Cloud computing offers indisputable benefits, but with the caveat that it can quickly become a disorganized jumble unless adequately managed. It’s common for the average organization to use dozens of cloud instances, solutions, and resources scattered across multiple platforms. Such off-premises services quickly accumulate to accommodate the company’s ever-growing needs. This uncurbed growth, known as cloud sprawl, creates significant economic and security challenges.

Different departments spin up cloud storage and virtual machines as needed to perform their day-to-day tasks. Sometimes, employees use unauthorized applications for convenience. While this approach might seem efficient initially, it eventually has an adverse aftermath where the IT department loses track of the cloud resources in use.

Security Bears the Brunt of It

With no central oversight, security measures aren’t consistently applied across the entire digital territory. This makes it difficult to protect data, making it vulnerable to attacks and creating many compliance gaps. Specifically, sprawl affects a company’s security posture in the following ways:

  • More attack vectors: Every redundant cloud resource is a potential blind spot for the security team and an entry point for threat actors. Unpatched software, misconfigurations, and unauthorized access can lead to data breaches and malware infections.
  • Data security loopholes: When shadow IT becomes the norm and too many cloud resources are scattered around, it raises the risk of unmanaged sensitive data assets.
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) roadblocks: Loosely managed or orphaned cloud accounts often accompany poorly configured permissions and inadequate access controls. Cloud sprawl also amplifies the challenge of securely managing credentials such as usernames, passwords, API keys, and access tokens. This creates additional vulnerabilities.
  • Compliance headaches: Data fragmentation makes it problematic to enforce consistent security policies and ensure compliance with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS that require organizations to shield user data. If you can’t show where your data is and how it’s secured, it will be noted on audit reports, and repeated violations will result in hefty penalties.

This combination of challenges fuels operational complexity as IT teams struggle to keep up with vulnerability patches, access controls, and employee activity monitoring. A “shift left” principle makes a lot of sense in this context. Enforcing centralized management and supervision of cloud resources through a corporate policy should be an indispensable element of cloud migration security.

Beyond Security

Unused or underutilized cloud instances have economic implications. They obscure the company’s overall cloud spending and complicate the process of tracking and optimizing costs. Combined with inefficient load balancing in such a disorganized environment, this can significantly inflate cloud costs.

Misconfigured cloud deployments, along with a plethora of duplicate data dispersed across various platforms, siphon off processing resources that could otherwise be allocated to solutions that matter. These performance bottlenecks lead to slow application loading times, lagging systems, and a negative user experience.

Moreover, siloed cloud instances and decentralized management practices can be at odds with collaboration and agility within the organization. Inconsistent workflows, fragmented data sets, and disparate toolkits hinder productivity and innovation. Operational inefficiencies may arise from manual processes, duplicated efforts, and a lack of standardized procedures for provisioning, monitoring, and troubleshooting cloud resources.

Rein in the Jumble

The key to avoiding cloud sprawl along with its aftereffects is to carefully monitor the entire off-premises landscape used by the organization. However, this is easier said than done, even more so in large enterprise environments where the toolsets of different departments don’t overlap.

Although there’s no single method, the following components can become the stepping-stones to a clutter-free cloud environment:

  1. Centralized control: Define clear guidelines for selecting, deploying, and managing cloud services. It’s also essential to enforce rigorous policies regarding data encryption, access controls, vulnerability management, and compliance requirements across all such resources. Periodic audits and compliance assessments help ensure adherence to corporate and regulatory standards.
  2. Cloud security solutions: Prioritize safe IAM practices to manage user identities, roles, and permissions. Require Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for all logins on all systems, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and implement the principle of least privilege access to reduce the risk of unauthorized account sign-ins.
  3. Cloud visibility: Leverage real-time monitoring tools that provide insights into all cloud resources, services, and activities to facilitate proactive threat detection and incident response. Automation and orchestration solutions can optimize resource consumption and eliminate redundancy, helping you avoid unnecessary cloud spending.
  4. Cross-functional collaboration: Foster interoperability between IT, security, and business teams to align cloud initiatives with organizational goals and security requirements. Transparent communication and knowledge-sharing will mitigate the risks stemming from shadow IT.
  5. Employee training: Conduct ongoing education programs to raise awareness about cloud security best practices and emerging threats in this area. This will equip teams with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively spot, report, and address security vulnerabilities effectively.

Decluttering a company’s cloud ecosystem and keeping it that way requires a holistic approach that combines human efforts with automatic utilities. No matter how obvious it may sound, this has to be an ongoing process bolstered by continuous control and policies.

The proper deployment of cloud computing in corporate networks is a nuanced objective. To get the best mileage out of it, IT teams must prioritize continuous management and supervision that foils cloud sprawl. This strategy prevents the current and future organizational cloud environment from becoming a resource burden and a source of security vulnerabilities.


About the Author:

David Balaban is a cybersecurity analyst with two decades of track record in malware research and antivirus software evaluation. David runs Privacy-PC.com and MacSecurity.net projects that present expert opinions on contemporary information security matters, including social engineering, malware, penetration testing, threat intelligence, online privacy, and white hat hacking. David has a solid malware troubleshooting background, with a recent focus on ransomware countermeasures.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire.