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Gartner: Navigating incident response in the cloud

In the rapidly evolving landscape of cloud security, incident response strategies must be as dynamic and flexible as the environments they protect

Traditional incident response (IR) processes, honed for on-premises environments, face significant challenges when applied to the cloud. The shared responsibility model of cloud environments demands a reassessment and upgrading of IR procedures. To navigate these challenges effectively, security and risk management (SRM) leaders must embrace new strategies and technologies tailored to the unique nature of cloud environments.

The Shared Responsibility Model and its implications

One of the core challenges of cloud IR is the shared responsibility model, which delineates the security duties between the cloud service provider (CSP) and the customer. This model varies based on the type of cloud service — infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), or software as a service (SaaS). Understanding and clearly defining these responsibilities is crucial.

Traditional asset-centric IR approaches are inadequate in cloud contexts where identity management becomes paramount. Therefore, SRM leaders must shift from focusing on assets alone and extend to an identity-first approach, which involves monitoring user identities, entitlements, and activities to effectively manage incidents.

Engaging governance, risk, compliance (GRC), and legal teams early in the process of selecting a CSP is vital. Furthermore, explicit contract stipulations are necessary to ensure robust IR support from the CSP. These contracts must specify security requirements, logging capabilities, incident response support, and notification protocols. Without these provisions, organisations will find themselves ill-equipped to handle incidents, unable to obtain adequate control or visibility of their cloud estate.

Automation: The cornerstone of modern incident response

As the velocity and complexity of cloud threats render manual IR processes less effective, automation is essential for modernising IR activities in the cloud. Automation streamlines data collection, correlation, and investigative processes, making them more efficient and less resource intensive. Mature cloud providers offer extensive application programming interface (API) access, enabling programmatic and automated configurations and data collection that allows for faster and more reliable incident detection and response, and reduces the time required to investigate and mitigate incidents.

Furthermore, successful cloud IR depends on effective management of third-party access, visibility, and shared procedures. Develop clear playbooks for cloud-specific incidents, incorporating tools, techniques, and legal strategies tailored to cloud environments and conduct regular tabletop exercises simulating cloud incidents to help teams practice and refine their response strategies. These exercises should focus on scenarios where information may be incomplete or inaccessible, preparing teams for the unique challenges of cloud incidents.

Shifting from containment to resilience

In cloud environments, the goal of IR extends beyond containment and recovery to include business resilience. This broader approach involves not only technical responses but also strategic planning, such as digital supply chain redundancies and robust legal contracts. SRM leaders must ensure their IR plans are comprehensive, incorporating cloud-specific considerations and aligning with overall business continuity and disaster recovery strategies.

The shift to identity-centric security is crucial for effective cloud IR. Traditional asset-centric approaches will fail to provide the necessary visibility in cloud environments. Increase focus on user identities and their associated permissions, establishing baselines for normal behaviour and configuring alerts to detect anomalies; this approach enhances the ability to track and manage incidents across the cloud infrastructure, ensuring a more comprehensive and timely response.

Overall, the transition to cloud environments necessitates a fundamental shift in IR strategies. SRM leaders must reassess and upgrade their IR procedures, leveraging automation, proactive collaboration, and identity-centric security to meet the unique challenges of the cloud. The dynamic nature of cloud security demands equally dynamic and flexible IR strategies, ensuring that organisations can respond swiftly and effectively to emerging threats.

Carlos De Sola Caraballo is a senior principal analyst at Gartner. Gartner analysts will further explore security and risk management and dive into the technology, insights and trends shaping the future of IT and business, at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo, taking place from 4-7 November in Barcelona, Spain.

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