Cloud computing has transformed how businesses operate, offering unparalleled flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. However, this transition presents new risks and vulnerabilities for organizations to navigate. Malicious actors actively seek out weaknesses in security infrastructures and target them, causing data breaches, disrupting operations, and compromising sensitive information. Picture this: a multinational corporation falls victim to a sophisticated cyberattack, leading to a significant data breach that exposes confidential customer data. This will result in severe consequences, including financial losses, damage to reputation, and potential legal ramifications for failing to adequately protect sensitive data.

In addition, according to Gartner, businesses were responsible for their cloud security failures in at least 99% of cases in 2023, meaning their cloud environment was not protected enough. So, what is a proven way to safeguard it against threats and boost security posture?

Partnering with a reliable vendor with a wide expertise in cybersecurity services to perform a cloud security assessment can help organizations fortify their cloud defenses and navigate the complexities of data protection. In this guide, we will delve into the value of a thorough cloud security assessment for businesses, and its essential steps, as well as touch on the challenges and how to avoid them.

What is cloud security assessment?

Security assessment of the cloud refers to evaluating the security posture of an organization's cloud environment, including infrastructure, cloud-native applications, data storage, and services. The primary objective of the assessment is to identify critical security risks, vulnerabilities, and compliance gaps, as well as develop proactive strategies to mitigate these risks effectively.

While executing a cloud security risk assessment, security specialists usually cover the following areas:

  1. Overall security posture. Reviewing the overall security of the cloud infrastructure, including architecture and configuration
  2. Identity and access management. Checking the processes of users' identification and authentication and reviewing access controls;
  3. Network security. Evaluating cloud network segmentation, firewall policies, and intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) to ensure secure communication and protect from unauthorized access, misuse, or exposure.
  4. Incident management. Assessing the organization's incident response procedures and protocols related to security incidents in the cloud environment.
  5. Storage security. Evaluating the security measures implemented to protect data stored in cloud environments, such as data encryption.
  6. Platform services security. Reviewing the security configurations and controls of cloud providers' additional services, such as databases, messaging queues, and serverless computing offerings.
  7. Workload security. Assessing the security procedures implemented to protect virtualized servers, containers, functions, and other workloads running in the cloud.
  8. Detection. Evaluating cloud service and application logging and automated response to events. 

By comprehensively analyzing all of the aspects, cloud security experts get deep insight into the current state of your cloud environment and help you promptly mitigate the vulnerabilities.

What are the key benefits of cloud security assessment for businesses?

According to the Thales Cloud Security study, the number of enterprises that experienced a cloud security breach reached 39% over the last year. Building your resilience through cloud security risk assessments might help you avoid the consequences, such as reputational damage, regulatory fines, and loss of customer trust and confidence. What are the other advantages of proactively assessing your cloud security?

Vulnerability detection

Due to the scalable and complex nature of cloud infrastructure, the weak points in security in the cloud environment are constantly evolving. For instance, unprotected interfaces and APIs within cloud environments may lead to coding vulnerabilities and a lack of proper authentication mechanisms. By performing assessments, you can promptly identify these and other vulnerabilities in cloud infrastructure configurations, applications, and data storage. This enables organizations to proactively address the risks before they are exploited by cybercriminals.

Compliance assurance

Many industries, including healthcare, finance, legal, and others, have strict regulatory requirements for data protection and privacy. Security assessments of the cloud help organizations ensure compliance with regulations such as ISO, SOC 2, PCI DSS, etc. By identifying gaps in compliance, enterprises can take timely measures to meet regulatory standards.

Enhanced data protection

According to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach report, approximately 15% of data breaches originate from cloud misconfigurations. The leak of highly confidential business, financial and customer data can lead to severe financial losses, reputational damage and legal repercussions, so the protection of sensitive data stored in the cloud is of utmost importance. Cloud security assessments evaluate data encryption, access controls, and data management practices to ensure that data is adequately protected from unauthorized access or breaches.

