Palo Alto Networks: A Proactive Approach to Cloud Security

With more threats than ever, organisations today must not be complacent. Simon Crocker from Palo Alto Networks highlights the need for a proactive mindset

Cybersecurity threats are a continuous challenge facing businesses across the globe, with technologies like generative AI (Gen AI) continuing to change the security landscape. From individual hackers to sophisticated state-sponsored attacks, the cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving and growing more complex.

This ever-changing changing landscape means organisations can no longer afford to be complacent when it comes to cybersecurity. Too often, organisations take a reactive approach to cybersecurity – scrambling to respond after a breach or incident has already occurred. However, this reactive mindset leaves companies vulnerable and playing catch-up with threat actors. Only by taking a proactive stance on cyber resilience can companies truly protect their digital assets, ensure business continuity, preserve their reputation and maintain customer trust

Simon Crocker, Senior Director of Systems Engineering at Palo Alto Networks, emphasises the critical importance of adopting a proactive approach to cyber resilience.

“Businesses are facing unprecedented threats to their reputation, operations, and sensitive data,” he says. “Reactive measures alone are insufficient to safeguard against the myriad of cyberattacks that constantly threaten operations.”

The nature of cyber threats has become increasingly complex, with attackers continuously devising new methods to breach defences, exploit vulnerabilities and infiltrate networks. Crocker points to recent disruption caused by the cybercriminal group LockBit as an example, highlighting the need for organisations to stay one step ahead of these threats.

"By adopting a proactive stance, organisations can anticipate potential vulnerabilities and implement preemptive measures to mitigate risks. They need to consider how quickly they can identify the impact and scale of a vulnerability within their environment, patch and relaunch applications, and pull back within the CI/CD pipeline."

Moreover, regulatory bodies are pushing for stringent cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data and uphold best practices. The EU's NIS2 (Network and Information Security) Directive aims to introduce laws to boost cybersecurity across the European Union, and all relevant organisations are expected to comply by the end of this year.

“Taking a proactive approach to make operations cyber-resilient ensures that organisations remain compliant with relevant regulations, avoiding potential legal and financial penalties.”

Building a comprehensive cloud-based cyber resilience strategy

To be proactive when it comes to building security initiatives, organisations must prioritise a comprehensive cyber resilience strategy to safeguard their operations and data. Crocker outlines the critical components of an effective cloud-based cyber resilience approach, the first of which is the building of robust access controls and visibility.

“Implementing stringent authentication mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and role-based access control (RBAC), is fundamental to building a comprehensive cloud-based cyber resilience strategy,” he explains. “Restricting access to only authorised personnel and ensuring strong authentication measures reduce the risk of unauthorised access and data breaches.”

He also highlights the importance of visibility across workloads, access permissions and data in cloud environments. “Organisations need to consider how this is achieved in a holistic, consistent, and scalable way, across a potential multi-cloud environment.”

Continuous monitoring and threat detection are also critical aspects of cloud-based cyber resilience. “Organisations must deploy advanced security monitoring tools and employ techniques such as anomaly detection and behaviour analytics to detect suspicious activities and potential threats in real-time.”

Monitoring cloud infrastructure and user activities, and conducting regular security audits and assessments can detect unauthorised access attempts, identify vulnerabilities and ensure compliance with security policies. Finally, Crocker also underscores the crucial role employees play in building a cyber-resilient organisation. “Providing comprehensive cybersecurity training and awareness programs to educate them about cloud security best practices, phishing scams, and social engineering tactics will encourage a security-conscious culture and empower employees to report suspicious activities promptly.”

The role of AI in driving cyber resilience

AI's role in cybersecurity is evolving rapidly, with disinformation campaigns and the creation of deep fakes posing challenges to discern real information from fake, particularly in critical events like elections and geopolitical conflicts. Crocker points to recent reports revealing that AI-enabled cyber attacks could bring down the UK's network systems in a matter of seconds - attacks which have already cost the UK economy an estimated £27bn (US$34bn) in 2023 alone.

“On the flip side, AI is playing a crucial role in promoting cyber resilience by augmenting human capabilities, automating repetitive tasks and making proactive threat detection and response possible,” he says. “AI-powered algorithms can analyse massive volumes of data from multiple sources, including network traffic, logs, and endpoint activity, to find patterns suggestive of possible security risks. This enables organisations to take prompt action in response to emerging threats before they become major security issues by detecting anomalies and suspicious activities in real time using machine learning and predictive analytics.”

AI can also be used to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of vulnerability management programmes. “AI-powered vulnerability assessment solutions are capable of automatically identifying and ranking vulnerabilities according to their potential impact on business operations, exploitability and severity.

“Overall, AI enables businesses to improve their cybersecurity defences, reduce the risk of cyberattacks, and strengthen their capacity to withstand and recover from security incidents by utilising AI-driven technologies and platforms.”

Emerging trends and challenges

Looking to the future, one prominent trend will be the continued migration of critical workloads and sensitive data to the cloud, driven by the benefits of scalability, flexibility and cost-efficiency offered by cloud platforms. However, this widespread adoption of cloud services also presents new security issues, especially concerning data privacy, compliance and governance. 

“Given data privacy legislation across the EU and globally continues to become stringent, organisations must make sure they have strong policies and controls in place to safeguard sensitive data and comply with legal obligations,” Crocker explains.

Another emerging trend in cloud security is the growing complexity of cloud environments, driven by the adoption of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud architectures. “As organisations leverage multiple cloud providers and integrate cloud services with available infrastructure, managing security becomes increasingly challenging. This introduces new attack vectors requiring organisations to invest in cloud security tools and platforms that provide centralised visibility and control across heterogeneous environments.

“As cloud adoption continues to grow, cybercriminals are adapting their tactics to target cloud services and infrastructure to exploit vulnerabilities and steal sensitive data,” Crocker concludes. “To defend against these evolving threats, organisations must deploy proactive threat detection and response capabilities that make use of threat intelligence, advanced security analytics and AI-driven technologies to quickly identify and address security problems.”

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