Healthcare organizations store personal and potentially sensitive customer data. Financial institutions store account numbers, balances, and transaction history. Retailers store purchase history, account information, and demographic details of customers. A security incident might expose this sensitive data, which might cause personal embarrassment or financial harm. How do you ensure the integrity of their data and ensure that your systems are secure?
In this article, you’ll learn about the important elements of the security pillar.
What is security?
Security is ultimately about protecting the data that your organization uses, stores, and transmits. The data that your organization stores or handles is at the heart of your securable assets. This data might be sensitive data about customers, financial information about your organization, or critical line-of-business data that supports your organization. Securing the infrastructure on which the data exists, along with the identities used to access it, is also critically important.
Your data might be subject to additional legal and regulatory requirements, depending on where you’re located, the type of data you’re storing, or the industry in which your application operates.
For instance, in the healthcare industry in the United States, there’s a law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In the financial industry, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is concerned with the handling of credit card data. Organizations that store data that’s in scope for these laws and standards are required to ensure that certain safeguards are in place for the protection of that data. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) lays out the rules of how personal data is protected, and defines individuals’ rights related to stored data. Some countries require that certain types of data do not leave their borders.
When a security breach occurs, there can be substantial impacts to the finances and reputation of both organizations and customers. This breaks down the trust that customers are willing to instill in your organization, and can affect the organization’s long-term health.
Defense in depth
A multilayered approach to securing your environment will increase the security posture of your environment. Commonly known as defense in depth, we can break down the layers as follows:
- Policies and access
- Physical security
Each layer focuses on a different area where attacks can happen, and creates a depth of protection if one layer fails or is bypassed by an attacker. If you were to focus on just one layer, an attacker would have unfettered access to your environment if they got through this layer.
Addressing security in layers increases the work an attacker must do to gain access to your systems and data. Each layer will have different security controls, technologies, and capabilities that will apply. When you’re identifying the protections to put in place, cost is often of concern. You’ll need to balance cost with business requirements and overall risk to the business.
No single security system, control, or technology will fully protect your architecture. Security is more than just technology; it’s also about people and processes. Creating an environment that looks holistically at security and makes it a requirement by default will help ensure that your organization is as secure as possible.
Protect from common attacks
At each layer, there are some common attacks that you’ll want to protect against. The following list isn’t all-inclusive, but it can give you an idea of how each layer can be attacked and what types of protections you might need.
- Data layer: Exposing an encryption key or using weak encryption can leave your data vulnerable if unauthorized access occurs.
- Application layer: Malicious code injection and execution are the hallmarks of application-layer attacks. Common attacks include SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).
- VM/compute layer: Malware is a common method of attacking an app hosting environment, which involves executing malicious code to compromise a system. After malware is present on a system, further attacks that lead to credential exposure and lateral movement throughout the environment can occur.
- Networking layer: Unnecessary open ports to the internet are a common method of attack. These might include leaving SSH or RDP open to virtual machines. When these protocols are open, they can allow brute-force attacks against your systems as attackers attempt to gain access.
- Perimeter layer: Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks often happen at this layer. These attacks try to overwhelm network resources, forcing them to go offline or making them incapable of responding to legitimate requests.
- Policies and access layer: This layer is where authentication occurs for your application. This layer might include modern authentication protocols such as OpenID Connect, OAuth, or Kerberos-based authentication such as Active Directory. The exposure of credentials is a risk at this layer, and it’s important to limit the permissions of identities. You also want to have monitoring in place to look for possible compromised accounts, such as logins coming from unusual places.
- Physical layer: Unauthorized access to facilities through methods, such as door drafting and theft of security badges, can happen at this layer.
Shared security responsibility
Revisiting the model of shared responsibility, we can reframe this in the context of security. Depending on the type of service you select, some security protections will be built in to the service, while others will remain your responsibility. Careful evaluation of the services and technologies that you select will be necessary, to ensure that you’re providing the proper security controls for your architecture.