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Managing Cloud Risks with Continuous Control Monitoring

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By Prasad Sabbineni, Co-CEO, MetricStream

Cloud security controls play a pivotal role in bolstering an organization’s cloud security and compliance stance. However, implementing these controls is just the beginning of the process. To ensure ongoing safety, it is imperative to validate that these controls are operating as intended. Continuous Control Monitoring (CCM) emerges as a crucial tool in helping organizations identify security control gaps and consistently mitigate potential threats.

Here’s a deep dive into how Continuous Cloud Monitoring benefits cloud risk and compliance functions.

An overview of the cloud risk landscape

Over the last few years, companies worldwide have made a significant shift towards embracing cloud computing. The pandemic and the hybrid work culture have only accelerated this transition. According to a Gartner study, 95% of new digital workloads are expected to be deployed on cloud-native platforms by 2025. This is hardly surprising, given the numerous benefits it offers including increased flexibility, enhanced security, and improved operational efficiency, all at reduced capital costs. Infact cloud computing is known to generate substantial savings with many small and medium businesses (SMBs) reporting average cost reductions of about 36%. This is because cloud computing eliminates the need for businesses to purchase and maintain expensive hardware and software. It also allows businesses to pay for only the resources they use, which can save them money on their IT costs.

While most companies prioritize cloud security, the features that make cloud services beneficial are often targeted for malicious use by threat actors. Threat actors often exploit cloud services’ potential vulnerabilities, with even minor misconfigurations leading to system breaches.

According to the 2023 Thales Cloud security study, about 39% of businesses have experienced a data breach in their cloud environment this year, marking an increase from the 35% reported in 2022.

While Cloud service providers (CSP) offer a certain degree of security with their services, they do not cover the entire threat and risk landscape, as some organizations may mistakenly believe. Areas such as misconfigurations, patch management, access controls, insider threats are still the responsibility of the companies availing the CSP services. Therefore it is essential for the company’s risk management team to have oversight and ensure complete infrastructure security.

Cloud Security Controls and their Challenges

Cloud security controls are a vital set of tools that risk professionals use to keep their organizations safe from threats and vulnerabilities. These controls serve as a safeguard against malicious attacks, insecure APIs, third-party vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and more. However, managing cloud security controls can be a daunting task, given the multitude of controls in play. There are controls for access, password policies, key management, data encryption, two-factor authentication, and automated data backups, among others.

Organizations also use cloud security controls for compliance management. Some controls monitor a multitude of standards, frameworks, and regulations that cloud based companies must adhere to. Organizations must test and monitor these cloud security controls to ensure they work as intended. Manually testing each cloud security control or relying on electronic document management and can be time consuming, resource-intensive, error-prone, expensive, and often ineffective, especially given today’s fast-paced environment.

The Role of Continuous Control Monitoring

CCM aids in real-time risk management, helping manage risk and compliance with required regulations, standards and frameworks. Given the vastness and complexity of data, IT assets, networks and applications in modern organizations, monitoring controls can be a daunting task if done manually. The sphere of Continuous Control Monitoring extends beyond compliance management to areas of vulnerability management, threat intelligence, and IT & SOC operations. The core objective of a CCM framework is to frequently assess the status of controls and minimize risk.

CCM is an excellent assessment framework that constantly checks whether controls are working as intended. In today’s rapidly evolving risk landscape, a robust risk management program is nearly impossible to envision without the incorportation of Continuous Control Monitoring. In most cases, CCM results can trigger actionable insights to address immediate security concerns thereby enhancing security and operational efficiency. CCM recognizes hidden misconfigurations, and unauthorized actions, providing broader coverage, quicker results, and higher accuracy compared to conventional manual setups.

Benefits of Continuous Cloud Monitoring

With the growing risk of cloud security threats and increased compliance requirements, CCM offers several advantages to organizations:

Maximum Efficiency: As CCM is automated, it can conduct a higher number of cloud control tests in less time. It detects anomalies faster with nominal human intervention, allowing IT and security teams more time to focus on other high-impact tasks.

Cost Savings : Integrated CCM results in considerable resource savings. By detecting security issues at an early stage, organizations can reduce remediation costs.

Improved Cloud Security & Compliance: CCM offers constant updates on whether controls are configured correctly and are aligned with compliance requirements. This reduces the likelihood of failures due to human error, enhancing stakeholder confidence in the organization’s cloud security.

Enhanced Agility: With Continuous Cloud Monitoring, organizations can gain a comprehensive insight into their control environment. In case of a risk event, organizations can quickly implement mitigation measures, staying one step ahead of security risks.

How to Set Up a Robust Control Continuous Monitoring System

Below are the primary steps to get a CCM up and running:

Set up/Identify Cloud Security Controls: Before launching CCM, one must define and create controls within the system. Risk professionals must link these cloud security controls to assets, corresponding risks, regulations and testing processes.

Select Automated Tests: Choose automated tests that are best suited to check wether cloud security controls are adequate and working as intended.

Specify the Frequency: Decide on the frequency of performing cloud security control tests. It could either be a continuous process or could happen at intervals. Continuous monitoring is recommended to ensure that cloud security controls remain under constant surveillance

Final Thoughts
Organizations looking to improve their cloud risk posture should move from traditional manual, sample-based testing methods to modern technology-enabled practices. CCM is a continuous, automated approach that makes testing and monitoring of cloud security controls fast, simple, and effective. It enables the agility and adaptability needed to stay ahead of cloud risks in a rapidly changing risk landscape.

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