Incident Detection, Handling, and Response in the Cloud
An organization’s incident response plan is the set of measures and procedures it has in place to respond to and protect against a cyberattack. An effective incident response plan can reduce the damage experienced after a security breach and ensure faster systems recovery.
As the rates of cybercrime continue to increase, incident response plans have become indispensable to the organization’s security protocol. However, it’s important to understand why and how incident response strategies for cloud-based infrastructures and systems differ from traditional incident management.
How Is Incident Response Different in the Cloud?
According to the Cloud Incident Response Working Group Charter, there are three key elements that set cloud incident response apart from traditional incident response methods.
Incident Detection in the Cloud
An integral aspect of a company’s security infrastructure is incident detection, the practice of monitoring networks, servers, and IT assets for suspicious activity. Effective incident detection can find intruders in an organization’s infrastructure and chart appropriate incident response strategies.
Detecting security breaches in the cloud is a daunting task. Because traditional incident detection mechanisms are not effective in the cloud environment, it is important that organizations hire security experts who know how to effectively respond to cloud-based data breaches.
In a perfect world, successful cyberattacks would never occur, but realistically, security breaches are unavoidable. Companies need secure plans and strategies to minimize the risks associated with security incidents.
If a security incident is identified, an incident response plan enables security teams to defend affected applications and infrastructures against compromises, insider threats, and access misuse. An effective incident response strategy can prevent excessive damage and reduce business disruption and enables organizations to quickly contain issues and respond effectively.
Reputation, revenue, and customer trust are at stake in the event of a cyberattack. The goal of any incident response plan is to restore operations as quickly as possible, minimize losses, and fix vulnerabilities.
The Cloud Incident Response Life Cycle
The incident response life cycle is a structured guideline that outlines various stages of safeguarding sensitive data and thwarting data breach attempts. The incident response life cycle describes the actions needed to quickly resolve an issue and ensure the continuity of business operations. Effective incident handling is an integral part of security management.
Let’s look at the four phases of the incident response life cycle in the cloud.
Without predetermined guidelines, response teams cannot effectively address a security breach. Organizations must establish policies, procedures, and agreements for incident response management. It’s important to create standards to enable seamless operations after an incident. Organizations must also conduct cyber awareness training for their employees as well as assessments to evaluate the efficacy of their incident response measures.
Detection and Analysis
Cybersecurity teams need to monitor security events so that they can detect, alert, and report potential threats. Analysis of this information can help organizations identify vulnerabilities and determine where they need to bolster their security posture.
Containment, Eradication, and Recovery
The goal of this third phase is to minimize damage and restore normal operations as soon as possible. To prevent further breaches, cybersecurity teams must isolate the compromised system or device from the rest of the network, then perform a coordinated shutdown. They should then ensure that all infected devices have been wiped clean, and that all passwords have been changed. Once the incident is contained, security experts can determine the cause of the attack and implement measures to prevent further breaches. The final steps are to check all systems and networks, recover data, and restore business operations.
After a security breach, a cloud forensic investigation must be conducted to analyze the incident response steps and, if necessary, determine how the protocol can be improved. Cloud environments rely heavily on continuous improvement, so tracking and analyzing incidents help security teams improve at preventing future attacks.
Best Practices for Cloud Incident Response
Since millions are at stake, businesses constantly evolve their incident response practices to thwart cyberattacks. To maintain a strong cybersecurity posture, organizations must constantly iterate their incident management process.
Here are some best practices to secure cloud computing:
Focus on monitoring systems
Focus more on monitoring systems like applications, users’ behavior, and APIs. Find past information on successfully handling cloud incidents to quickly detect, respond, remove, and prevent attacks.
Use the best alerting tools
Use popular alerting tools like PagerDuty and Slack to enable the existing security system and alternate between devices on demand.
Follow shared responsibility model
Though most cloud providers have their incident response team, users add an extra security system that matches with the vendor’s system. Both parties need to work under a shared responsibility model.
Manage Access to Cloud Applications
There is usually more than one user in a cloud application who has access. To protect sensitive data, set up passwords, and manage access within the core group.
Protect your cloud logs
Most cloud providers allow their customers to have access to cloud logs to some insight about basic service operations, such as cloud access logs. For extra fees, some cloud providers will allow their customers to get full logs, such as cloud audit logs and errors logs. Such logs can be stored on customer on-premises devices, which is ideal. The log is the most important element in any digital investigation, and this is why attackers always try to compromise the logs and delete them to clear their traces. Always ensure your cloud logs are stored in a secure location and make them only accessible to authorized personnel.
