Cloud Security in the Face of COVID-19: Problems and Solutions
June 18, 2020

Mark Moore
Threat Stack

The start of 2020 was an extremely turbulent time as the world dealt with the spread of COVID-19 and businesses globally shifted to a fully remote work environment on an extremely abbreviated timeline. This situation has had a downstream effect on security teams that were suddenly and unexpectedly forced to deal with dramatic changes to their environment.

The Threat Stack Security Operations Center (SOC) recently pulled together research into how businesses are managing their cloud infrastructure since the COVID-19 quarantine began and identified some interesting trends that stood out to me.

AWS Systems Manager Usage Growing

AWS continues to develop its Systems Manager service (SSM) as a powerful automation multi-tool, and users are noticing. SSM usage in Q1 2020 saw a major uptick but there are a few best practices in managing the tool:

Mitigate Automation Risk by Tuning Permissions and Access Controls – SSM Session Manager and SSM Run Command are two features whose activity manifests itself differently in the underlying event metadata. SSM Run Command lets users automate a range of predefined configuration tasks across EC2 instances and currently offers 36 Command Documents that are prebuilt to speed common admin tasks like configuring Docker or updating EC2 settings. Because they are for system admin use, they run with admin-level permissions. SSM gets a lot of permissions by necessity as an automation tool. By default, it creates a user with root privileges: ssm-user on your EC2 hosts. Disabling this admin user might be an option, depending on your use case.

Get granular with Identity Access Management (IAM) – These features can create problems for security teams if IAM permissions are not finely scoped down to the individual components of SSM. There are several IAM managed policies specific to SSM, and the documentation provides further examples for writing your own identity-based policies.

Security Teams Showing Lax Kubernetes Security

While growth in Kubernetes usage isn't new, security teams are increasingly losing sight of the security risks that are present when using microservices. For instance, load balancers serving as Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) Ingress Controls default security settings are not adequate for all businesses. Rather than relying on AWS to protect critical business data, including cleaning up permissions every 90 days, organizations should proactively remove them once the load balancer is no longer used.

It should be noted that EKS clusters also use the Amazon VPC CNI plugin for Kubernetes, allowing it to represent pods on the VPC itself. This isn't enough to support Kubernetes network policies without additional manual integration of Calico. Moreover, because of how the CNI maps down to the host's ENIs, the CNI can only support one security group per node. This can potentially create problems when EKS schedules unrelated pods on the same node.

Immediate, Widescale Multi-Factor Authentication

Faced with the prospect of their entire workforce now accessing applications and sensitive business data remotely, many organizations decided to either rollout or expand multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA adoption is a net-positive for businesses and provides dividends even after workers return to the office.

However, the speed with which many organizations were forced to roll out MFA led to a large number of users who were not provisioned properly or employees having either too much or too little access to corporate information. Either scenario isn't ideal as productivity is being inhibited and businesses can be exposed to unnecessary risk.

Changes in Behavior Complicate Security Investigations

As remote workers are signing on from new IPs, from different locations, or outside typical working hours, security teams are forced to confirm that what used to be normal behavior is still expected. It's important for IT and Security leaders to understand their cloud environment by baselining what is normal expected behavior and what could be deemed suspicious.

The beginning of 2020 was a time of rapid and unexpected change for security teams globally that demanded flexibility and creative problem solving. More of the same can be expected moving forward and businesses begin re-opening their offices. Security teams should be focusing on ensuring that their teams are set up for success and are able to monitor their cloud environment, identify suspicious behavior, and take meaningful action to remediate threats and reduce risk.

Mark Moore is Senior Software Security Engineer at Threat Stack
Share this

Industry News

January 13, 2022

Infragistics announced the release of Infragistics Ultimate 21.2.

January 13, 2022

Jitterbit acquired PrimeApps, a Turkey-based innovator in low-code application development.

January 13, 2022

Mirantis announced the release of Mirantis Secure Registry (MSR) 3.0, which supports usage across any Kubernetes distribution.

January 12, 2022

DevOps Institute announced its lineup for 2022 events and webinars and plans for two new DevOps certifications.

January 12, 2022

Oxeye unveiled an open-source initiative with the introduction of Ox4Shell.

January 12, 2022

Quali Torque platform is now available to Microsoft Azure users on the Azure Marketplace.

January 11, 2022

CircleCI announced a free tier for CI/CD.

January 11, 2022

GlobalLogic, a Hitachi Group Company, announced availability of OpeNgine version 2.1.

January 11, 2022

The Application Security Division of NTT introduced the next phase of The WhiteHat Vantage Platform, Vantage Prevent, a patented solution that enables enterprises to conduct dynamic application security testing (DAST) at each phase of the development cycle and prevent exploitable vulnerabilities from reaching production.

January 10, 2022

BrowserStack announced the acquisition of Nightwatch.js, the open-source test automation framework.

January 06, 2022

BMC announced new capabilities and integrations across its BMC AMI (Automated Mainframe Intelligence) and BMC Compuware portfolios.

January 06, 2022

ShiftLeft announced that its Intelligent-SCA product added scanning and attackability analysis for JavaScript (JS) and the TypeScript (TS) language to the ShiftLeft CORE platform.

January 06, 2022

Progress announced the latest release of Progress Fiddler Everywhere, its popular web debugging proxy tool.

January 05, 2022

Solo.io announced a new open-source project, BumbleBee, that simplifies the developer experience for building, packaging, and distributing eBPF tools.

January 05, 2022

Forty8Fifty Labs and Old Street Solutions announced that they are partnering in the development and delivery of solutions that simplify the collaboration and use of Atlassian Jira and Confluence.