How to Keep Email Secure When Adopting Cloud-Native Applications
The advantages of adopting Email-as-a-Service (EaaS) and cloud-native applications have been well documented, from scalability to accessibility to convenience. Just as these tools have altered the landscape of software development and business, they’ve also reshaped how we approach cybersecurity.
In fact, cybersecurity is one of many factors we should contemplate when migrating email to the cloud. But hyper-focusing on how secure your ideal cloud-based email service is may create blind spots in your company’s security protocols. We often think of phishing attacks as the main threat associated with email, but there are many other ways cybercriminals can gain access to crucial company information, particularly with cloud-native applications.
In the following guide, we will examine how you can keep your email secure when adding cloud-native applications to your company’s repertoire.
The challenges of cloud security
Traditionally, on-premises software was secured through a software-based security system that featured an antivirus and a firewall. Similarly, on-premises email servers were secured using locally managed email protection software that could help implement Sender Policy Frameworks (SPFs), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).
Despite being older, these methods have not been abandoned due to cloud adoption. Rather, they’ve been updated for modern cloud-native applications and cloud-based email services. Nevertheless, older security models were ostensibly more tangible – as they required a network administrator or dedicated software security officer to implement and maintain them.
Adopting cloud-native software often means divorcing this paradigm – for better or worse. Users can connect to cloud services from virtually any internet-connected device, but so can intruders. In a sense, the cloud’s greatest strength becomes its Achilles heel.
So, not only must cloud-native applications be secure, but the devices that access them too. Your mail server and the client may have the best encryption on the market, but it’s only as secure as the device accessing it. For example, mobile devices can be notoriously susceptible to cyberattacks, and one study found that 89% of mobile device vulnerabilities can be exploited remotely.
Once an intruder gains remote entry into your mobile device, it won’t be hard for them to access user codes and passwords.These credentials may be tied to your email account, where valuable business information is contained. Cybercriminals can use this information to launch a CEO impersonation or domain fraud based cyberattack.
While the challenges of cloud-native security can be multifaceted and complex, they can be overcome.
Security from the ground up
Whether your company develops cloud-native applications or uses them for important business operations, there are a few things you can do to prevent your email from being compromised by a cyber threat.
Prioritize security in cloud-native development
Most software developers ponder security late into the production cycle. Then again, more than 50% of developers working today have less than five years of experience. But we can’t blame security oversight on inexperience. Typically, the focus is placed on getting the code to work first and securing it later.
Contemplating security early in the development cycle adds an additional level of complexity to the process. It also means that software may take longer to develop and ship. But it’s necessary and worth it.
For example, if you’re integrating cloud-based Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) into your application, you must ensure that it is configured for security. This means setting up SMTP authentication for users who will access the mail feature in your application.
There are two ways you can authenticate SMTP-based email servers:
- encrypting and verifying the username and passwords as separate base64 encoded strings
- encrypting and verifying the username and passwords as a combined base64 encoded separated by a UL character
Even if software developers aren’t directly embedding email into their cloud-native applications, ensuring such applications are secure from the beginning of the development cycle will reduce costs and protect against breaches that compromise other communications in the future.
Create and read documentation
If multiple development teams work on a project, they may be isolated from each other. Plus, it isn’t rare for teams to change or swap their members around. Therefore, development teams must be encouraged to maintain detailed documentation throughout the entire development pipeline. This includes how SMTP services and other email elements are integrated into the application.
End-users and organisations adopting cloud-native applications should also have access to some of these documents. They should be encouraged to read them so they can understand what permissions the application requires. Can it access and launch third-party email applications? Can these permissions be revoked?
Understanding the intricacies of business applications before adoption is very important. When things go wrong, it will be easier to track and trace where the breach came from.
Build for failure
Again, one of the biggest disadvantages of cloud-native applications is that they often require a persistent internet connection to be reached. However, some SaaS allows you to access a few of their features offline.
Designing your cloud-native applications for possible failure is important. For instance, if your application can’t access your integrated cloud-based SMTP server, it should have another feature to fall back on. Alternatively, it can inform the user or temporarily store outbound messages and send them when the application has SMTP connectivity again.
Building for failure involves utilizing test automation frameworks and a set of rigorous quality assurance policies for your applications. When end-users pick a cloud-based email service, they must ensure that it’s built for failure too.
You should be able to access important emails offline or through an alternative email client. While building for failure may require additional security checks, it will also ensure that users have a backup when a breach occurs in order to minimise downtimes.
Not only do organisations need to monitor code changes, but also they need to monitor how the application interacts with other applications. This applies to both developers and end-users.
For instance, organisations must watch which ports and IP address cloud-native applications route and receive data from. Does your cloud-native application play nice with other programs? Does it access the same gateways that your email client or server does? These are questions you can answer by consistently monitoring your cloud-native applications.
Implement small incremental changes
Whether developers are making changes to a traditional desktop or a cloud-native application, they must ensure that they make short incremental changes with every deployment.
Whether you’re making changes to your application’s email server or the user interface, short, frequent changes are more optimal than large ones. As the adage goes, “slow and steady wins the race”. Administering short regular incremental changes will prevent developers from making any big code-breaking mistakes because it’s easier to track, trace, and fix gradual changes.
Utilising the right tools for security
We’ve explored what techniques organisations can employ to build or choose more secure cloud-native applications such as email. But how do we put these tools into practice?
When it comes to making your cloud-native application more intrinsically secure and protecting your email system, there are four main options to increase security:
Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP)
CWPPs allow you to protect applications regardless of where you run them on the compute option continuum, whether virtual machines (VMs), containers, or serverless architectures. A comprehensive cloud workload protection platform will also detect any vulnerabilities upon deployment of the application. It may also:
- Prevent host-based intrusions
- Provide memory protection
- Monitor application communication through identity-based micro-segmentation
- Provide Integrity protection
Thus, no matter how or where your email client or server is held, CWPPs will provide an all-encompassing solution. They will ensure that you can securely access your email while monitoring the gateways responsible for sending and receiving mail. From a development perspective, a comprehensive CWPP will help you monitor all stages in the development pipeline.
Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)
Cloud Security Posture Management describes the continuous compliance verification of cloud platform accounts. CSPM platforms will actively scan cloud platform configurations for any erroneous records to correct.
Misconfigurations can often lead to data leakages or breaches. CSPM platforms can help reduce misconfigurations, which makes them important to companies planning to adopt cloud-native development. As more companies migrate their data to the cloud, CSPM is becoming a necessary aspect of security.
A robust CSPM solution is also capable of checking configuration against industry regulations such as:
- The Centre for Internet Security (CIS) benchmark
- Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) frameworks
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) frameworks
The CSPM will be responsible for ensuring that your email client is configured correctly. It will also verify any data that your mail client or cloud-native application needs to store on your device. Finally, it will ensure that the gateway you access your email client from complies with industry regulation.
Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)
A cloud access security broker is a visibility and control point that sits between users and an access point to your organisation’s cloud-native applications. There are three ways an organisation can deploy a CASB:
- Through a proxy-like on-premises gateway
- Through a host-based agent
- Through an API cloud-centric cloud service (SaaS solution)
CASB services are important because they focus on risk and security mitigation to protect the user and the company. They provide visibility into which user apps such as your email client are authorised or unauthorised and how often they are being accessed. Thus, they provide you with the shadow-IT aspects of cloud-native applications.
You can feed the data gathered from a CASB to an AI bot. If a user’s access behaviour suddenly changes, the AI informs them. For instance, if you know the average amount of emails a user sends and receives per day and at what time they usually access their client, you can scan for any deviations that end in a cyberattack. This can act as a form of multi-factor authentication for your email access.
Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP)
Traditionally, you would enforce all three cloud protection tools mentioned above to secure your cloud-native applications (or at least CWPPs). However, with the advent and popularisation of a cloud-native application, some services provide focused security.
These platforms envelop the three approaches of cloud security and apply them to could-native applications. As such, they will use CWP, CSPM, and a CASB to provide an all-in-one solution. This is convenient considering that organisations previously had to implement each approach separately.
Nevertheless, a comprehensive CNAPP will provide automation and security through artificial intelligence, machine learning, and email and behaviour monitoring in addition to these approaches.
When developers use a third-party cloud email solution in their cloud-native architecture or build their own, they need to be proactive about security as a top priority. Under-protection may result in exploited cloud and email gateway holes. Consequently, developers must adopt security-minded strategies throughout the development pipeline.
The more moving parts and connection points, the more complicated security becomes. Thus, making security an intrinsic aspect of the application will reduce future costs, ensure regulatory compliance, and make adopting and paying for additional security solutions unnecessary.