What is SOAR?
The term “security orchestration, automation, and response” (SOAR), originally coined by the research firm Gartner, refers to a set of software programs that collect threat information, automate routine responses, and triage more complex threats, minimizing the need for human intervention.
SOAR platforms allow organizations to streamline security operations in three key areas:
ORCHESTRATION AND AUTOMATION
THREAT INTELLIGENCE (TI) MANAGEMENT CAPABILITIES
The main objective of a SOAR solution is to streamline security operations. In simplest terms, it’s the automatic handling of tasks related to security operations.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements of a SOAR platform:
- Security Orchestration: Facilitates seamless operation among multiple software and hardware components
- Automation: Executes security-related tasks, such as vulnerability scans and log searches, without human intervention and uses customized automations to handle organization-specific security risks
- Response: Uses pre-programmed strategies to respond to security threats—for example, by automatically isolating devices or interrupting transfers
Automation is a vital component of responding to security incidents in a cloud environment. Automating incident response helps organizations scale their capabilities, rapidly reduce the scope of compromised resources, and eliminate repetitive work by security teams. For instance, SOAR technology can be used as part of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud incident response to unify workflows across cloud and on-premises infrastructures.
In today’s environment of widespread and sophisticated cyberthreats, SOAR platforms are key to managing the seemingly endless stream of cyberattack attempts that many organizations face. The main drivers for the rise in the adoption of SOAR technologies are the shortage of skilled cloud security professionals, the evolution of advanced cyberthreats, and increases in the number of security alerts.
Benefits of SOAR
For analysts overwhelmed by the growing volume of threat alerts received each day, SOAR platforms are an invaluable resource. The main purpose of a SOAR solution is to provide a standardized process for data aggregation that automates threat detection and response processes, reducing analysts’ workload and allowing them to focus on other mission-critical tasks.
Many businesses have turned to this automated technology to ensure data security in cloud computing and improve their overall cybersecurity posture. Next, we’ll cover why it’s beneficial for companies to invest in SOAR software.
Monitoring many security technologies can create enormous strain on security analysts. Instead of spending time on mundane tasks such as gathering and sorting through metrics and reports, cybersecurity personnel can relegate much of this work to the automation capabilities of SOAR platforms.
Automated incident response takes the heat-of-the-moment guesswork out of event handling, limiting cyberattack dwell time and overall business impact. SOAR platforms can help organizations improve their productivity and capacity to address more threats by allowing security staff to work smarter, not harder.
How Is SOAR Different from SIEM?
Security information and event management (SIEM) tools are software solutions that collect, analyze, and store security-related log data from various tools (e.g., firewall, IDS, IPS, antivirus software) and networking appliances (e.g., proxies) for compliance or auditing purposes. In simpler terms, SIEM platforms help organizations recognize potential threats and vulnerabilities before they can disrupt business operations, thereby enhancing data security in the cloud.
Though SOAR and SIEM platforms have a lot in common, there are differences in their capabilities. While both solutions collect data, they differ in the quantity and type of data they collect as well as the type of response they facilitate. Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between SOAR and SIEM solutions:
SIEM tools only raise an alert when a potential threat is discovered. Security analysts need to intervene to investigate more closely, analyze the threat, and remediate any damage. This requires constant fine-tuning and development and often ends up being time-consuming. On the other hand, SOAR platforms reduce human intervention, as they automate the response process and filter out false positives, allowing security teams to handle the alert load quickly and efficiently.
SIEM platforms examine various logs and event data from traditional infrastructure component sources, while SOAR software analyzes data from endpoint security software, external threat intelligence feeds, and third-party sources.
Both SOAR and SIEM solutions help security teams improve their efficiency, however, SIEM platforms are better positioned to handle larger volumes of data with varied sources and formats. SOAR tools are superior when it comes to their automation capabilities, flexibility, and integrations library, making them ideal for scenarios where the need for human intervention must be minimized.
Security Incident Response in AWS Cloud
Organizations using AWS Cloud should be prepared to detect and respond to security incidents and outline remediation methods that leverage automation to improve response speed.
AWS Cloud uses a shared responsibility model, meaning that AWS is responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure while customers are expected to protect their data and networks. Security experts must continuously monitor the AWS Cloud environment and be ready to respond to and mitigate the impact of potential breaches.
