Cloud security

Security risks of cloud migration

Gilad Maayan
May 24, 2022 by
Gilad Maayan

As organizations move more and more mission-critical systems to the cloud, there are growing concerns about the security risks of cloud migration. Cloud security is now well understood, and there are well-established tools and methodologies for protecting cloud workloads. However, these security methods can break down in the crossover from on-premise to cloud environments, leading to catastrophic breaches or data exposure.

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What Is cloud migration?

Cloud migration involves moving applications, data, and other digital assets from an on-premises data center to the cloud. These might be custom-built applications or applications the organizations licensed from a third-party vendor. There are several approaches to cloud migration, including:

  • Moving applications as is — this is known as “lift and shift.”
  • Making small changes to applications to enable their move to the cloud
  • Rebuilding or refactoring applications to make them more suitable for a cloud environment
  • Switching from legacy applications to new applications that support the cloud or are provided by cloud vendors.
  • Building new applications for the cloud is known as “cloud-native development.”

What are the key benefits of cloud migration?

The overall goal of most cloud migrations is to gain the benefits of the cloud — hosting applications and data in a highly efficient IT environment that can improve parameters like cost, performance and security.

Key motivations for migrating to the cloud include elastic scalability, a desire to optimize costs or switch from a capital expenditure to an operating expenses model and a need for new technologies, services, or features only available in a cloud environment.

Perhaps more importantly, cloud computing frees corporate IT teams from the burden of managing uptime and improves the organization’s ability to deploy new services and grow to support changing business requirements.

Key considerations for cloud migration projects

A primary concern in migration projects is which applications to migrate. Consider moving an application to the cloud if it fits one or more of the following criteria:

  • The application does not require low latency when communicating with on-premise resources.
  • There are no specific security or compliance requirements for keeping the application on-premises. 
  • The application is subject to fluctuating loads over time, which can make the elasticity of the cloud more attractive. 
  • Prioritize applications that are not business-critical to ensure your first migrations are successful. When you gain more experience, migrate your business-critical apps.

Consider which deployment and pricing model is most suitable for your workloads:

  • Deploying applications in the public cloud provides unlimited scalability and a pay-as-you-go model. 
  • Building a private cloud has a high upfront expense but provides more scalability, enhanced security and reduced operating costs.

Finally, when deploying to the public cloud, choose your provider:

  • The top three cloud providers — AWS, Microsoft and Google — offer equivalent services for most use cases. 
  • Niche cloud providers exist who can support use cases and may offer competitive pricing or other differentiators.
  • Many companies adopt a multi-cloud approach, deploying different workloads to different cloud providers depending on the cost and suitability of their technical solution.

Security risks of cloud migration

Cloud migration requires careful planning because it is vulnerable to several attacks. During migration, sensitive data is transferred, making it vulnerable to attack. In addition, at various stages of a migration project, attackers can gain access to unsecured dev, test or production environments.

Plan cloud migration efforts in anticipation of the following threats:

  • API vulnerabilities: application programming interfaces (APIs) act as communication channels between environments. APIs must be secured at all stages of the cloud migration process.
  • Blind spots: moving to the cloud means giving up control of some aspects of your operation. Before migrating, check what security your cloud provider offers and how to complement it with third-party security solutions.
  • Compliance requirements: ensure that your target cloud environment supports the required compliance standards. This includes compliance certifications by the cloud provider and procedures carried out by the organization to ensure cloud workloads, data and access are secure. All these can and will be audited as part of compliance requirements. 
  • Uncontrolled growth: cloud migration is not a one-time process. After migrating applications to the cloud, the organization will likely add more resources, consume new cloud services and add more applications. It is very common to start using additional SaaS applications once they are already running in the cloud. These new services and applications must be properly secured, creating a major operational challenge.
  • Data loss: cloud migration involves data transfer. It is essential to ensure that data is backed up in case of errors in the migration process. All data transfer occurs over encrypted channels, with careful management of encryption keys.

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Learn Cloud Security

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5 ways to mitigate cloud migration security risks

Here are a few best practices that can help improve security during and after cloud migrations:

  1. Establish a set of security standards and criteria: work with compliance, IT and development teams to develop basic security standards. At a minimum, these standards should cover access control, IaC templates, cloud workload vulnerability management and secure DevOps procedures.
  2. Assign dedicated staff to identity and access management (IAM): identity management is critical and highly dynamic in the cloud. Assign dedicated staff to ensure IAM is managed properly and maintained over time.
  3. Enforce multi-factor authentication: at all stages of cloud migration, it’s necessary to require multi-factor authentication, including within development environments. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access to administrator accounts and critical assets.
  4. Enable cloud-wide logging: all major cloud service providers provide centralized logging services (for example, Amazon CloudTrail). Leverage this feature throughout your migration and send logs to a central collector for analysis. Use these logs to create a baseline of system behavior during the migration to detect and investigate security incidents more easily.
  5. Use cloud security posture management (CSPM): CSPM solutions monitor cloud systems for misconfigurations and, in some cases, can immediately remediate them. This can be very important for tracking many cloud assets during different stages of migration and ensuring that critical data and assets have the appropriate security settings.
Gilad Maayan
Gilad Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Ixia, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.