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The 5 C's of Cloud-Native Security: Key Challenges and How to Address Them

Cloud-native architecture is a modern approach to building applications that takes advantage of the benefits of cloud computing to create more scalable, resilient, and portable applications.

This content was written by Cisco.

As more organizations adopt cloud computing, and as cloud-based assets/workloads increase, the need for strong cloud-native security measures becomes increasingly critical. 

Cloud-native security is all about securing applications and infrastructure in the cloud. This includes using special security measures designed for the unique characteristics of cloud environments, such as microservices, containers, and serverless computing. Cloud-native security also involves continuous monitoring and response to address security risks in real-time.

According to a 2022 Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) report, 92% of orgs that have already experienced a data breach believe they will experience another breach of cloud data in the next 12 months. If you're working with cloud-native environments, it's critical to have a security approach that can keep up with the unique challenges of these environments.

As we discuss the challenges and solutions of cloud-native security, let's evaluate the five essential components (referred to as the 5 C's) needed to secure cloud-based infrastructure and applications:

  1. Cloud 
  2. Containers
  3. Clusters 
  4. Code
  5. Compliance

1. Complexities of Multi-Cloud Environments

Surreal image of a cloud with electric colors pouring out as rain

Challenges: Multi-cloud environments present significant difficulties in ensuring continuous infrastructure security, compliance assurance, and data protection due to complexity, limited visibility, non-standardization, and human error-related misconfigurations. Misconfigured cloud environments have resulted in several high-profile data breaches and cyberattacks.

Solution: Solutions that continuously scan cloud deployments and automatically detect design flaws, lack of encryption, and container or cluster security issues should be prioritized to prevent misconfigurations and address breaches quickly.

2. Container Vulnerabilities

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Challenges: Vulnerabilities in container images, Container runtime security, lack of visibility into the entire container environment and misconfigurations and human error are often the most cited challenges in container security.

Solution: When it comes to securing containerized applications in the cloud, organizations need to be thorough. This means using secure coding practices, managing access controls, segmenting the network, and using automated scanning tools to detect vulnerabilities. It's also important to use solutions that can enforce security policies for each container, which can prevent downtime caused by security issues.

3. Securing Clusters

Surreal image of a motherboard detail

Challenges: Kubernetes clusters are critical in cloud-native environments, but they are vulnerable to security risks despite the robust security features provided. Misconfigurations and software vulnerabilities can lead to attackers gaining access to sensitive data, applications, or infrastructure. Recently, researchers found nearly one million exposed and misconfigured Kubernetes instances that could result in breaches1

Solution: When you move to containerization and microservices, you need to make sure you have identity-based security solutions in place. This means setting up access controls and keeping an eye on what's happening with Kubernetes so you can detect and respond to threats quickly. It's important to secure the Kubernetes control plane using role-based access controls (RBAC) which limit access to the API server and other resources, giving you more control over who can do what.

4. Securing Application Code

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Challenges: Cloud-native applications, with frequent code deployments and infrastructure-as-code (IaC) and open-source software (OSS) adoption, can introduce vulnerabilities that can be exploited. In fact, 69% of organizations use IaC templates for cloud infrastructure provisioning, and 83% experience misconfigurations as development scales, as per a recent ESG report. Security teams face challenges with OSS and struggle to detect and address vulnerabilities due to limited visibility into APIs and cloud workloads.

Solution: Integrate security throughout the development lifecycle with DevSecOps. Use container-specific security tools and cloud-native solutions for scalability, automation, and agility. Avoid legacy solutions that cannot meet the scalability, resiliency, automation, and agility requirements of modern cloud applications. Consider observability solutions that provide a comprehensive view of vulnerabilities and security gaps.

5. Compliance Challenges

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Challenges: Compliance in cloud-native security can be a struggle due to limited visibility in highly dynamic and heterogeneous environments, making it difficult to identify and enforce compliance controls, track compliance requirements, monitor controls, and prove compliance to auditors, especially for regulated industries.

Solution: It should be noted that relying solely on compliance solutions provided by cloud security providers is not enough. Explore compliance solutions that provide log monitoring, threat detection, and automated incident response capabilities to adhere to compliance and regulatory frameworks. Use a security-by-design approach to integrate security into the entire development cycle, including the DevOps pipeline, and use automation to enforce security policies.

In summary

Securing cloud-native applications can be a complex task, but there are emerging technology solutions that can help build resiliency at scale. The above "5C's" framework can help you plan and implement a robust security strategy that covers the entire cloud infrastructure. This method enables you to clearly communicate the requirements and benefits of a cloud-native security solution to your team and convince your senior leadership to expedite the implementation of cloud-native security solutions. By taking a proactive approach and using the right security tools, you can keep your cloud infrastructure and applications running smoothly and keep your data safe from attackers.

[1] Exposed Kubernetes clusters, June 2022

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