The following steps provide the framework for AWS incident management:
- Establish the goal of responding to an incident
- Implement response patterns
- Preserve logs and other evidence in a centralized, secure cloud account
- Ensure that response mechanisms are safe
- Automate incident response activities to quickly assess and respond to common threats
- Attempt to reduce response time
- Use lessons learned from prior incidents to make improvements to the response process
For a successful AWS cloud incident response strategy, it is important to train security teams on cloud technologies, create policies to detect and respond to threats, run penetration tests, and fix the security gaps uncovered in security assessments.
Security Incident Response in Microsoft Azure
To secure the workspace environment in Microsoft Azure, it is of paramount importance to set up an effective incident response process. Running incident response in the cloud can seem daunting, but defining roles and responsibilities in advance can improve efficiency.
Azure’s incident response life cycle is a five-step process:
Security analysts need to be equipped with intelligence capabilities, detection tools, and incident management solutions to accurately and promptly identify potential threats and suspicious activity.
Conduct a preliminary assessment. The on-call member of the security response team will evaluate the threat and assess whether there is a risk. It’s imperative to assign the investigation an appropriate priority level; events wherein data is at imminent risk should be treated as high severity and fixed as soon as possible. Assign a security incident manager to ensure that the incident response process is handled correctly throughout each stage, and that cross-dependencies are tracked.
At this stage, analysts examine the collected data to better understand the security event. At this point, the security incident manager can bring in additional subject matter experts to aid in the investigation.
Stabilization and recovery processes are designed to repair and restore the services affected by a security breach. In this stage, the security team aims to take mitigation steps to resolve immediate security risks, ensure that the threat has been successfully contained and that corrective measures are being implemented, and identify additional mitigation strategies if needed. The process is tested to ensure that corrective measures are applied effectively to maintain operational success.
After the security breach, an internal post-mortem is conducted to identify any technical or communications lapses, procedural failures, manual errors, or process flaws that might have caused the incident. Response procedures are evaluated for sufficiency and completeness.
Security Incident Response in Google Cloud Platform
Detecting suspicious activity and responding to security events are essential in a cloud environment. Google Cloud Platform (GCP) provides defined procedures that allow a team to effectively respond to an incident and restore functionality with minimal disruption. The purpose of these incident response steps is to secure data, restore services, and meet regulatory and contractual compliance requirements.
The following are GCP’s incident handling steps.
This stage relies on the use of automated and manual monitoring of security events to detect potential threats and vulnerabilities and report them to the incident response team. Some of the tools and methodology employed by Google’s incident detection team include:
- Adherence to Compliance Requirements
- Security alerts for incidents that may affect the company’s infrastructure
- Detection and reporting of anomalies by employees
- Reporting of potential technical vulnerabilities by external security researchers
- Penetration tests, quality assurance measures, and IDS and software security reviews
- Discovery of hidden vulnerabilities and confirmation regarding whether key security controls are implemented
- Automated tooling to enhance the ability to detect incidents at the product level
- Use of machine learning to identify suspicious activities across multiple platforms
When an incident occurs, triage is used to assess the severity of the situation and engage the incident response team to evaluate the event. The team’s response depends on the severity of the incident, which is assessed by looking at the intensity of the damage, whether data was destroyed, the type of data that was affected, and the impact on customers’ service experience.
The incident response team gathers the facts about the security event, and the operations team curbs the damage, fixes the underlying issue, and restores affected systems and services.
The incident response team analyzes the incident and response efforts to gain new insights and improve the organization’s overall security posture.
How to Become a Cloud Security Expert
Securing an organization’s IT infrastructure has always been a challenge. Adding cloud computing to the mix can potentially lead to a data breach, especially if preventative cloud security measures aren’t followed. Organizations need well-rounded cloud security experts who can securely navigate the cloud and protect sensitive data.
Who can become a cloud security expert?
- Network security engineers
- Cybersecurity analysts
- Network security analysts
- Cloud administrators and engineers
- Network security administrators
- Cloud analysts
- Cybersecurity engineers
The first step toward becoming a cloud security expert is acquiring a credible certification or equivalent education that will provide comprehensive hands-on training in the latest cloud security tools and technologies. EC-Council’s Certified Cloud Security Engineer (C|CSE) is a unique certification program that equips candidates with the best practices for securing cloud infrastructure, incident response plans, and auditing cloud computing security. The C|CSE program offers a mix of vendor-neutral and vendor-specific cloud security training and focuses on enhancing both theoretical and practical knowledge. Curated for the responsibilities of real-world job roles, C|CSE is ideal for both beginners and experienced cybersecurity professionals.
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