The Ultimate Cloud Security Checklist: How to Protect Your Brand's Data

The Ultimate Cloud Security Checklist: How to Protect Your Brand's Data

The cloud revolution is here. The flexibility, scalability, and cost savings of cloud computing have led businesses of all sizes to migrate operations to the cloud. By 2025, Gartner estimates that over 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms.

But this monumental shift is not without risks. High-profile data breaches like the Capital One hack serve as sobering reminders that the cloud introduces new attack surfaces and vulnerabilities. A recent survey showed that 93% of organizations acknowledge that moving to the cloud has expanded their security attack surface.

So, as your business looks to embrace cloud and hybrid cloud architectures, security must take center stage. Robust cloud security is now imperative to protect your data, maintain availability, ensure compliance, and safeguard your brand reputation.

This ultimate cloud security checklist will help you secure your cloud environments and sensitive data. It outlines pragmatic steps to harden your cloud security posture across the full IT stack - from access controls and network security to encryption, cloud configurations, and incident response.

Conduct a Comprehensive Security Review

Before discussing specific security controls, starting with a comprehensive review of your cloud deployment is wise. This will allow you to fully understand potential vulnerabilities and create a solid game plan for hardening cloud security.

A key first step is taking inventory of all cloud assets. Document every cloud service, resource, account, and configuration in use. This will illuminate any shadow IT or assets that might be flying under the radar without proper security measures.

Next, carefully analyze who has access to what in your cloud environment. Are roles and permissions overly broad? Is anything unintentionally left open to the public? You want to ensure permissions are set up with least privilege in mind.

It's also important to examine how your cloud resources are networked. Assess the network traffic flows between cloud services and on-prem infrastructure. Look for risks like open ports, unprotected APIs, and exposed credentials.

Audit what security tools and platforms you currently have in place across SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. Do you have all the puzzle pieces for visibility, data loss prevention, cloud backups, monitoring, encryption, and malware protection? Identify any capability gaps.

Make sure to comb through activity logs in each cloud service, watching for red flags like unusual source IP addresses, spikes in volume, or privileged actions by abnormal users. These could hint at a breach.

Moreover, review compliance! Check that your current security posture meets any relevant regulatory mandates and internal policies related to your data and industry.

A careful security review illuminates your true cloud risk profile. Use these insights to build security roadmaps that address any shortcomings discovered.

Implement a Secure Access Service Edge

A secure access service edge (SASE) is an excellent solution for locking down access to your cloud apps and resources. SASE converges networking and security into a single, cloud-native service.

First, SASE enables true zero-trust network access. This means users are only allowed access based on identity and context, such as device security posture. Any lateral movement between cloud environments can also be locked down.

In addition, SASE shifts key security controls, such as firewalls and malware protection, into the cloud, ensuring consistent protection for all cloud and web traffic.

Since the network perimeter disappears in the cloud, SASE uses an identity-centric approach. Security controls are applied based on user identity, not network location.

SASE also allows you to funnel all web and internet traffic through the platform. This way, you can enforce unified security, compliance, and governance policies.

By deploying SASE infrastructure close to users, you avoid backhauling traffic and maintain performance.

It is important to note that SASE offers centralized network security management and access via a single dashboard. This unified view and control is critical for distributed cloud environments.

Control Access with Least Privilege

Overly permissive permissions are one of the top causes of cloud data breaches. That's why a least privilege access model is critical - where users are only granted the bare minimum access they need to do their jobs. The following are some key approaches to gain control access with least privilege:

  • Leverage role-based access control (RBAC): Create permission sets in each cloud service mapping to organizational roles. Assign users to appropriate roles.
  • Configure just-in-time (JIT) access: Require temporary secondary approval to gain privileged access to resources. JIT access expires automatically after the set time limit.
  • Block public access: Disable public access to cloud resources like S3 buckets and Azure storage accounts unless explicitly required.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA): Require employees and administrators to use MFA for cloud access and actions like console logins, resource manipulation, and data plane requests.
  • Monitor entitlements: Continuously monitor user permissions with tools like Skyhigh Enterprise and Saviynt to detect privilege creep and risky users.
  • Federate access: Connect cloud access to centralized identity providers like Azure AD to maintain a unified access model and simplify revocation.

The least privilege protects your data against both external and insider threats by restricting unnecessary access.

Protect Data End-to-End

As data moves to the cloud, it can flow across networks, sit on shared infrastructure, spread across multiple services, and face new potential threats. Comprehensive data protection is a must.

Let's start with getting visibility. Use a cloud data discovery tool to classify sensitive information across your cloud footprint. Identify where customer data, financial files, and intellectual property reside to know what needs protection.

