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What Is Cloud Incident Response (IR)?

From security issues associated with insecure remote access, misconfigurations from human errors, and overused credentials to various vulnerabilities, a lot of factors contribute to cloud security incidents. 

Even though modern organizations implement a lot of cloud security measures, the chance of cloud incidents remains active as cyber criminals utilize modern technologies to infiltrate the cloud infrastructure. 

Thus, an organization requires a reliable and robust cloud incident response (IR) that will help them address increasing security threats. Now, you must be wondering what cloud incident response is and why your organization needs it. 

To answer your doubt, we have created this guide where we will discuss cloud incident response along with other details that encompass the cloud incident response framework.

What is Cloud Incident Response (IR)? 

Cloud incident response (IR) is a set of processes, controls, and plans that an organization needs to follow when there is a security incident in its cloud infrastructure. Cloud IR primarily focuses on plans and procedures to effectively manage cloud incidents and mitigate them so that they don’t cause any major impact. 

Like an incident response framework, cloud IR also involves various phases, such as incident preparation, identification, investigation, containment, mitigation, recovery, and post-mortem. 

Since modern businesses utilize various services like SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS and components like storage and network from different cloud security service providers, managing security incidents has become a significant issue. 

However, Cloud IR can solve this issue by arming incident response teams with tools and methodologies that help them detect security incidents and mitigate them. For an effective incident response, an organization needs a team of skilled security personnel with a well-defined plan and an understanding of cloud security. 

Cloud IR is not only about responding to security incidents in the cloud environment, but it also encompasses the security measures, policies, and best security practices that organizations need to implement. 

In a rapidly evolving cloud environment, every organization requires a practical cloud incident response playbook that will help them navigate through different security incidents.

How is Cloud IR Different from Traditional IR?

Cloud IR is different from traditional IR in various aspects, and the difference mainly lies in the difference in infrastructure and complexity associated with it. Here are some significant differences between Cloud IR and traditional IR; 

Difference in Data Storage

A major aspect that makes cloud IR different from traditional IR is the way data, applications, and other components of an infrastructure are stored. In a conventional environment, data is stored in an on-premises data center, whereas in cloud IR, data is stored in different external servers. 

However, when proper security measures are not maintained, the chance of accessibility by attackers increases, leading to an increase in security incidents. Misconfigurations due to complexities and the large size of the cloud networks also add to security incidents. 

Difference in Knowledge

Both security professionals working on traditional IR and cloud IR require good knowledge of incident response. However, the main difference is that cloud IR requires professionals to have a grasp on specialized methodologies that help them detect, respond, and prevent complex cyber incidents that occur on the cloud. 

Moreover, professionals have to stay up to date with evolving technologies and cloud security incidents to create an effective IR strategy. 

Difference in Environment

Every cloud estate has a dynamic environment that involves numerous components and technology to meet the ever-growing requirements of an organization’s workflow. This factor makes cloud IR different from traditional IR, which mainly involves taking snapshots of incidents and keeping logs on an endpoint. 

Cloud IR requires a lot of strategy and internal communication when it comes to incident response. When organizations don’t collect logs, relevant snapshots, or forensic data, it becomes complex to maintain effective cloud IR. 

Difference In Perimeter

In traditional data centers, a firewall acts as the main perimeter for the organization’s network. However, in the cloud environment, identity serves as the primary perimeter, and every user account and device requires unique credentials or API keys to access the environment. 

This perimeter difference makes the containment and remediation plan in cloud IR different from traditional IR. To address security incidents like data breaches, traditional IR involves blocking defective IP addresses. However, the same approach can’t be implemented with cloud IR as different users access the cloud environment from various networks.

The Cloud Incident Response Lifecycle

The Cloud Incident Response Lifecycle

The cloud incident response lifecycle comprises four: preparation, detection and analysis, containment, eradication and recovery, and post-mortem. 

The complete life cycle refers to the response that security professionals need to make to address security incidents and safeguard sensitive information. Here are four phases in a cloud IR lifecycle: 

Phase 1: Preparation

When it comes to cloud incident response, every organization requires preparation so that they can proficiently handle any security incidents. Every organization needs to create policies, methodologies, and agreements to prepare themselves for any incidents. 

Security professionals must emphasize establishing a standard that will help them maintain business continuity after mitigating a security incident. It is also essential for organizations to assess the incident response strategies to make sure they will be effective for any security incidents in the cloud environment. 

Phase 2: Detection and analysis

After preparing the cloud IR strategy, the security team has to constantly monitor for security events and identify and report all the threats. 

Once any threat is detected, security teams must analyze it to identify what impact it can make and then make security updates accordingly.

Phase 3: Containment, Eradication and Recovery

When a security incident occurs, the cybersecurity team must take necessary steps to isolate the infected device, account, or system from others and then shut it down. 

Once the system or device has been isolated, the team should change all the credentials and eradicate everything from the device or system. In the next step, the cybersecurity team must analyze the security event and find out the origin of the attack, which will help them establish security controls to mitigate any further impact. 

When the security incident is addressed effectively, the security team will now have to conduct comprehensive checking of the system, perform all the recovery needed, and then, instead, the operation.  

Phase4: Post-Mortem

In the final phase, the organization needs to authorize a post-mortem where a team will analyze all the steps taken during cloud incident response. 

After analysis, the team will also highlight the areas where the organization needs to improve its security measures. This analysis will be constructive for security teams because it will make them better equipped for future security incidents.

What are the Benefits of Cloud Incident Response (IR)?

What are the Benefits of Cloud Incident Response

The benefits associated with cloud incident response are many that greatly benefit the organization. These benefits are: 

Easy Data Management

Cloud platforms’ smooth functioning and flexibility make it easy for security teams to handle data during cloud incident response. It enables them to create backups of vital data and record systems quickly states through VM snapshots for later investigation.  

