Blog | Mar 06, 2020

Castles in the Cloud: How to Take Your Business Kingdom Off-Prem with Confidence

Originally posted in Devops.com February 28, 2020

Cloud transformation requires migrating all or part of an organization’s virtual assets off-premises, typically to a public cloud. This enables greater efficiency and cost savings, among other benefits, but it brings heightened risk as well. At the same time, many organizations moving to the cloud don’t fully understand the implications in terms of security. Consequently, successful cloud migration requires a shift in mindset.

A Medieval Metaphor for Cloud Infrastructure

Think of your organization as a kingdom surrounded and protected by a castle. Traditionally, this castle would be outfitted with defensive layers designed to protect the residents, the royal family and the possessions within. Protection of the castle is straightforward. A moat surrounds the castle with drop bridges in and out at strategic points (firewalls).

In addition, guards are stationed at each entry point, conducting a thorough inspection of the people, carts and the content that they carry both in and out of the castle (IDS/IPS). The guards also check credentials at the gates and within the castle to ensure patrons are cleared for access and use of rooms and resources (IAM). The perimeter and interior walls are continuously checked for weaknesses that could introduce potential blind spots that are unguarded (vulnerability management).

The castle has a variety of rooms, each with its own function, content and worth. Each door has a lock (AV). Within each room and the correlative hallways exist guards who check credentials, monitor the people who enter and the contents they carry, etc. (behavioral detection and endpoints). In addition, multiple other measures are in place that bolster prevention, detection and response capabilities (DLP, deception, etc.). Information from all of these sources is noted in a central location by a scribe. Guards analyze the information, looking for additional indicators of potential threats to the kingdom (SIEM) and respond accordingly.

Comprehensively, protection of the kingdom requires an overall model and policies that accounts for new threats and tactics from rival kingdoms and thieves. Architecture of security measures are continuously updated and adaptable. In the event of an incident, the guards have designed and exercised a plan to respond.

Understanding the Three Different Models of Cloud

Clearly, this is a basic metaphor for the on-prem approach. Moving to the cloud introduces a new level of complexity to protection spread across three different models: Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS) or Software as a service (SaaS).

In the context of our castle analogy, let’s assume the castle has reached productive capacity. Neighboring rivals are creating competitive pressures, offering residents (who pay taxes) the possibility of a better life if they relocate. To keep residents happy, productivity requires expansion beyond castle walls. As production expands, neighboring kingdoms offer different models to achieve productivity. However, each model presents different levels of shared responsibility in protection (referred to as the Shared Responsibility Model).

  • IaaS: In this model, the on-premises kingdom (kingdom A) decides to expand all operations to a neighboring castle (kingdom B). The castle itself and the moats are all controlled and provided by kingdom B. However, the infrastructure, moats, hallways, rooms, access lists, monitoring of activity and protection and usage of its contents are the responsibility of kingdom A.
  • SaaS: Kingdom A decides to have blacksmithing conducted in a neighboring castle (kingdom B). The castle itself, the moats, infrastructure, hallways and blacksmithing room are all protected by kingdom B for a charge. Kingdom B’s responsibility is to control access to the room, but maintaining who’s on the access list to the room and the protection of its contents and usage are the responsibility of kingdom A.
  • PaaS: Kingdom A decides to house and build military operations in a neighboring castle (kingdom B). Kingdom B is responsible for the basic controls, but the configuration and monitoring remain the responsibility of Kingdom A.

With this transformation, Kingdom A faces a more complex security landscape. Innovation and efficiency are critical to meeting the growing and changing demands of their kingdom, but not without additional risks. New operating models bring new risks and potential vulnerabilities to their system(s). Methodologies and processes used to secure their own kingdom do not necessarily work or apply to protecting their new partner kingdoms. Additionally, people–and experience–that understand these new complexities are harder to come by while the thieves and rival kingdoms discover vulnerabilities and weaknesses and begin to exploit and steal valuables that put the entire kingdom and its residents at risk.

Protecting Your Castle in the Cloud Takes a Deep Understanding

Moving to the cloud is almost inevitable at this point, and it carries so much potential to accelerate business outcomes. It takes a different mindset to secure it than what we are used to as an industry–the landscape has been changed from a security perspective. By fully studying and understanding the differences, organizations can continue rapid and secure adoption of the cloud, while reaping the benefits that it promises to bring.

Sean Blenkhorn

Sean Blenkhorn

Chief Experience Officer

As a seasoned security leader, Sean Blenkhorn has spent much of his nearly 20-year career consulting with leading global (FORTUNE 50, 100, 500 and 1000) companies around security and compliance solutions.