result is always the same: teams lose precious time and resources, and at the end of the day, their environment is still vulnerable to attack.
Below, we will review why DIY solutions often fail and how organizations can avoid the usual challenges and setbacks.
Industry leaders consider establishing zero trust in multi-cloud environments essential. Securing accounts without impeding productivity is the goal we all share. In fact, there are plenty of solutions available that secure GSP, Azure, AWS, or any other CSP in an individual capacity. The problem, then, is not securing individual cloud service providers. The problem is how PAM performs in a hybrid environment across all CSP accounts.
What does a poorly executed DIY solution look like? Typically, there are three signposts:
1. An organization lifts and shifts its existing on-prem stack into the cloud. This may seem like a reasonable move, but when it comes to protecting an identity-based perimeter, on-prem stacks are inadequate.
2. In many cases, DevOps leads the charge on building the solution. This is also easy to understand as it allows for speed and fluidity. But DevOps focuses on building, not security. This becomes a significant issue when the solution is implemented — it is usually only when the project fails or becomes unmanageable that SecOps is summoned to assist.
3. When an organization builds a solution in-house, the solution is, by definition, unique. This means it lacks the typical features of a commercial solution and therefore is prone to increased security vulnerabilities. What’s more, teams have to go it alone — there is no support team to guide them through rough waters.
Beyond these challenges, organizations need to contend with the prohibitive costs of maintenance and tools, time to value, as well as ensuring teams have the capability and expertise to manage activity cross-cloud. Remember, siloed environments require cloud-specific skillsets. Organizations pursuing DIY solutions need AWS experts, Azure experts, GSP experts, etc., to oversee the day-to-day operations. Overhead soars, logjams proliferate.
Difficult as the challenges are, there is a way forward.
Organizations can better establish zero trust by enforcing zero standing privileges (ZSP) and right size privileges from a unified access model across IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS.
- DevOps and SecOps teams must collaborate.
- Unity is key to designing a better multi-cloud PAM solution. Leaders must understand what teams need and incorporate those needs from the point of conception. List any recognizable challenges each team faces and determine the best way to overcome them. The goal is not to be blindsided later. If the challenges are insurmountable, seek assistance from a third party to get you across the finish line.
- Learn from others’ mistakes.
- Turn to industry colleagues to discern where they went wrong. How much of a hindrance was limited cross-cloud visibility? What prevented them from achieving true zero trust and least privilege access? Did they encounter pushback from DevOps or SecOps teams, and if so, what were their concerns?
- Elevate discoverability.
- Eliminating standing privileges is predicated on knowing where they are present. Organizations should have a plan to elevate discoverability cross-cloud. How will you manage to monitor and manage user access? What protocols will you follow to ensure users are not left with access if they leave the organization? Determine ways to tighten user access across cloud environments so admins can confidently grant and revoke privileges as necessary.
- Enforce Just-In-Time (JIT) permissions.
- While many organizations strive to enforce JIT permissions, it is critical to use true JIT if you hope to build a successful multi-cloud PAM solution in-house. This is a steep hill to climb if the technology is not available; after all, if you need to build the technology, it will delay your solution’s time-to-value. But ultimately, you need to be able to grant and revoke permissions on the fly. Determine what’s best for your organization and make sure JIT is a priority.
- Build ZSP into your CI/CD process.
- Perhaps one of the most difficult and urgent requirements, building ZSP into your CI/CD process can separate a successful multi-cloud PAM and a failure. Taking into account your need to build at the speed of automation, it’s no surprise DevOps teams do not want impediments to productivity. That’s the primary driver when organizations struggle to reign in too many standing privileges: the goal is not to over-privilege accounts but to make sure teams can do their jobs efficiently. However, as users in the cloud multiply and machine IDs proliferate, establishing ZSP is a necessary step in securing CI/CD. You’ll need to establish access requests in your workflows that support both speed and security.
In conclusion, the great migration to the cloud is upon us. But organizations must develop strategies to keep environments secure and productive. Teams hoping to build a multi-cloud PAM solution in-house face significant challenges. In most cases, the bespoke solutions fail. The reasons for failure vary, but it ends with teams losing valuable time, resources, and security. If you are intent on building a multi-cloud PAM solution, follow the recommendations listed above — and do your best to avoid common pitfalls.