A significant part of my day job involves discussing cloud security with customers, and one of the most common questions I encounter is about the best tools and approaches to implement cloud security, hence it always goes back the question. “Native CSP vs. Third-Party Cloud Security Tools: How to make the right choice? “
Cloud security tools are essential for protecting cloud environments, which are complex and challenging to monitor and secure manually. These tools can be broadly categorised into two types: cloud-native tools provided by cloud service providers (CSPs) like AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, and third-party tools developed by different vendors.
Now, which tool is best for Cloud Security? The answer to this question is every consultant’s favourite line: “It depends”. The choice between cloud-native and third-party tools hinges on several factors, including the organisation’s specific needs, expertise in Cloud and Security, and regulatory requirements. In some scenarios, a combination of both types of tools might be the most effective approach.
In some cases, you may use both tools simultaneously or pick and choose specific services/modules from cloud-native and third-party cloud security tools. In this blog post, I have tried to pen down my thought process of performing a fitment analysis and making a recommendation.
Before we get into more details, let’s do a recap of the basics.
What are Cloud Native Security Tools?: The term “cloud-native security” refers to security tools or services that are provided directly by cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Such tools are designed to monitor cloud workloads and data for security risks. It is important to note that the term “cloud-native security” can also refer to any tool used to secure cloud-native workloads.
What are Third-Party Cloud Security Tools? Third-party cloud security tools refer to tools from companies, platforms, or open-source projects that are not directly linked to or owned by public clouds like AWS, Azure, or GCP. These security tools are not built into these cloud environments by default, and users must explicitly deploy them to leverage their benefits.
Who Is Responsible for Cloud Security?: Cloud adopters must be aware that they share responsibility for security with their cloud provider. This is known as the shared responsibility model, which is practised by all cloud providers. The cloud provider is responsible for securing the cloud, while the responsibility for securing workloads and data running in the cloud falls on the cloud customer, which is your organisation.
The following table summarises the responsibilities of each of the parties.
|Cloud Provider Responsibilities
|Cloud Customer Responsibilities
|Ensuring the physical security, as well as software, network, and hardware security of the cloud provider’s facilities.
|Securing your own applications, systems, and datasets running in the cloud
|Preventing attacks that affect entire cloud servers
|Preventing attacks that leverage traffic to your specific application, or connect directly to your workloads
|Make sure cloud provider systems are updated and security patches are applied
|Updating and patching any software you install or run on cloud resources
|Providing options for business continuity for cloud provider infrastructure in case of disasters or system failures
|Ensuring backups and disaster recovery are in place for your workloads, or setting up such capabilities via the cloud provider
Now that we are done with the basics, let’s understand how these offerings from CSPs and 3rd party providers differ in delivering the solution.
Cloud Native Tools: Cloud-native controls offer multiple advantages that make them an appealing choice, such as their ability to seamlessly integrate with other services provided by the same Cloud Service Provider (CSP) and the ease of implementation they offer. Additionally, they often feature enhanced and swifter detection capabilities. However, alongside these strengths, there are important considerations that should not be overlooked. One significant issue is the potential lack of customisation options in cloud-native controls. While they are designed to cater to a broad range of common security needs, they may not adequately address more unique or specific security requirements of certain organisations. This limitation can be a critical factor for businesses with specialised security needs or those operating in highly regulated industries. Another concern is the risk of vendor lock-in when relying solely on CSP-provided controls. This dependency can become a significant challenge if an organization decides to migrate to other cloud providers in the future. It becomes particularly problematic for those considering or already implementing a multi-cloud strategy.
Third-Party Cloud Security Tools: The key advantages of adopting third-party security solutions include their advanced features, such as superior threat detection capabilities, enhanced compliance management, and greater customisation options. They often offer interoperability with existing security systems as well. Their multi-cloud compatibility is a significant benefit for organisations employing diverse cloud services, allowing for consistent security measures across different providers. Additionally, some of these solutions are specialised in certain threat vectors or compliance requirements, providing more tailored protection. Another notable advantage is the possibility of independent security assessments, offering insights that go beyond the scope of what CSPs typically provide. On the other hand, there are notable disadvantages associated with third-party security solutions. One major challenge is the increased complexity in integrating and managing these solutions, which can require additional training and resources. Moreover, the costs associated with licensing and maintaining third-party solutions can be substantial, particularly for organisations with large-scale cloud deployments. These costs are in addition to the basic expenses for cloud services, leading to an overall increase in the budget allocated for cloud security.
Now, let’s get into the framework or thought process I employ when recommending solutions that best fit a given environment. . While I do harbour a certain bias towards AWS GuardDuty in AWS environments owing to its efficiency and effectiveness in threat detection in AWS environments.
I always base my recommendations on a analysis of requirements across four areas:
- Skills: Assessing the team’s ability to manage cloud security tools. For instance, financial service institutions might prefer third-party tools for their simplicity, while startups with cloud-savvy teams might favour CSP native tools for their flexibility and customisation potential.
- Tools’ Capability, Features, and Integration: Aligning tools’ capabilities with organisational needs. Single cloud platform organisations might benefit more from CSP native tools, while multi-cloud environments might require third-party tools for their advanced features and integration capabilities.
- Preventive and Protection Controls: Combining CSP native tools and third-party tools can be effective. Native tools are useful for enforcing basic security rules, while third-party tools excel in detecting and responding to complex threats.
- Ease of Management and Maintenance: The choice depends on the organisation’s size and the complexity of its needs. Startups might prefer easily manageable CSP native tools, while larger organisations might opt for the advanced features of third-party tools.
Under each area I do a requirement analysis basis on the persona of customers and their current needs like this.
- Skills: When it comes to deploying a cloud security solution, assessing the team’s skill set is paramount. In Financial Service Institutions, for example, third-party tools are often favoured. They streamline processes for Risk and Compliance Teams, removing the need for in-depth knowledge of cloud service intricacies. This simplifies report generation and customisations. Conversely, in startups where the team is proficient in cloud services and skilled in tasks like writing automation scripts, configuring, and managing CSP native security tools, these tools are more apt. They offer greater flexibility and control, allowing for customisations that might surpass those of third-party tools.
- Tools’ Capability, Features, and Integration: I place a lot of emphasis on ensuring that the capabilities and features of tools align with our requirements. For instance, an organisation operating on a single cloud platform often benefits more from using CSP (Cloud Service Provider) native tools. In contrast, organisations running multi-cloud environments typically need third-party platforms for effective management. Additionally, a third-party platform is often the go-to choice for organisations seeking an independent assessment of their cloud security, aiming to gain insights that go beyond what CSPs offer. Integration also plays a crucial role, especially when you want to link the cloud security solution with other systems, like ticketing/change management platforms, or CI/CD security. In scenarios requiring seamless integration with minimal effort, third-party platforms usually have an advantage.”
- Preventive and Protection Controls: An essential aspect to consider when evaluating cloud security tools is their dual capability to prevent threats and provide robust protection. In my experience, Combining CSP native tools with third-party tools is often the most effective strategy. For fundamental security controls, such as blocking public storage buckets or restricting resource deployment in unauthorised regions, tools like SCP in AWS, Azure Policies, or GCP’s Organisational Policies are invaluable. They ensure compliance and baseline security within the cloud environment. For more complex security needs, like detecting and countering anomalous or malicious activities, third-party tools excel. Their advanced capabilities in areas like real-time monitoring, incident response, and threat detection provide an additional layer of security.
- Ease of Management and Maintenance: When selecting a cloud security tool, it’s important to consider how easily it can be managed and maintained. This encompasses not just the initial setup but also the ongoing administration and scalability of the tool. For instance, in a fast-paced startup environment, you might prefer tools that are straightforward to configure and require minimal maintenance. These tools should ideally scale automatically with your growing needs, without necessitating constant manual adjustments or complex configurations. CSP native tools often excel in this aspect, as they are seamlessly integrated with the cloud environment and designed for easy scalability. On the other hand, larger organizations or those with more complex security needs might opt for third-party tools, which often offer more advanced features and customization options. While these may require more effort in terms of setup and maintenance, they provide the flexibility needed to tailor the security environment to specific requirements. In such cases, it’s crucial to have a team skilled enough to manage these tools effectively.
Cloud security is a complex field that requires careful consideration of an organisation’s unique needs, skills, and operational scale when selecting the ideal tool. While native Cloud Service Provider (CSP) tools offer essential security controls that are easy to implement, third-party tools provide advanced capabilities and customisation options. The key to choosing the right solution is to understand your organisation’s specific security and operational requirements and select a solution that aligns with those needs while also adapting to the ever-changing cloud environment. Whether you’re using a single cloud platform or managing a complex multi-cloud setup, a combination of cloud-native and third-party tools can help you establish a robust and scalable security posture. It’s important to remember that in cloud security, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best approach is a tailored one that is designed to address the unique challenges and opportunities of your cloud journey.