Buying a cloud-based security solution is more than just buying a technology. Whereas when you buy a physical product, you care mostly about its immediate features and capabilities, a cloud-based service is more than just lines on a spec sheet; rather, it is a combination of multiple elements, all of which must work in tandem, in order to guarantee performance.
Cloud Service = Technology + Network + Support
There are three primary elements that determine the quality of a cloud security service: technology, network, and support.
Technology is crucial for the underlying security and protection capabilities. The network is required for a solid foundation on which the technology runs on, and the operation & support component is required to bring them together and keep them working.
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Take any one out, and the other two legs won’t be enough for the service to stand on.
This is particularly true when looking for a cloud-based DDoS scrubbing solution. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks have distinct features that make them different than other types of cyber-attacks. Therefore, there are specific requirements for cloud-based DDoS protection service that cover the full gamut of technology, network, and support that are particular to DDoS protection.
As I explained earlier, technology is just one facet of what makes-up a cloud security service. However, it is the building block on which everything else is built.
The quality of the underlying technology is the most important factor in determining the quality of protection. It is the technology that determines how quickly an attack will be detected; it is the quality of the technology that determines whether it can tell the difference between a traffic spike in legitimate traffic, and a DDoS attack; and it is the technology that determines whether it can adapt to attack patterns in time to keep your application online or not.
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In order to make sure that your protection is up to speed, there are a few key core features you want to make sure that your cloud service provides:
- Behavioral detection: It is often difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate traffic in customer traffic – say, during peak shopping periods – and a surge caused by a DDoS attack. Rate-based detection won’t be able to tell the difference, resulting in false positives. Therefore, behavioral detection, which looks not just at traffic rates, but also at non-rate behavioral parameters is a must-have capability.
- Automatic signature creation: Attackers are relying more and more on multi-vector and ‘hit-and-run’ burst attacks, which frequently switch between different attack methods. Any defense mechanism based on manual configurations will fail because it won’t be able to keep up with changed. Only defenses which provide automatic, real-time signature creation can keep up with such attacks, in order to tailor defenses to the specific characteristics of the attack.
- SSL DDoS protection: As more and more internet traffic becomes encrypted – over 85% according to the latest estimates – protection against encrypted DDoS floods becomes ever more important. Attackers can leverage DDoS attacks in order to launch potent DDoS attacks which can quickly overwhelm server resources. Therefore, protection capabilities against SSL-based DDoS attacks is key.
- Application-layer protection: As more and more services migrate online, application-layer (L7) DDoS attacks are increasingly used in order to take them down. Many traditional DDoS mitigation services look only at network-layer (L3/4) protocols, but up-to-date protection must including application-layer protection, as well.
- Zero-day protection: Finally, attackers are constantly finding new ways of bypassing traditional security mechanisms and hitting organizations with attack methods never seen before. Even by making small changes to attack signatures hackers can craft attacks that are not recognized by manual signatures. That’s why including zero-day protection features, which can adapt to new attack types, is an absolute must-have.
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The next building block is the network. Whereas the technology stops the attack itself, it is the network that scales-out the service and deploys it on a global scale. Here, too, there are specific requirements that are uniquely important in the case of DDoS scrubbing networks:
- Massive capacity: When it comes to protection against volumetric DDoS attacks, size matters. DDoS attack volumes have been steadily increasing over the past decade, with each year reaching new peaks. That is why having large-scale, massive capacity at your disposal in an absolute requirement to stop attacks.
- Dedicated capacity: It’s not enough, however, to just have a lot of capacity. It is also crucial that this capacity be dedicated to DDoS scrubbing. Many security providers rely on their CDN capacity, which is already being widely utilized, for DDoS mitigation, as well. Therefore, it is much more prudent to focus on networks whose capacity is dedicated to DDoS scrubbing and segregated from other services such as CDN, WAF, or load-balancing.
- Global footprint: Fast response and low latency are crucial components in service performance. A critical component in latency, however, is distance between the customer and the host. Therefore, in order to minimize latency, it is important for the scrubbing center to be as close as possible to the customer, which can only be achieve with a globally distributed network with a large footprint.
The final piece of the ‘puzzle’ of providing a high-quality cloud security network is the human element; that is, maintenance, operation and support.
Beyond the cold figures of technical specifications, and the bits-and-bytes of network capacity, it is the service element that ties together the technology and network, and makes sure that they keep working in tandem.
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Here, too, there are a few key elements to look at when considering a cloud security network:
- Global Team: Maintaining global operations of a cloud security service requires a team large enough to ensure 24x7x365 operations. Moreover, sophisticated security teams use a ‘follow-the-sun’ model, with team member distributed strategically around the world, to make sure that experts are always available, regardless of time or location. Only teams that reach a certain size – and companies that reach a certain scale – can guarantee this.
- Team Expertise: Apart from sheer numbers of team member, it is also their expertise that matter. