AWS Cloud Security: Best Practices for Financial Services

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Learn the top 10 AWS cloud security risks, best practices to prepare for them, and tools financial services companies can leverage to assess their cyber-security.

According to Sophos, over 70% of organizations hosting their workload on the cloud faced a security incident in 2020. With the increasing number of threats on the horizon, cloud security is becoming more crucial for organizations of all sizes to keep their data secured. 

These threats are avoidable by utilizing cloud-native AWS services to enhance the overall security posture of your business through a top down leadership implementation. However, before we move onto AWS security services, let us first understand the risks associated with the cloud along with mitigation or prevention practices.

Top 10 AWS Cloud Security Risks

Although AWS offers a range of security options, organizations that don’t leverage the comprehensive nature of the solutions available can face various vulnerabilities; here are some of them:

1. Lack of Visibility

Cloud resources often have a shorter lifespan, and it is difficult for organizations to keep track of everything hosted on their cloud infrastructure. Hence, many challenges arise due to decentralized visibility that makes threat detection difficult.

2. Excessive Amazon S3 Bucket Permissions

By not limiting access to the S3 buckets at a granular level, administrators can allow too much unauthorized user access. Many security issues arise when these users upload their private data to these public buckets. Also, users can override access options using the AWS console unless administrators also implement permissions of least privilege across such assets.

3. Exposed Access to Root Accounts

Attackers often use root accounts to get unauthorized access to your cloud services. Such scenarios occur if root API access is not properly disabled. Hackers often use it as a gateway to get root user access over the system.

4. Unrotated IAM Access Keys

Leaving IAM Access keys unchanged for a prolonged period of time leaves users’ accounts and groups vulnerable. Hence, attackers have more time to obtain these keys and gain unauthorized access to root accounts.

5. Poor Authentication Practices

It is common for attackers to use phishing and other social engineering techniques to steal account credentials. Attackers use these credentials to gain unauthorized access to Public Cloud Environments that are easily accessible without any verification of the user.

6. Weak Encryption

Weak encryption often leaves the network traffic unsecured. Weak encryption allows intruders to get access to sensitive data, such as data in the storage arrays. For complete data security, networks must encrypt their weak links.

7. Unnecessary Privileges

If AWS IAM is not properly deployed to manage user accounts and access permissions given to the other users. Additionally, some administrators give users too much access, which causes problems due to stolen credentials of sensitive accounts.

8. Public AMIs

AMIs (Amazon Machine Images) act as templates, which contain the software configuration, such as operating system, application server, and applications used with launched instances. Public AMIs often expose sensitive data to other users, which can be dangerous.

9. Broad IP Ranges for Security Groups

Security Groups act as firewalls to filter and control traffic over any AWS environment. Administrators often assign a broad range of IPs to security groups that are not necessary.

10. Lack of Audits

The cloud security audit is often overlooked, however, security audits are extremely helpful to track access privileges, insider threats, and other potential risks. Unfortunately, there is no proper check and balance for user activities over the network.

AWS Cloud Security Best Practices

It is possible to enhance AWS Cloud Security by just following a few security best practices defined below:

1. Establish an Effective Governance Strategy

In a multi-cloud environment, utilize AWS Control Tower to build in security guardrails that enforce your organizational policies and remain in effect as you create new accounts or make changes to existing accounts.

2. Using AWS Security Hub for Visibility

Utilize AWS Security Hub for general visibility, and to monitor all resources, including virtual machines, load balancers, security groups, and users. Also, it is important to understand your AWS environment for implementing better visibility policies.

3. Limit Root Account Access

Root accounts should be limited to a few authorized users inside an organization. Place a multi-factor authentication system for every root account to prevent any unauthorized access.

4. Rotate IAM Access Keys

Rotate IAM access keys at least every 90 days to minimize the risk of unauthorized access, even if a hacker acquires any old IAM access key. Also, users with the necessary privileges can rotate IAM keys on their own.

5. Strong Authentication Policies

Establish policies enforcing multi-factor authentication for administrators and users. AWS highly recommends enabling MFA on all those accounts with console enabled. If attackers have compromised credentials, they will not be able to log in to sensitive accounts due to a strong authentication process.

6. Principle of Least Privilege

The IAM configuration in any cloud environment should comply with the principle of the least privilege to prevent any unauthorized access due to excessive permissions. The users and groups should only be given the required permissions without any excessive privilege. AWS IAM Access Analyzer can help you identify your resources across your organization and accounts and identify unintended access.

7. Limit IP ranges

Limit Security Group IP ranges to ensure the network runs smoothly without any unnecessary open gateways that might be exploited by attackers.

8. Have an Audit History

AWS CloudTrail provides a history of the activities associated with your AWS account, including actions taken through the AWS Management Console, AWS SDKs, command-line tools, and other AWS services. CloudTrail simplifies the monitoring of resource changes and troubleshooting.

Peculiarities in Financial Services

Customers in regulated industries face specific requirements and expectations with which they need to align and comply. In the financial services industry, individual entities develop their cybersecurity posture, not only to address the threat and vulnerability that affect the environment in which they operate, but also in accordance with their regulatory environment.

Cyber security practice expectations for both firms and public authorities in financial services are based on: Cyber security strategy frameworks, Governance, Risk and Control Assessment, Monitoring, Response, Recovery, Information Sharing, and Continuous Learning. 

A current trend on effective assessments is to include third-party cyber risk assessment and threat-led penetration testing. CBEST Threat Intelligence-Led Assessments is a framework to determine a financial firm’s ability to secure its critical functions.

The Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) allows financial institutions to determine their inherent cyber risks and cybersecurity maturity level.

The European framework for Threat Intelligence-based Ethical Red Teaming (TIBER-EU) addresses concerns that malicious actors may access critical functions or processes in customers’ environments. Using this framework, customers can conduct vulnerability and penetration testing of their own AWS environments.

The Financial Services Sector Cybersecurity Profile serves as both a baseline internal examination assessment and an external evaluation of partners, vendors, and third-party service providers. Nonetheless, regulated financial institutions need to consider their jurisdiction-specific regulatory requirements and obligations related to cybersecurity and, depending on their needs, map those often overlapping requirements and obligations to their own control environments.

To Conclude

From all cloud security risks, it is evident that organizations need to ensure the use of the security best practices before they rely on any type of security solution, irrespective of its provider. Cloud infrastructures are susceptible to threats, so strengthening the entire comprehensive security posture of a business’ infrastructure is a top priority for any successful company. 

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