The way you respond to cybersecurity incidents in the cloud dictates how much of an impact these events have on your business. Here’s everything you need to know, including best practices, for effective cloud incident response.
What is Cloud Incident Response?
Incident response in the cloud refers to the plans, processes, and procedures used to detect, analyse, and mitigate security incidents occurring within cloud environments. This includes public cloud services your business might use and share with other companies (e.g. AWS or Azure), private clouds reserved only for your company’s use or a hybrid of both.
Cloud IR involves a coordinated effort to handle security breaches, data compromises, or other unforeseen security events in cloud infrastructures, platforms, or software services. Activities in cloud IR encompass a range of activities from initial detection and notification, through investigation and analysis, to containment, eradication, recovery, and post-incident reviews to prevent future similar incidents.
How is Cloud Incident Response different to traditional Incident Response?
Cloud incident response differs from traditional cyber incident response primarily due to the architectural and operational differences between cloud and on-premises environments.
In cloud environments, a shared responsibility model between the cloud provider and the customer dictates the security obligations of the provider and its users. This delineation of responsibilities varies based on the cloud service model (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS).
On top of shared responsibility, cloud environments are usually far more dynamic, with resources being provisioned or scaled on-demand. Ephemeral resources and rapidly changing infrastructures complicate responses. Also, data might reside across various global data centres, which adds more complexity to incident investigations.
Visibility is also a big difference. In on-premise IT environments, you have full control and visibility over physical hardware, networks, and data. You can deploy any tool, probe any system, and inspect any traffic. However, in cloud environments, the cloud service provider owns and manages the underlying infrastructure so you typically don’t have the same granular visibility into lower-level system and network activities.
Governance in traditional environments is often well-established with clear boundaries since all assets are usually on-premises and under your control. Different cloud services will have varying configuration options, security controls, and access management features, making consistent governance in diverse and dynamic environments more challenging than with static, on-premises setups.
The benefits of Cloud Incident Response
Cloud incident response provides clear benefits that strengthen the security posture and resilience of companies that have migrated some or all of their IT workloads to cloud environments. Despite the different nature of cloud IR versus on-premise, the benefits are similar:
- Fast and efficient cloud IR minimizes damage to important data.
- Effective incident response helps you quickly restore normal operations and workloads to reduce downtime and operational impacts.
- Having a structured incident response assists with meeting legal and regulatory requirements when it comes to timely breach notifications.
- With a proper response plan in place, decision-makers have a clear framework to guide their actions, reduce chaos, and avoid panic-driven decisions.
- Demonstrating resilience and capability in incident handling reassures employees, shareholders, customers, and partners about your company’s cybersecurity commitment.
The challenges of Cloud IR
Cloud security incident response brings a unique set of challenges distinct from traditional cyber incident response in on-premises environments. Architectural complexity is one such challenge—cloud environments often span multiple services and service providers (in fact, one survey found 89 per cent of companies use a multi-cloud approach). Integration, logging format and mechanisms, monitoring, and access control can pose unique challenges in such an environment. Understanding the interaction between these services, users, and event/log data can be complex.
On the topic of logs, cloud environments can generate vast amounts of log data, the cost of which retrieving and storing quickly gets expensive. Effective log management requires planning and fine-tuning which in turn necessitates personnel skilled in the particular cloud environment and native tools, potentially adding further cost in training, hiring or outsourcing. To learn more, you can download our free guide to cloud security.
Some of the data in serverless architectures or transient resources like containers might be temporary, so you get less visibility than with on-premise environments. These resources can be switched off rapidly, which sometimes makes it challenging to gather forensic data from a compromised resource.
Misconfigurations in Identity and Access Management (IAM) can lead to unauthorised access to cloud environments, especially when you’re running a multi-cloud strategy. Understanding these permissions can be complex at the best of times, but it’s even harder during a high-pressure incident response scenario.
Lastly, there’s often a skills gap to contend with when it comes to the role of incident responders. Cloud technologies evolve rapidly, and there’s a shortage of professionals trained in cloud-specific security skills like incident response.
The first step in any cloud IR programme is to build a structure for your response in the cloud. A cloud IR framework sets out response policies, procedures, and processes tailored to the characteristics of cloud ecosystems. Your framework should include at a minimum:
- Roles and responsibilities of the IRT and wider business
- Preparing to respond to incidents
- How you plan to identify and alert about incidents
- Containment, eradication and recovery processes
- Communication and coordination plans
- A post-incident analysis that includes maintaining detailed documentation and outlining lessons learned
- Legal and compliance considerations including notification obligations and evidence handling.
- Training requirements
For inspiration, you could take a look at publications like NIST’s Special Publication 800-61 and adapt its principles to the challenges of cloud environments. Cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud offer documentation, whitepapers, and best practices on security and incident response tailored to their platforms.
Best practices for Cloud IR
Some best practices for incident response in the cloud are:
- Use cloud-native monitoring and logging tools. Records of events are crucial for detecting, investigating, and analysing incidents. Ensure you store logs securely, with a sufficient retention period.
- Create a cloud-specific incident response plan. Regularly review and update the plan to account for changes in the cloud environment, and ensure relevant stakeholders are familiar with their roles in responding to cloud incidents.
- Conduct regular simulation exercises or tabletop drills to validate your cloud incident response processes. These cloud incident response training exercises help in identifying gaps and properly preparing for real incidents.
- Cloud environments can benefit from automation, especially for quickly containing and remediating common types of incidents. Use cloud-native tools and functions to implement response automation where possible.
- Cloud providers regularly introduce new security services, tools, and features. Stay updated and use these capabilities to strengthen your incident response posture.
- Document every step taken during the incident response process. This not only aids in post-incident analysis but also supports your compliance and regulatory needs.
- Consider working with third-party incident response suppliers or Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) that specialize in cloud incident response. Third parties can provide valuable expertise and supplement your internal capabilities.
- After a cybersecurity incident in the cloud, conduct a thorough review to identify root causes, evaluate the effectiveness of the response, and determine ways to improve future responses and mitigate risks.
Creating a Cloud Incident Response Plan
Creating an effective cloud incident response plan is one of the main contributors to a coordinated and timely response.
Define clear roles and responsibilities in this plan by specifying who does what during an incident. Establish a cloud incident response team with designated roles such as incident manager, communications lead, and technical lead.
Identify and prioritise cloud assets. Know what categories of data you store in the cloud. Then, define what constitutes an incident in your cloud environment and categorise possible incidents based on severity and potential impact.
In the cloud IR plan, make sure you establish clear communication channels for internal stakeholders and external parties. Decide when and how to notify customers, partners, regulatory bodies, or the public.
Use native cloud tools for logging, monitoring, and alerting and make sure you understand the functions each tool serves in incident response. Also, detail how you’ll detect, validate, and analyse incidents, such as setting up alert thresholds and integrating with Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions.
Lastly, train all relevant personnel on the plan, its updates, and cloud-specific nuances.
Tools Used and Examples
Cloud incident response calls for specialised tools that help your security team detect, manage, analyse, and respond to security incidents in cloud environments. Here are some of the main types of tools along with examples of specific solutions:
Log management and SIEM
Logs capture a detailed record of events, interactions, and activities within a cloud environment whereas SIEM tools consolidate these logs and correlate data to make it easier to detect anomalies, investigate incidents, and maintain compliance. Examples of tools that fit in this category include:
- AWS CloudTrail for recording AWS API calls.
- Azure Monitor for monitoring and analysing events in Azure and other environments.
- Splunk Cloud for cloud-specific SIEM capabilities.
Timely detection of threats minimizes the damage from attacks like cloud ransomware. Useful tools for this include:
- AWS GuardDuty for threat detection.
- Azure Security Center for unified security monitoring of virtual machines and other computing resources.
- Google Cloud Security Command Center to identify vulnerabilities and threats.
Incident management and orchestration
When incidents occur, it’s important that you can coordinate and swiftly respond to them. These tools facilitate structured response processes to minimize response times and maximise efficiency.
- PagerDuty for incident alert management.
- Opsgenie is an incident management tool.
- TheHive manages and analyses security incidents.
- Phantom (by Splunk) provides security orchestration and automation.
Automation and scripting
Automation reduces manual tasks for incident response in the cloud to ensure rapid and consistent responses to security incidents. Scripting allows for custom solutions tailored to unique needs, risks, and events.
- AWS Lambda runs code in response to events.
- Azure Logic Apps automates workflows and integrates services.
As companies increasingly migrate to the cloud, understanding the nuances of responding to incidents in cloud environments becomes paramount. Embracing visibility challenges, mastering governance intricacies, and understanding the shared responsibility model are essential. Above all, implementing a solid plan and understanding the best practices will get you on the right track.
Cloud Incident Response services
Evalian’s incident response services provide you with expert consultants well-versed in cloud incident response. Our team can help strengthen your cloud incident response with custom cyber incident tabletop exercises, effective planning, and an assessment against best practices. Contact our friendly, expert team today for a chat about your requirements.