Data loss prevention controls should be implemented when sharing data outside the organization. For example, Dropbox should block the external sharing of confidential product designs, and Salesforce should restrict the emailing of customer lists.

Rights management is excellent for maintaining control over documents. Encrypt and attach permissions to sales reports before they leave your Google Drive, preventing recipients from downloading or altering them.

Get protection rights in your databases, too. Swap out credit card numbers stored in Amazon RDS for randomized tokens using a tokenization service. This removes plain text payment data that could be stolen.

Backups are your insurance policy against disasters like ransomware. Ensure proprietary engineering data in Azure Blob storage is backed up to an isolated and access-controlled vault. Moreover, encryption should be ubiquitous - mandate encryption of financial records at rest and in transit across all your Google Cloud Platform services and integrations.

Before analyzing HR data with Amazon Redshift, use data obfuscation to mask sensitive fields like names, addresses, and SSNs. This reduces privacy risks.

With some thoughtful planning, you can close gaps and reduce risk as data moves across cloud environments. The cloud offers great power but also great responsibility when it comes to data security.

Harden Cloud Configurations

Cloud services offer hundreds of configurable features and settings related to security, access, encryption, logging, and more. Harden cloud configurations by:

  • Enabling logging/monitoring: Extensively log user activity, API calls, policy changes, sign-in events, data access, etc. Centralize logs for analysis and feed them into monitoring tools.
  • Removing unnecessary services: Delete unused cloud computing instances, storage objects, databases, serverless functions, and other resources that can provide a foothold for attackers.
  • Closing open ports/protocols: Only allow network protocols explicitly required for business needs, such as SSH, RDP, and SQL.
  • Applying encryption defaults: Leverage options like S3 object encryption and EBS volume encryption to transparently encrypt data at rest.
  • Enforcing MFA: At minimum require MFA for account logins and elevation of privileges in cloud consoles and APIs.
  • Using virtual private clouds: Isolate cloud networks from the public internet via private subnets in virtual private clouds. Limit public IP assignment.
  • Securing administrator accounts: Use separate privileged accounts for administration. It requires secure workstations and MFA for admin access.

Automate security scanning tools that check for misconfigurations on a rolling basis across your cloud footprint.

Adopt Cloud Security Posture Management

Posture management tools are invaluable for maintaining cloud security. CSPM provides 24/7 visibility into risks across cloud environments.

For starters, CSPM continuously runs security audits of your cloud configurations, looking for potential issues like open ports or weak password policies. This automated monitoring identifies problems before attackers do.

CSPM also tracks compliance with any regulatory mandates you face. For example, it can scan your Azure environment and validate that controls needed for HIPAA and PCI compliance are in place.

These tools will also hunt for software vulnerabilities in your cloud resources, containers, and code. They will determine if you have any exploitable weaknesses before adversaries exploit them.

Using analytics, CSPM can detect potential threats and compromised accounts based on unusual activity. For instance, it can flag when an IAM user suddenly downloads terabytes of data they usually wouldn't access.

A key benefit of CSPM is combining security insights across cloud providers into unified dashboards. Rather than checking AWS, GCP, and Azure consoles separately, you have a single pane of glass.

Top solutions like Microsoft Defender for Cloud, Palo Alto Prisma, and Dome9 Arc make CSPM accessible. To remediate any issues discovered quickly, be sure to integrate with your ticket management system.

With continuous CSPM, you can achieve end-to-end cloud security visibility, identify weaknesses, and strengthen your posture.

Prepare for Cloud Security Incidents

Despite best efforts, cloud security incidents will inevitably occur. Develop cloud incident response playbooks that define roles, procedures, communications protocols, and tools to quickly isolate, investigate, and recover from incidents like data theft, service hijacking, and ransomware.

Key elements include:

  • Incident classification: Define severity grades like low, medium, and high to set expectations for escalation and reporting.
  • Escalation protocols: Depending on the type and severity of the incident, specify mechanisms for involving company leadership, legal, PR, and external resources.
  • Cloud service contacts: Maintain points of contact for security teams at each major cloud provider used by your organization.
  • Forensics capabilities: Retain forensic experts who can investigate and analyze cloud infrastructure and applications following an incident.
  • Backup recovery: Maintain recent backups of critical cloud data, configurations, and custom code to enable recovery.
  • Communications: Define templates for internal memos and external disclosures to customers, partners, and media.
  • Testing: Conduct tabletop exercises to validate the effectiveness of incident response plans.

Robust cloud incident response reduces recovery times and mitigates reputational damage when incidents strike your cloud footprint.


The cloud enables unprecedented business agility and scale but also introduces new security, governance, and compliance challenges. This comprehensive cloud security checklist will help you migrate to the cloud and protect your brand by reducing data loss, service disruption, and regulatory non-compliance risks.