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Cloud Native Security: Definition, Challenges, and Solutions

Implementing the right cloud native security controls can be difficult. In fact, 72% of organizations admit they moved to the cloud prematurely—before they had the right skills or resources to operate securely. 

Thankfully, cloud native security solutions can help organizations like yours protect your cloud resources, no matter when you transitioned to the cloud. Here’s everything you need to know about integrating cloud native security.

What is Cloud Native Security?

Cloud native security is an integrated security strategy designed to protect cloud architecture—including applications, platforms, storage containers, and other infrastructure—and the data stored within a cloud environment.

Organizations that transition to a cloud, hybrid cloud, or multi-cloud environment often try to maintain security models designed to support on-premises solutions. 

Yet, considering breaches caused by cloud vulnerabilities have increased by 540% since 2016, it’s clear that securing cloud native infrastructure requires a fresh approach.

75% of IT professionals say that transitioning to the cloud significantly expanded their organization’s attack surface, and 59% believe the transition to the cloud made their organization less secure.

Cloud-native security tools and platforms address the cloud security challenges companies often face as their attack surface expands, like:

  • Securing data in cloud environments,
  • Reducing security vulnerabilities in applications,
  • Monitoring and managing threats across cloud architecture,
  • And controlling access to cloud resources.

The 4 Cs of Cloud Native Security

All cloud native security strategies—and the solutions, platforms, and tools used to support those strategies—must address the 4 Cs of Cloud Native Security

  • Cloud
  • Cluster
  • Container
  • Code

Together, these four categories create a nested security strategy that protects cloud resources and solves common security challenges in cloud computing with a layered, “defense-in-depth” approach.

While cloud service providers secure some elements of a company’s cloud native security architecture, many organizations underestimate their role in and responsibility for the cloud environment’s shared security model

As companies create cloud native applications, security must be integrated throughout the development lifecycle, too. Protecting the cloud layer alone is not enough—each layer contains attack vectors and vulnerabilities that require safeguards to prevent cyberattacks.

Understanding the 4 Cs helps organizations develop a more comprehensive strategy and adopt the right cloud native security solutions. Let’s look at each of these in a little more depth.


In the shared responsibility model, cloud service providers secure the infrastructure that supports the cloud environment. They also provide cloud native configuration capabilities and recommendations so organizations can secure their cloud resources.

Your company, alternatively, is responsible for configuring the cloud services, changing default settings or login credentials, managing access controls, and setting up automation correctly. This security layer also involves maintaining observability across your cloud infrastructure to monitor and respond to potential threats. 


As companies develop and maintain cloud native applications, they need to protect the Kubernetes clusters and manage which users have access to cluster components.

Securing Kubernetes clusters is a must because each cluster contains multiple pods which freely communicate. If a malicious actor gains access to one pod, they can easily impact other cluster resources, which can put application security at risk. Designing strong cluster networking policies can restrict traffic and strengthen security.

Protecting clusters is a matter of executing several important tasks:

  • Designing strong cluster networking policies to restrict traffic
  • Encrypting traffic
  • Authenticating users to keep application components secure
  • Adopting the principle of least privilege to limit access to clusters and secure sensitive information

Learn how StrongDM can secure and audit access to all of your Kubernetes clusters.


Assessing vulnerabilities and closing security gaps within applications and their container images is crucial to keep your cloud native architecture safe. 

Many companies pull container images from larger libraries or registries, but not all of those applications are secure. Using trusted and signed container images from known sources is a good rule of thumb for maintaining container security.


Securing the code layer often involves more traditional security strategies, like monitoring endpoints and conducting regular security scans across applications. 

Analyzing code throughout the development lifecycle can also solve a lot of security issues within this category. Introducing a static code analysis tool into the CI/CD pipeline can expose security gaps in new code. Meanwhile, dependency-checking tools can identify vulnerabilities in code that rely on third-party libraries.

Importance of Cloud Native Security

Traditional IT security relies on seeing and monitoring the entire attack surface to detect vulnerabilities and address security risks. However, since cloud native infrastructure is always evolving, it’s impossible to maintain secure cloud environments and cloud native applications with traditional methods.

Instead, teams must introduce and integrate security into all of their cloud resources and the development lifecycle from the beginning. That’s the only way companies can maintain ongoing observability, monitor infrastructure, and prevent cyberattacks across each security layer in the 4 Cs. 

Effective cloud security starts at the top layer by correctly configuring cloud environments. Even though cloud providers offer integrated security capabilities, many companies overlook them, putting their data and applications at risk. 

But ultimately, even if cloud environments are secure, that doesn’t mean the components they contain are protected, too. Introducing the right tools to manage cloud security is crucial to eliminate security gaps and avoid a breach.

Challenges of Cloud Native Security

Despite the need for cloud native security, many organizations continue to struggle with integrating the right safeguards to support increasingly complex IT environments.

Challenge #1: Developers don’t want to be security experts

Security has become a moving target, especially now that developers can implement, scale, and change infrastructure at will. To adapt, companies must blend security awareness into the development process.

Before the cloud, there was a clear separation between the person who wrote the code and the person who worked on the network. Integrating those skills involved having a conversation about “should we versus could we” when it came to development and security. 

But with the cloud, those conversations often don’t happen. Developers aren't security experts, which means security teams must integrate actionable security steps into a developer’s’ workflow without slowing them down. 

Security must shift from the old-school method of ultimate control to empowering teams to make security-informed choices.

Challenge #2: Increasing complexity causes lagging security

One of the hardest challenges for security teams is the perpetual cycle of new technologies, which can leave them trailing behind. In a world with Kubernetes, containers, and serverless computing, where new frameworks emerge all the time, how can security keep up? 

Since this speed of growth is inevitable, partnering with DevOps and introducing security tasks into the organization is critical. Developers need tools to help them make better security decisions—without slowing down.

Challenge #3: Assessing acceptable risk

How do you determine acceptable risk when cloud native environments present so many new challenges? 

Many of the questions security teams face when assessing risk include:

  • Aren’t containers magically secure? How do I secure them?
  • Why are attacks against containers so hard to spot?
  • How are serverless computing frameworks vulnerable?
  • Are we facing a software supply chain crisis? What vulnerabilities does that present in our IT infrastructure?
  • How do we proceed when authentication and authorization are disabled by default?

DevOps teams want to move fast. Security wants to protect business assets without creating a bottleneck. And it’s not a “us vs. you”—it’s a balance. 

Achieving that balance starts with understanding the risks a company is willing to accept and prioritizing safeguards to eliminate unnecessary risk.

Cloud Native Security and PAM

Privileged access management (PAM) is a fundamental part of cloud native security. It solves two critical issues: default credentials and excessive permissions.

Many cloud breaches start when teams don’t update the default login credentials for their cloud environments and resources. These standard credentials often have admin permissions, making them an easy target for malicious actors. PAM solutions help teams recognize and replace these default static credentials with stronger security policies.

PAM solutions make it easy to prevent over-provisioning, too. Even for approved admins, excessive permissions often put cloud resources at risk, especially if user credentials fall into the wrong hands. PAM tools can ensure users have the right access to complete their tasks.

When access is necessary, PAM solutions help teams authenticate user identities and authorize access to the right resources. These tools also maintain comprehensive logs of access activity, offering better visibility into who is accessing which resources and what actions they’re taking.

Cloud Native Security: FAQs

What is the difference between cloud-based and cloud native?

Cloud native security is built on and integrated into cloud environments or applications. These cloud native security solutions are designed specifically to mitigate common cloud security threats.

Cloud-based security may support cloud environments, but these solutions were designed outside of cloud infrastructure. Typically, cloud-based solutions are developed with on-premises security models and interface—rather than integrate—with a cloud environment.

What are the 3 categories of cloud security?

The three categories of cloud security, also known as the 3 Rs, are Rotate, Repair, and Repave. These three elements reduce the impact of cloud security threats when they occur. 

Rotate refers to regularly rotating credentials. 

Repair refers to repairing vulnerabilities as soon as possible. 

Repave refers to recreating vulnerable cloud components from the last known secure state when repairing isn’t enough.

Simplify Cloud Native Security with StrongDM

IT teams know how critical security is in a cloud environment, but often, it’s hard to convince the C-Suite to invest in the right tools.

Traditional PAM solutions aren’t enough to protect cloud native architecture, but many security teams are stuck trying to make an outdated approach fit today’s security needs. Then, they’re the ones who take the blame when a breach occurs. 

StrongDM offers the perfect solution: A modern, cloud native privileged access management solution designed to help your organization stay secure in the cloud or hybrid environments. Our Infrastructure Access Platform integrates with your entire tech stack, providing complete control and visibility into which users have access to which resources.

Ready to see how StrongDM can streamline cloud native security for your organization? Try StrongDM free for 14 days.

About the Author

, Director, Global Customer Engineering, has worked in the information security industry for 20 years on tasks ranging from firewall administration to network security monitoring. His obsession with getting people access to answers led him to publish Practical Vulnerability Management with No Starch Press in 2020. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Clark University, an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Connecticut, and an M.S. in Information Management from the University of Washington. To contact Andy, visit him on LinkedIn.

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