Cost savings

Another major advantage for businesses is the mitigation of security-related financial losses. As estimated by IBM, the average cost of a security incident involving unauthorized access to data is around $4.4M. Investing in security assessments of your cloud environment can result in long-term cost savings by helping organizations avoid costly data breaches, downtime, and regulatory penalties. 

Benefits of cloud security assessment

Roadmap of cloud security assessment: 9 key steps

Depending on the tech vendor you partner with, cloud security risk assessment might consist of different stages. N-iX has long-standing cloud security expertise and during this time our experts have come up with a roadmap that helps us implement such projects successfully. Here's our roadmap outlining nine essential steps to effectively assess and enhance the security of your cloud infrastructure:

1. Outlining the assessment scope

At the initial stage of security assessment, the primary objective is to establish a scope for evaluation and a clear plan. To determine the areas of your assessment, N-iX’s cloud experts will first identify your cloud environment assets, as well as diagnose data repositories and configurations susceptible to security vulnerabilities. This involves conducting a comprehensive inventory of cloud resources, including virtual machines, storage accounts, databases, and networking components. 

2. Determining the security requirements and assessment planning

Once the scope is defined, N-iX’s cloud security experts will identify the specific security requirements for your cloud environment. During this phase, we assess your organization's regulatory compliance obligations, industry standards, and internal security policies. The security requirements serve as the foundation for designing and implementing robust security measures tailored to your organization's needs.

Furthermore, during this phase, our cloud team will outline the key goals of the assessment and determine the necessary resources for the process, such as tools, third-party services, or security professionals with specialized expertise.

3. Gathering information

Now, it's time to collect and document the information regarding your cloud environment's architecture, configuration, and usage patterns. This phase entails a detailed examination of cloud assets, services, and processes, including the data flows within the environment. By conducting a comprehensive analysis, our team can gain valuable insights into the security posture of your cloud infrastructure and develop targeted strategies to enhance resilience and mitigate risks.

4. Identifying the potential threats

The primary goal at this point is to analyze the gathered information and pinpoint the potential threats that could jeopardize the security of your cloud environment. Key aspects of this analysis usually include examining patterns and anomalies and assessing threats (both internal and external). For example, suppose your team notices a significant increase in failed login attempts to a critical cloud service over a short period. This pattern could indicate a brute force attack or an attempt by an unauthorized entity to gain access to sensitive data.

5. Evaluating security controls

When the threat analysis is complete, our experts move to the next step of security assessment—security controls evaluation. This stands for a comprehensive examination of various security measures such as access controls, encryption protocols, network security, as well as logging and monitoring mechanisms. If, for instance, we notice that access controls are not properly configured, allowing unauthorized users to access sensitive data, it could indicate a critical security vulnerability. Additionally, if encryption protocols are found to be outdated or improperly implemented, there may be a heightened risk of data interception or unauthorized tampering. At this stage, the main goal is to check whether the existing security measures are effectively designed, implemented, and functioning as intended. 

6. Testing the environment

At this stage, our team conducts comprehensive testing to ensure that there are no additional security risks or loopholes that can make an environment vulnerable to hackers. In most cases, this includes Static Application Security Testing (SAST) vulnerability assessments (both automated scans and manual inspections). Executing SAST vulnerability assessments on Infrastructure as Code codebases involves using specialized tools to analyze the code written for managing infrastructure. The goal is to identify security misconfigurations, which are settings or configurations that could potentially lead to security vulnerabilities or breaches. For example, misconfigurations might include leaving a cloud storage bucket publicly accessible, using weak encryption settings, or failing to properly configure network security groups.

7. Reviewing cloud compliance 

The next phase, cloud compliance review, focuses on ensuring that the cloud environment adheres to relevant regulatory requirements, industry standards, and internal security policies. N-iX's cloud security team can assess your compliance with GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOC 2, and other specific regulations, depending on the nature of the organization's operations and the type of data being handled. In addition, we will review your internal security policies, procedures, and guidelines to ensure they are consistent with cloud security best practices. 

