Why Adopt PKI-based Identity Security For The Cloud?

What is the change like when organizations move their legacy applications and workloads to the cloud? Essentially, it’s a shift from a small-scale, static environment to a large-scale, dynamic environment. To be more precise, the infrastructure is now much larger in scale and is constantly growing. While the number of machines is increasing astronomically, the life span of these machines has shrunk from years and months to days and hours, making the environment more transient in nature. And, the infrastructure is more interconnected and interdependent with workloads spread over multiple cloud services.  


Cloud Security Challenges

A fundamental challenge that comes with shifting to the cloud is securing and controlling access to the vast number of IT assets in the growing cloud ecosystem. Legacy security controls stacked in data centers are failing to protect assets in third-party cloud environments that are beyond the purview of the traditional perimeter. As a result, some resources are granted default excessive access than they really need, which has significantly increased the risk of lateral movement and data breaches. 

High-profile breaches such as the SolarWinds attack clearly illustrate how malicious actors can exploit weak privileged access controls to gain access to cloud applications and then break into core networks.

There is also the problem of fragmented visibility that makes it particularly challenging to monitor assets and assess risks in multiple cloud environments. Different cloud services come with different management platforms, making it difficult to track resources, entitlements, and access permissions. 

Extending data center-focused security approaches to multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud environments will only complicate security enforcement and introduce vulnerabilities. Cloud security is a new paradigm and must be approached from a new lens– one that understands the characteristics of the cloud.  

The CISO’s Guide to Machine Identity Management.

Why Identity-based Security?

Today, most organizations prefer the flexibility of choosing multiple cloud services that are tailored to their needs. Applications, workloads, and data are usually distributed across multiple public and private cloud platforms. Securing these distributed assets requires a distributed security model that can protect them wherever they are. In other words, it requires a location-independent security model that is not dictated by the traditional network perimeter. 

Also, the number of machines in today’s cloud infrastructures is growing at an unprecedented scale (thanks to the extensive use of cloud instances, microservices, containers, and virtual machines). Securing these assets requires a more granular and layered security control that can keep pace with their changing conditions as they are rapidly being spun up and down. 

All the above factors are pushing organizations to rethink their security approaches and adopt identity-based security for perimeter-less, cloud environments. 

The identity-based security model makes identity the new security perimeter. It recommends establishing digital identities for all network assets and using them to establish trust between assets and enable secure access. Digital identities help authenticate and authorize network entities in a systematic way to ensure only trusted assets are provided with network access. Using identity as the access control helps prevent a host of cloud security issues such as unauthorized application access, malicious lateral movement, data breaches, and non-compliance.  

Unlike static data center security, identity-based security is not bound by the perimeter. It is attached to resources and moves with them wherever they go, creating individual security perimeters. This further helps build a truly location-independent security model that is ideal for perimeter-less environments.

Simplifying Identity-based Security in the Cloud with PKI

Traditionally, Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems have long focused on managing and securing human identities and their access. Machine identities or digital identities have mostly been overlooked. However, with enterprises reprioritizing identity-based security for cloud-first environments, machine identities have now become the key focus.

Securing and managing machine identities starts with public key infrastructure (PKI), a framework that provides a simple and efficient way of using machine identities. Machine identities are digital certificates and cryptographic keys that help identify and authenticate machines to enable secure access and encrypt data in transit to enable secure communication. It is this combination of authentication and encryption that makes PKI a powerful enabler of identity-based security and digital trust. 

A Comprehensive How-To Guide to Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM)

PKI has traditionally been on-premises. It is installed on the organization’s in-house servers, and administered and governed by the organization’s internal PKI team. This arrangement requires a lot of resources and investment and works best for small infrastructures with limited IT footprint. However, when cloud is added to the mix and the infrastructures grows, the on-premise deployment becomes too complex to manage and near-impossible to scale. Given the many setbacks of on-premise deployment, organizations are now looking for cloud alternatives to PKI. 

Advantages of Moving PKI to the Cloud

  • Scalability and Availability

Infrastructures are constantly changing and growing. PKI must come with the ability to scale as needed to meet increased identity management needs. On-premise deployment is a complex undertaking and takes significant time and resources to scale. With cloud-based PKI, enterprises have an adaptable PKI that can rapidly scale on-demand without worrying about operation disruption. On the other hand, cloud-based PKI is offered with limitless capacity and can be scaled up or down depending on business needs. As the infrastructure upgrades are handled entirely by the PKI service provider, organizations can rapidly scale on-demand without disrupting business operations.

  • Enhanced Security

Root certificate authority (CA) and private key are highly sensitive elements of PKI. Cloud-based PKI providers commit to providing the highest level of security for the root CA. All root CA creation functions like key ceremony are performed remotely and securely and the CA key-pair is stored in advanced and secure storage devices such as the FIPS-compliant hardware security module (HSM), which removes the need for human access to the key and prevents potential key compromises. Further, cloud-based PKI solutions equipped with automation help enforce a consistent PKI policy for using certificates and keys, which improves security and regulatory compliance.

  • Uninterrupted Operations

Shifts in PKI ownership or inconsistencies in maintenance tasks such as renewal of CAs often take longer time to resolve. These changes can disrupt PKI operations and impact business continuity in cases of on-premise deployments. With cloud-based PKI, any internal changes related to PKI will not impact its operations, as a dedicated team provided by the PKI provider is always at work remediating issues quickly. 

  • Reduced Cost and Delays with Certificate Lifecycle Automation

Cloud-based PKI eliminates the need for organizations to invest in expensive hardware and software required to operate PKI. Hence, the cost is much less as compared to the traditional on-prem PKI or the managed PKI. Also, advanced cloud-based PKI offerings come equipped with certificate lifecycle automation that helps automate the entire lifecycle of certificate management and prevent costly application outages.

Keeping the Cloud Safe with PKI

According to the State of Cloud Security 2021 by IDC, “70% of organizations are spending more than $10M yearly on cloud infrastructure. On the other hand, 98% report having at least one cloud data breach in the past 18 months, and 67% report three or more incidents.” That makes it abundantly clear that the cloud is the new field of play for attackers. Even so, organizations can beat these odds and reap the fruits of such massive cloud investments by implementing robust security controls in the cloud. PKI-based Identity security is a next-gen approach that promises better security for cloud assets without interfering with their operations.   

If you’re interested in learning how you can step up cloud security by managing machine identities efficiently, download our Security in the Cloud e-book

Do you want to manage your machine identities better?


  • cloud based pki
  • Identity and Access Management
  • identity-based security
  • PKI
  • PKI management
  • PKI-based Identity Security

About the Author

Krupa Patil

Product Marketing Manager

A content creator focused on providing readers and prospective buyers with accurate, useful, and latest product information to help them make better informed decisions.

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