Cloud computing has transformed the way organizations operate, providing unparalleled flexibility, scalability, and cost-efficiency. However, with these benefits come new security challenges and emerging risks. As organizations increasingly move their operations to the cloud, ensuring the security and privacy of data has become more critical than ever. A robust cloud penetration testing program helps internal IT teams protect their organizations by identifying and mitigating security risks in the cloud.

A pitfall organizations face when building a cloud pentesting strategy is handling rapid cloud migration. An application hosted on-prem will have significantly different security requirements from one in the cloud. Cloud security controls can often be more complex with intricate nuances. Another pitfall is assuming that cloud services are secure by default. Even though the cloud provider manages some aspects around security, organizations still have a responsibility to understand what exactly is within their control to secure. Sometimes the default settings from the cloud provider are not always the most secure for every environment. This differs from a traditional security program because of the shared responsibility or “shared fate” model.

With this model in mind, organizations need to look at the key components of a comprehensive cloud penetration testing program in light of their business objectives to implement a secure cloud effectively.

Best Practices to Create a Cloud Penetration Testing Program 

Creating a secure cloud is a complex undertaking with decisions that need to be tailored to your business goals and tech stack. Thomas Elling and the Cloud Pentesting team have compiled three aspects of creating a cloud pentesting program that will help any team incorporate security protocols from ideation to deployment.

1. Building a secure cloud from the start 

Making security-conscious design decisions from the start of a cloud adoption helps IT teams avoid retroactive decisions that result in rework and disjointed integration of technologies. It’s important to consider this from a human element and a technical one. For example, from the human lens, consider partnering security engineers and pentesters with DevOps groups to create secure by default environments. Whereas from a technical standpoint, consider using Infrastructure as Code (IaC) adoption to help enforce a security baseline.

2. Performing regular configuration reviews and pentesting 

Regular configuration reviews and cloud pentesting exercises are extremely valuable because of their ability to focus remediation efforts on prioritized vulnerabilities. Identifying security misconfigurations is a critical first step to securing an environment, which makes configuration reviews so imperative. They should be done on a regular basis to identify factors such as inadvertent public access or excessive IAM permissions.

Pentesting is another integral part of cloud security which aims to demonstrate the impact of the identified misconfigurations. This often includes chaining misconfigurations together to prove privilege escalation. The key difference between this and a typical configuration review is the fact that pentests leverage misconfigurations to demonstrate the potential impact of a successful attack. Oftentimes, the full impact of a misconfiguration is not fully understood until it is paired with one or more other vulnerabilities in the environment.

3. Establishing security guardrails 

Guardrails are sets of automated policies and controls that are designed to prevent or mitigate security risks and ensure compliance with security standards and regulations. Results of configuration reviews and pentests should always be discussed to identify the root cause. If a vulnerability was introduced via configuration drift, one preventative action would be implementing a security guardrail to ensure that misconfigurations cannot be introduced in the future.

Whether your cloud infrastructure resides in AWS, Azure, or GCP, these three fundamentals will help internal teams build — and maintain — a secure cloud from all angles.

Refine Your Cloud Pentesting Program with NetSPI

These steps represent some of the basic ways to create a security-first cloud environment through regular review processes. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, these points can be modified to fit any cloud environment. Ultimately, organizations should prioritize remediation of vulnerabilities with a risk-based approach.

Environments that carry higher risk, such as ones that deal with sensitive data or may have external exposure, would be candidates for more frequent reviews. One factor that could trigger a review is any fundamental change made by the cloud provider to a core service.

However, this is not to say that lower risk environments, like a dev environment with test data, is not important.  Escalation paths from dev environments into production can be extremely impactful. Lastly, organizations looking to build out and strengthen their cloud pentesting programs need to investigate the root cause of identified vulnerabilities in order to ensure that the same, or similar, issues do not happen again.

Working with a penetration testing partner to enhance cloud security can help streamline efforts and deliver value quickly. As a leader in offensive security, NetSPI helps companies establish and enhance their secure cloud strategies. Contact our security consultants to get started on a strong cloud penetration testing program.