Understanding The Principles Of Least Privilege For Improved Cloud Security

Understanding The Principles Of Least Privilege For Improved Cloud Security

By Mitchel Jordon | Tech Contributor on December 3, 2020
cloud security cloud certification technology

Cloud security is an important concern for organizations that rely on a wide gamut of cloud solutions to undertake their business. While there is no magic formula to follow when securing a company’s cloud infrastructure, an essential principle can be attributed as the prime foundation for effective cloud security practices.

This vital element is referred to as the principles of least privilege (POLP), which is paramount to keeping your cloud environment secure. Read on further to know in detail about this important principle and its significance for cloud security:

What is POLP? 

The basic concept of this principle states that a user or individual should only be given access to those privileges or applications needed to complete their task. Simply put, if a user does not need access to something, you should not give it.

Now that the majority of work is conducted remotely, this principle is more important now than ever. Yet somehow, something as simple as this principle often gets overlooked in a cloud environment, and there are no fine-tuned strategies in place to implement the principle in practice.

Why the Principles of Least Privilege Matters for Cloud Security?

 Before you start using cloud tools and services, you should carefully consider how much access you grant on the cloud. If users get access over and above their needs, it can lead to detrimental consequences of data breaches, identity thefts, and other security risks.

Most of the cloud account privileges and permissions are typically configured around predefined roles, consisting of pre-packaged sets of permissions. Companies usually stick to the convenience of these predefined permissions that they fail to investigate what they constitute. In most cases, you are likely to find that these predefined roles offer more privileges and capabilities than necessary.

For example, while the Amazon ReadOnlyAccess role, or the Azure Reader role or the GCP roles/viewer role offers the convenience of onboarding quickly, it exposes you to several vulnerabilities than you can imagine. You end up granting all of your users a good view of the cloud platform, and it’s almost like you are inviting all for the party; even gate-crashers can come in and have a good look at all your confidential file cabinets (if you don’t have a distinct bucket policy).

How to Apply POLP to your Cloud Infrastructure?

The basic idea of least privilege is very simple – everyone has only access to what they need to perform their job, and everybody is happy. However, identifying the least privileges required for every digital identity (machine or human) is one of the most challenging tasks of implementing the principle in cloud infrastructure security.

That too, in a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environment and for large-scale organizations, it becomes even more cumbersome to put POLP in practice.

Here are key steps you can take to maintain the state of least privilege:

1. Discover 

  • Scout for inactive identities and groups to remove them from your accounts
  • Look for over-provisioned active identities and right-size permissions where needed
  • Detect super-identities with permissions equivalent to root access or administrator and right-size
  • Getting the high-level visibility of permissions across all your cloud infrastructure
  • Compare logs and identity activity for permissions and identify what permissions are used and when

2. Manage 

  • Create least privileges roles based on a common set of permissions used by a group of identities
  • Limit the scope of identities to the resources they have accessed in the last 90 days or so
  • Treat non-human identities with additional oversight

3. Monitor 

  • Identify permissions that are required for short periods and implement appropriate workflow or automation to provide these permissions for only a fixed period
  • Implement on-demand or just-in-time processes to escalate permissions or privileges on specific cloud infrastructure resources and reduce the impact of restricted privileges

4. Respond 

  • Investigate any anomalous activities by identities, and particularly unusual usage or attempted usage of privileges and leverage auto-remediation solutions to respond

5. Report

  • Treat POLP as a continuous process to continuously monitor for privilege creep and generate reports to schedule timely insights
  • Ensure continuous monitoring and compliance controls are in place across the entire cloud infrastructure

There can be thousands of permissions to manage across multiple cloud platforms, and the numbers are growing by the day. You might not be able to handle a humongous load of permissions with Legacy POLP enforcement models of role-based access and other labor-intensive manual processes.

The need of the hour is to implement least privilege principles using automated cloud security solutions that continuously help you decipher, manage, monitor, respond, and report permissions and privileges effectively. As a result, you will find that POLP can be well within your reach and help you lay the foundation of a heightened level of cloud security in practice.


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