8. Documentation and reporting

Once our security team completes the assessment phases, the next step is to compile comprehensive documentation and generate detailed reports for stakeholders on your cloud security posture. This phase consolidates the findings gathered throughout the assessment process into a structured format. 

9. Remediation and follow-up

At this stage of cloud security risk assessment, we have all the information necessary to develop and execute a remediation plan to address the detected security risks. The plan should include the prioritized list of vulnerabilities and their mitigation strategies. Usually, security remediation presupposes manual interventions, which are time-consuming and prone to human error. On the other hand, while going for automated remediation only, cloud security experts might face challenges such as the complexity of configurations, lack of contextual understanding, and others. Thus, N-iX experts typically combine manual interventions with automation to mitigate security risks effectively.

In addition, besides interventions, remediation measures can also include cloud security policy updates proposals to proactively improve security posture over time. During the remediation phase, our cloud specialists advise enterprises on creating or updating data encryption or access control policies.

After the remediation plan is executed, we continue to regularly monitor the cloud environment for emerging security threats, vulnerabilities, and compliance issues.

Cloud security assessment: The process roadmap

Challenges of cloud risk security assessment and how to mitigate them

If you are motivated to reinvent your cloud security strategy, you must be well-prepared for the potential pitfalls on the way. Tap into the most common challenges you might face and utilize the tested tips of N-iX experts to avoid them:

Complexity of cloud environments 

Cloud environments can be highly complex and dynamic, with a wide variety of services, configurations, and dependencies. For example, in a multi-cloud environment with services spanning AWS, Azure, and GCP, ensuring consistent security configurations and monitoring across all platforms can be daunting. This happens because of the diverse interfaces and management consoles involved. Due to their distributed nature and rapid pace of change, comprehensive assessment of these environments can be challenging.

N-iX's tip: We recommend approaching the cloud security risk assessment by breaking the process into smaller, more manageable steps. While assessing your cloud-native applications, our experts focus on critical areas first and gradually expand the scope. In addition, we utilize automation tools to streamline assessment processes and gain visibility into complex environments.

Lack of visibility and control

Compared to on-premises systems, cloud environments often lack visibility and control. According to the State of Cloud Security Maturity report, 52% of enterprises report limited visibility into their access settings and activities. As a result, this can lead to security blind spots and difficulties in enforcing security policies.

N-iX's tip: Implement robust cloud security tools that provide visibility into cloud infrastructure, applications, and data. Your cloud security partner can help you utilize security services offered by major cloud providers for enhanced control and monitoring. For instance, AWS offers AWS CloudTrail, a service that provides visibility into user activity and resource changes in AWS accounts. Similarly, GCP has a Cloud Audit Logs service, which views detailed information about operations performed on its resources. 

Shared responsibility model

While cloud providers are responsible for the physical security of the underlying infrastructure, the responsibility for securing data, applications, and configurations within the cloud falls primarily on the customer. This shared responsibility model can sometimes lead to regarding who is responsible for what aspects of security.

N-iX's tip: Only by clearly understanding which security measures are provided by the cloud provider and which ones need to be implemented, organizations can effectively protect their assets in the cloud. We recommend partnering with a reliable cloud security service vendor like N-iX and leverage their expertise to delineate these responsibilities.

Related: Top cloud security trends to protect your business in 2024

Wrap up

A thorough cloud security assessment is a proven strategy to safeguard against evolving threats and enhance cybersecurity posture. Despite the challenges posed by the complexity of cloud environments, lack of visibility and control, and the shared responsibility model, partnering with an experienced vendor like N-iX will let you mitigate these risks. By breaking down the assessment process into manageable steps, utilizing automation tools, and leveraging cloud security services, our experts will effectively address your security concerns and protect your assets in the cloud while you focus on core business processes. Contact us, and let's discuss how we can tailor a comprehensive cloud security assessment strategy to meet your specific needs!

Explore and mitigate your cloud security risks now

Have a question?

Speak to an expert
N-iX Staff
Andriy Varusha
Head of Cloud & Security

Required fields*

Table of contents