Cloud Migration Simplified: SaaS Secrets and PAM Strategy

June 21, 2024 John Walsh

Feature image for blog titled, "Cloud Migration Simplified: SaaS Secrets and PAM Strategy." Image is an abstract depiction of a compass and a map beneath a cloud with a lock embedded in it.

In the era of rapid digital transformation, organizations are prioritizing cloud transformation projects to enhance their operational agility, scalability and cost efficiency. However, this shift takes time and brings significant challenges, particularly in security and identity management. As businesses strive to innovate and keep pace with the competitive landscape, they often accumulate cyber debt – the buildup of security liabilities and risk debt due to delayed software maintenance or outdated security enhancements.

Many large organizations maintain a combination of cloud and traditional infrastructure because they cannot easily migrate or replace certain on-premises infrastructure and applications with cloud-native or SaaS solutions without incurring significant costs or risks to the business. So, a phased migration is the best way to address the complexities and risks associated with cloud transformation.

Cloud Transformation Security Challenges

The CyberArk 2024 Identity Security Threat Landscape Report highlights several critical security challenges associated with digital transformation and the migration to the cloud, focusing on managing and securing identities, particularly machine identities. Key findings and issues identified in the report include:

Digital Transformation and Identity-Related Attacks

  • Top source of attacks: Digital transformation is identified as the leading source of identity-related attacks, presenting significant security challenges for organizations transitioning to cloud environments.
  • Increased attack surface: Cloud migrations expand the attack surface, creating more entry points for potential attacks and making it harder to secure all aspects effectively.

Privileged Machine Identities

  • Prevalence of privileged access: 68% of respondents indicate that most of their machine identities have privileged access. These identities, encompassing applications, services and automated processes, require high-level permissions to operate.
  • Risk of unauthorized access: Privileged machine identities are attractive targets for attackers due to their access to sensitive data and critical systems. Compromise of these identities can result in severe security breaches.

Growth of Machine Identities

  • Machine identities: Leading the surge in identity security needs, driven by the proliferation of automation and microservices in cloud environments.

Operational and Compliance Challenges

  • Operational risks: Inadequate management of secrets and access credentials across diverse cloud environments can lead to inconsistent security policies and weak access controls, increasing the likelihood of security incidents.
  • Compliance challenges: Ensuring compliance with various regulatory requirements is complex in a cloud environment. Organizations must implement effective monitoring, auditing and reporting mechanisms to meet these obligations.

A Phased Cloud Migration Path

Most machine identities have privileged access, and the number of these non-human identities is only growing as automation, AI, cloud and other productivity enhancements become even more widely used. Since machine identities are closely associated with newer technology, it makes sense to start migrating your machine identity security to a centralized SaaS secrets management solution that integrates with your privileged access management (PAM) self-hosted solution and uses the credentials you already manage.

Organizations face increased operational risks and compliance challenges without proper management of machine identities. The complexity of managing secrets across diverse environments can lead to inconsistent security policies, weak access controls and an increased likelihood of security incidents.

Taking a phased approach and starting with SaaS secrets management offers a streamlined and centralized way to manage identities for humans and machines across cloud-native applications, multi-cloud environments and on-premises systems without disrupting your PAM self-hosted solution. This approach provides several key benefits that can significantly alleviate the burden of cyber debt:

  1. Centralized administration and automation: SaaS secrets management platforms provide a unified interface for managing secrets that integrate with your PAM self-hosted solution, simplifying administration and reducing human error risk. Automation capabilities regularly rotate and update secrets for long-standing accounts and use dynamic secrets for ephemeral accounts to minimize the risk of compromised credentials.​​
  2. Enhanced security and compliance: By centralizing secrets management, organizations can enforce consistent security policies and gain comprehensive visibility into how secrets are used and accessed – e
  3. Scalability and flexibility: SaaS solutions scale with an organization’s needs and accommodate the dynamic nature of cloud environments by design. They support a wide range of integrations with cloud platforms, DevOps tools and CI/CD pipelines, enabling security to be seamlessly embedded into development workflows without hindering productivity​​.
  4. Reduced complexity and cost: Managing secrets in a multi-cloud environment can be complex and costly. SaaS secrets management solutions reduce these complexities by providing a cloud-agnostic approach that avoids vendor lock-in and enables organizations to manage secrets uniformly across cloud services and on-premises systems​​.

Best Practices for SaaS Secrets Management Integration

When implementing a SaaS secrets management solution, organizations should consider the following best practices:

  • Comprehensive discovery and onboarding of cloud vaults: Conduct a thorough discovery of all existing secrets and credentials across the and machine identities. Onboarding these secrets into the SaaS platform should be a structured and phased approach to ensure minimal disruption. Security teams need comprehensive visibility and insights into the organization’s secrets stores managed by the cloud service providers (e.g., AWS Secrets Manager (ASM) and Azure Key Vault).
  • Policy-driven access control: Implement fine-grained access controls based on the principle of least privilege. Use policy-driven frameworks to define and enforce who can access specific secrets and under what conditions.
  • Integration with existing solutions: Ensure the secrets management solution integrates seamlessly with your existing PAM solution (self-hosted or SaaS), DevOps and security tools. This enables automated workflows and continuous security without adding friction to development processes.
  • Continuous monitoring and auditing: Use the SaaS platform’s monitoring and auditing capabilities to gain insights into secret usage. Continuous auditing helps identify anomalies and potential security threats, enabling timely interventions.

By addressing these challenges through strategic approaches and advanced security solutions, organizations can better secure their cloud environments against identity-related threats and ensure a more secure digital transformation.

Starting Your SaaS Journey with Secrets Management

As organizations strive to innovate and remain competitive, the accumulation of cyber debt poses significant risks. SaaS secrets management offers a powerful solution to these challenges, providing centralized, scalable and secure management of secrets across diverse environments. By taking a phased approach and adopting SaaS secrets management, organizations can reduce their cyber debt, enhance security and achieve their cloud transformation goals more efficiently while positioning the organization to adapt to future challenges with confidence and resilience.

cyber debt is critical in the cloud transformation journey. Ensure identity security is at the forefront of your software development with insights from the new “Identity Security for Software Development” book by O’Reilly Media and CyberArk. This early-release eBook collaboration offers a blend of theory and practice to protect against the risks of cyber debt in our evolving digital landscape. And be sure to check out our upcoming webinar, “How to Build a Developer-First Cloud Security Program,” on July 9, where I’ll be previewing content from the book.

John Walsh is a senior product marketing manager at CyberArk.

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