Organizations across all industries are struggling to guard against IT security breaches. Just last year, Thales surveyed 2,600+ businesses and found that 45% experienced some kind of data breach. Overall, more than 212M people in the U.S. were affected by data breaches in 2021, making the U.S. the most cyber-attacked, and perhaps the most cyber-vulnerable, country in the world.

The thing is, security breaches aren’t necessarily indicative of a weak security posture, though that is true in many cases. What many enterprises actually struggle with is misunderstanding or miscommunication around who is ultimately responsible for IT security.

  • Is it the internal IT security team?
  • A cloud services provider?
  • An on-prem services provider?
  • A third-party vendor?

When it’s not obvious who is in charge of securing what, details fall through the cracks. And in today’s day and age, there is no room for error. Companies have to continuously deliver exceptional services, protect customers, and keep digital assets safe. One major misstep can cost a business its reputation.

The challenge is that modern technology ecosystems are complex. More companies are adopting multi-cloud and hybrid cloud arrangements. They are keeping some legacy applications on-prem while modernizing or launching new applications on the cloud, sometimes even relying on multiple cloud providers.

Cloud computing technology is also accessible through different types of models, each with unique implications for IT security. As a result, it can be hard for security teams to figure out what they need to cover. It takes transparency, careful planning, and open communication to ensure that all aspects of a given IT ecosystem are fully protected.

That’s why the Shared Responsibility model has grown increasingly popular for enterprises on the cloud. This framework helps security teams think through the many layers of their cloud environments and understand who should be accountable for security and compliance.

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the Shared Responsibility model. Use the information here to perform some type of self-evaluation. With that intel, you can start to plug existing IT security gaps.

What is the Shared Responsibility Model?

The Shared Responsibility model refers to a framework that clarifies who, between cloud service providers (CSPs) and cloud customers, has oversight over the many cloud computing layers. These layers include:

  • Infrastructure
  • Data
  • Hardware
  • Operating system
  • Network controls
  • Access rights
  • Endpoints
  • Settings

Such a framework is crucial because it aligns the two parties involved in cloud services engagements. This ensures complete security coverage for data and assets in the cloud. It also facilitates monitoring and tracking, as well as promotes fast incident remediation.

To be clear, the “Shared” in “Shared Responsibility” doesn’t mean that CSPs and clients oversee the same layers. Instead, what they share is security responsibility over the entire cloud computing environment by focusing independently on different areas. Proper implementation of the Shared Responsibility Model means all layers are accounted for without duplicate effort from CSPs or cloud customers.

Companies oftentimes believe that their CSPs automatically take on security responsibility since they are maintaining the data, assets, hardware, etc on their own infrastructure. However, this isn’t the case, and this is where problems arise. Cloud customers are responsible for things like endpoints and user and network security (more on this later). Groups that don’t realize this leave critical assets vulnerable to attack.

That’s why understanding the ins and outs of the Shared Responsibility Model is paramount, especially as it relates to the three primary cloud service arrangements.

The Different Flavors of Shared Responsibility

The Shared Responsibility model takes on different forms depending on how companies leverage the cloud. For instance, under the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud service model, CSPs take on more ownership over IT environment security. They secure the application, perform the maintenance, and provide general management. CSPs are also in charge of keeping their platform, infrastructure, network, APIs, middleware, and virtualization assets secure under the SaaS delivery model.

The cloud service customer, on the other hand, handles security related to endpoints, users, misconfigurations, workloads, and data. So even though customers are taking advantage of software provided by CSPs, they are still responsible for a lot. Again, this is what many security teams don’t realize.

Users take on even more security responsibility under the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model. Here, CSPs provide hardware and software that customers can then use to develop their own applications. So, the CSP secures the platform – hardware and software – while the customer secures the applications that are developed on that platform.

Under PaaS arrangements, CSPs still cover virtualization and network security. However, users take over security for infrastructure, APIs, and middleware. And as always, cloud customers are still responsible for endpoints, data, users, containers, and code.

The Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) delivery model goes another step further. Here, vendors provide virtualized servers, network equipment, and storage that customers use as the foundation for their own applications.

Because CSPs deliver infrastructure under this model, they are responsible for securing all infrastructure elements. Meanwhile, customers handle security for anything that uses that infrastructure. This means they take care of application, platform, endpoint, data, network, user, container, API, code, and virtualization security.

To summarize, the Shared Responsibility model is useful across all of these cloud service models. What changes is who is responsible for what between the CSP and the customer. All cloud environment layers are always accounted for, but certain layers can shift hands.

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The Benefits of the Shared Responsibility Model

The Shared Responsibility model can seem overwhelming at first. There are many layers to consider and details to discuss. CSPs and customers have to work together to ensure both sides are clear and confident in their respective duties.

Practically, this requires agreeing on a thorough SLA in which all security responsibilities are spelled out in plain terms. CSPs and customers should review SLAs together, addressing any gray areas or ambiguity. Customers who work with several CSPs should go through this process with each one, recognizing that security standards are different from provider to provider. SLA reviews should also happen if there are any changes in the underlying delivery model, even if there may be a lot of similarities in how security responsibilities are administered.

Another best practice is to focus on securing data. With the public growing increasingly sensitive to how data is managed, this is vital for organizations to get right. Implementing a sophisticated DevSecOps operation is also valuable for making sure that new applications are designed with security in mind rather than after the fact.

When CSPs and customers do collaborate effectively, both benefit significantly. CSPs avoid having angry customers who wrongly accuse them of security neglect. This mitigates fears some organizational leaders have about adopting cloud computing technology when cybersecurity attacks are on the rise. At the same time, cloud customers can offload difficult, time-consuming work and even boost security. CSPs like Amazon Web Services (AWS) offer a wide selection of security tools to help protect data, users, and assets.

For example, solutions like AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) make it easy to manage user permissions across the organization. AWS CloudWatch allows customers to constantly monitor AWS resources for performance issues. AWS Firewall Manager gives security teams one place to configure and control firewall rules across AWS accounts.

These are just a few examples of AWS’ many security products that cover all security concerns, from data protection to compliance and incident response. For those new to AWS or the cloud, knowing which tools to use can be tough. That’s why companies choose to partner with ClearScale, an AWS Premier Tier Services partner with extensive knowledge of cloud security best practices.

Implement the Shared Responsibility Model with ClearScale

We’re deeply familiar with AWS security tools and how to apply them to real organizations, business models, and applications. We also understand the importance of compliance and how to keep data safe according to the latest standards – PCI, HIPAA, SOC 2, etc. We’ve worked with organizations across all industries to upgrade security infrastructure and processes.

Furthermore, we offer managed services to take the burden of IT administration off of cloud users completely. Our Premier managed services package includes 24/7 security monitoring and custom security configuration. We also provide 60 supplemental service hours through which we conduct an AWS security audit, implement custom security monitors, and more.

For those interested in implementing the Shared Responsibility model but want assurance from a trusted cloud expert, we can help. We can figure out where you have security vulnerabilities today and who should be responsible for addressing those. We can also point you in the right direction when it comes to adopting AWS cloud security tools that are designed to protect the layers mentioned above.

With everything today’s leading CSPs offer, leaders shouldn’t have to worry about their cloud environments. In fact, they should be excited about the opportunity to improve security, efficiency, and overall performance. The key is knowing what expectations to have for CSPs and when to ask for outside help.

To learn more about how ClearScale can support your Shared Responsibility model execution, contact us today.

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