Quick Response

The availability of Virtual Machines and virtual networks enables security teams to address cloud security incidents with ease. After containing a security incident, the virtual machines allow them to roll back the system to a previous good state.

Forensic Analysis

Cloud IR enables incident responders to perform forensic analysis so that the organization can find out the root cause of the security incident. This feature is highly critical for security teams as it lets them understand how the incident occurred and make changes to the security protocols accordingly to prevent further attacks. 

Continuous Improvement

Through the post-mortem phase, cloud incident response facilitates continuous improvement in the security aspect of an organization. The post-incident analysis and feedback not only help the organization to improve its security posture continuously but also improve the cloud IR strategies. 

Minimize Downtime and Financial Loss

A massive perk of cloud incident response is that it is able to minimize downtime during a security incident by containing the incident and rolling back the virtual machine to its previous good state. Since it is able to reduce downtime, it saves the organization from severe financial loss. 

Demonstrates Seriousness About Cyber Security

When an organization has a cloud incident response in place, it showcases their seriousness about their cloud cyber security and how much effort they put into safeguarding the customer data. It not only helps the organization to gain the trust of its users but also stakeholders.

Main Challenges of Cloud Incident Response

Here are some primary cloud IR challenges that many organization faces on different occasions: 

Lack of Comprehensive Visibility

The cloud environment is dynamic and expanding, making it difficult for cyber security teams to have complete visibility into the cloud activities, components, and assets. Moreover, organizations have multiple cloud providers, which makes it difficult for incident responders to keep track of every security incident.

Difficulty In Evidence Gathering

Due to the multi-cloud environment of various organizations, it becomes challenging for security teams to gather security incident logs from multiple places. In some cases, VMs often delete evidence data due to automated processes, which makes it harder for the team to perform post-incident analysis. 

Shortage of Skilled Professionals

Another challenge that has put many organizations in an uncomfortable space is the lack of skilled professionals for cloud IR. Since traditional incident responses haven’t evolved at the same rate as the modern security landscape, it is difficult for cloud responders to have knowledge about every attack vector. 

Limited Control

Nowadays, most organizations operating in the cloud utilize cloud services from different cloud providers, leading to a lack of control and ownership over their infrastructure. This causes issues for security teams because they won’t be able to use techniques and tools to find the root cause of a security incident.

Inability to Access The System Physical

With a cloud environment, everything is managed by the cloud provider, and you just get a virtual environment for your business operation. This prevents the incident responder’s ability to physically access the cloud system for containing a security incident or collecting forensic data. 

Old Methodologies

The security teams must be prepared with the latest methodologies and possess skills to address evolving security incidents. Incident responders can’t rely on standard DFIR methods when it comes to containing security incidents. They have to stay agile and adapt to evolving cybersecurity.

Best Practices for Incident Response in the Cloud

Every organization using a cloud environment for business operations should follow best practices for incident response in the cloud because it will keep them prepared for various security incidents. Here are some best practices you can follow:

Risk Assessment and Security Audits at Regular Interval

One of the best ways to stay prepared for security incidents is by performing risk assessments and security audits at regular intervals. 

It will allow security responders to find security loopholes and vulnerabilities in the infrastructure and help them remediate all the security gaps. It enables the organization to prevent security incidents as much as they can and also assists them in minimizing the impact if an attacker exploits the vulnerability.

 Issue With Default Configuration

Keeping default configurations is one of the major issues when it comes to incident response management. In many situations, logs of security events are kept for a shorter time span, or sometimes they won’t be captured, which jeopardizes the incident investigation in the cloud. 

Security teams of the organization should employ proper management of configuration so that they can properly investigate security events through logs and captured events. 

Training Employees and Creating Cloud IR Playbook and Plans

It is important for every organization to create cloud IR playbooks and plans that will help them define the roles of teams and how they should respond during security events. It would be best to include compromised VM deployment and storage compromises in the cloud IR playbooks. 

Once you have created cloud IR playbooks and plans, they should be tested at regular intervals using simulation, which will help the organization to identify potential security loopholes and make security patches accordingly. 

Along with cloud IR playbooks, organizations should put effort into providing cloud incident response training on different security events and how they can perform roles to minimize the chance of security incidents. 

Deploying Sandbox Environment

Another best practice that an organization can follow is to deploy a cloud sandbox environment in your cloud environment after a security incident. The cloud sandbox environment will create a platform that will help incident responders investigate the security incident. 

If there is any suspicion of a compromise in the cloud environment, incident responders can deploy a sandbox environment to isolate the event and perform an investigation of potential security events.

FAQ

What are the key components of Cloud IR?

There are four critical components of cloud IR and they are preparation and follow-on, detection and analysis, containment, eradication and recovery, and post-mortem. Each component plays a crucial role, and each of them should be followed by the incident responder to effectively respond to cloud incidents. 

What is an example of a cloud incident?

Cloud incidents refer to security events where attackers are able to breach the security framework and compromise the data, application, or services. 

A prime example of a cloud incident is the unauthorized entry into the data storage of Facebook in 2019. In that cloud incident, the personal data of over 350 million users was stolen, which included name, phone number, location, email address, and other details. 

Conclusion

Cloud incident response serves as an essential aspect of modern cloud security strategy. Every organization should focus on cloud incident response plans as it will help them to address security incidents and minimize their impact. In this guide, we have provided all four components of Cloud IR and the best practices you should follow that will help you effectively address cloud security incidents. 

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
Protect your Applications & Cloud Infrastructure from attackers by leveraging CloudDefense.AI ACS patented technology.

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