Professional development

Cloud security engineer interview questions and answers

Joe South
February 17, 2023 by
Joe South

The cloud security engineer role and interviewing can be challenging. You need to focus on securing whichever cloud a company is in at the time while enabling other teams to use the cloud however they see fit while remaining secure. This is no easy feat, so landing a cloud security engineer role is challenging.

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The one thing I have learned is that the basics of securing the cloud apply across all clouds. If you can master the basics, you will be able to answer any technical question they throw your way. At the interview, you will likely be asked questions by the current lead cloud security engineer, the hiring manager and potentially a director of security as well as an architect. All these people are there to judge how you get to the answer you got. 

Your answer does have to be correct, but showing how you got to that answer is more important. That is how you stand out in these interviews, not just by getting the answer correct but also by breaking it down so they can follow your thought pattern. 

Another way to stand out is by asking unique questions to each person interviewing you geared at their level in the organization. Before the interview, you should have viewed each person’s LinkedIn profile and reviewed their work experience, prior posts, degrees and certifications

From their profiles, you can develop your questions for them. These questions should be questions that they have likely never gotten before, something that makes them think.

1) What are the three pillars of cloud security?

Answer: The three pillars are: IAM, Data Security/Encryption and Edge Security. IAM to ensure you deploy a least privileged model throughout the environment across user accounts and service-to-service connections. Data security/encryption as a last stand for your security posture where if your data was breached, if it is encrypted, it will be safe. 

You should also not have the encryption keys stored in the same cloud provider to ensure an enhanced level of security around your data and the keys used to do that encryption. The final part is edge security; you would accomplish this via firewalls, waf’s and deploying a least privileged model for your network security.

2) What makes the cloud an advantageous space to move into for any company?

Answer: the biggest advantage to the cloud is typically cost savings since you are paying a shared cost for the infrastructure. The cloud can become more costly than on-premise data centers if you do not use it correctly. Also, the ability to offer a wide range of products to help enhance your offerings is a huge advantage.

3) What is the worst type of encryption to deploy on a database?

Answer: The worst type of database encryption is full disk encryption because it significantly slows down the performance of the database. This will also likely result in increased costs for that database. The best solution for this is field, row, and/or column encryption. All these options are faster than whole disk encryption and will not increase the cost of the database in a sizable way.

4) If our company deals primarily with big data, which cloud provider would you recommend we go into and why?

Answer: GCP is known as the leader in handling big data in the cloud. They have optimized solutions that are tested with their data. They have the best cloud-native solutions for handling large data sets. Some of that is BigQuery, where you can query data via SQL commands

5) What are the challenges with using our pre-existing SIEM in the cloud? 

Answer: The cloud pricing model is based on data that leave the cloud provider. An example of this is you store a document in S3, you are not only charged on the storage space and utilization of resources, but when you download that document, you are charged for downloading it. If we translate that into using your existing SIEM, all logs from the cloud would need to be sent to the SIEM.

This would significantly increase your cloud spending dramatically. The cost of sending the SIEM logs will likely cost more than the SIEM itself. That is why cloud providers are now creating and deploying their own SIEMs for their customers. 

6) We have data from EU residents as well as USA residents. How do we ensure data from both countries meet the required compliance requirements?

Answer: In the cloud provider, you will have to ensure that EU data only resides within EU availability zones and the USA data resides in USA availability zones. Once you have determined that, you should lock it down, so each cloud account has its restrictions based on compliance requirements. 

7) Which deployment model do databases fall into in the cloud? 

Answer: databases typically fall into PaaS deployment models since you are using the database in place and storing your data in it. You are then interacting with that data in some way, so it is more of a managed platform. If you were setting up your database on a VM, it would be IaaS, but since you are not setting up the database, it is PaaS.

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What should you learn next?

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8) What are the top security concerns in SaaS deployment models?

Answer: In SaaS, you have little to no control over the application and how it stores your data. Security in SaaS is limited to ensuring a least privileged model is deployed and encrypting your data wherever possible. One risk of SaaS is vendor lock-in. To avoid this, you should confirm in the contract how your data is stored to ensure that you can export your data if you ever leave that provider. 

9) We continuously have vulnerabilities that reoccur on our EC2 instances in AWS. How do you identify the source of those vulnerabilities and resolve them permanently?

Answer: Most of the time, vulnerabilities in EC2’s are from vulnerable image files. It is critical to keep the image files up to date with the latest patches from the vendor. If you have image files that have vulnerabilities, then when you deploy it, that EC2 will be vulnerable.

This is an ongoing process, so you must ensure the proper procedures are in place to identify the vulnerabilities, update the image file and deploy that new file to all pre-existing infrastructure. 

10) What is a hypervisor in the cloud that you have control over?

Answer: the only hypervisor in the cloud you would have any control over is the orchestration layer to containers. This can be seen as Docker or another type of orchestration technology. 

11) What is the most secure way to transfer your data to the cloud?

Answer: There are several components to this answer. First, you would want a direct link from the cloud to your environment with TLS 1.3. You would then want to encrypt your data and ensure the encryption key is never sent with the data and never goes to that cloud provider.

Once the encryption takes place, you can transfer the data over the encrypted link. Once the data is in the cloud, you would want to ensure it is stored securely using the least privileged model on the data, ensuring it is encrypted and that the service that is storing the data has the most secure settings. 

12) In an Incident Response Scenario, what does the cloud make close to impossible if they do not offer a cloud-native service for it? 

Answer: Digital Forensics is close to impossible if the cloud provider has no native service for it. The reason is that the forensics would be performed on hardware shared across several customers. The forensics software wouldn't know this, and you would get data from every customer, not just yourself. This is a huge security breach and should be avoided at all costs. 

13) What is the largest risk of using any cloud provider?

Answer: Once you start consuming the services of a cloud provider, the cloud provider can set it up in a way that entices or forces you to consume more services. This can get to a level where you cannot leave that cloud provider due to your consuming services. This is called vendor lock-in, and it is something that should be assessed early on. 

14) What is the new type of DDoS in the cloud that does not exist on-premise?

Answer: An attacker can now perform a DDoS from resource utilization. In the cloud, you are charged based on what you use in the cloud. If the attacker can increase your resource utilization to a point where you cannot pay the bill, they have effectively put you out of business or slowed you down dramatically. 

15) What is an example of IaaS in AWS?

Answer: EC2 instances are the most prevalent example since you control the OS you deploy, and all of the underlying infrastructure is managed for you. 

16) Is penetration testing allowed in AWS?

Answer: yes, but you must have prior approval from AWS with a well-defined scope, and they will verify if you can perform the test. 

17) What is long-term storage in AWS, and if I make a mistake, can I remove data from it at the 45-day mark? 

Answer: AWS Glacier storage is AWS’s long-term storage solution. When deciding which data should be put into Glacier you should be aware that if a mistake is made and not corrected within seven days of setting it, then that data is locked in that long-term storage for a minimum of three years. 

18) If we have a security group rule that blocks inbound traffic on port 22 for a security group, but we see traffic from a server in that security group on port 22, why would this happen?

Answer: Security group rules block inbound traffic only. The server in question must have initiated the connection on port 22 to make it past the security group rule. 

19) What is a unified platform used to manage the security posture of multiple cloud providers at once?

Answer: CSPM is known as a cloud security platform manager. It manages and monitors the security posture of your environments across multiple clouds into one central console. 

20) What is the biggest challenge with securing the cloud? 

Answer: Typically, the biggest challenge is not technical; it is a people problem. Security is often seen as slowing things down and telling people they can't do something. In the cloud, this is more detrimental than normal, so getting people on board and working with you to fix issues is typically the biggest challenge. 

What should you learn next?

What should you learn next?

From SOC Analyst to Secure Coder to Security Manager — our team of experts has 12 free training plans to help you hit your goals. Get your free copy now.

At the end of the day, if you stay calm during the interview and work through the problem, you will likely give an acceptable answer. Do not overthink it, and always go into detail about your answers. Never be afraid to say you do not know the answer, but when you say you don't know, you should always state how you would find out. 

What sources would you go to to answer the question? Showing you can find answers for yourself is more important than knowing the correct answer. If you are interested in learning more about the big three cloud providers, check out my CSP security features course.

Joe South
Joe South

Joe South has worked at companies of all sizes across multiple industries. Joe is currently in a role where he is empowered to introduce new and innovative solutions to increase the security posture of his organization. He enjoys teaching others what he’s learned and is the creator of a blog where he helps others get into cybersecurity and build a successful career.

Joe worked in vulnerability management, securing applications that served military and Department of Defense clients. He later expanded his skillset by diving into complex identity and access management (IAM) toolsets where he designed solutions for Fortune 500 companies across HIPAA, PCI and financial industries. He also architected solutions for companies to move into AWS, Azure and GCP while maintaining or increasing their security posture. Joe has his CCSP, AWS Security Specialty and AWS CCP certification, among others.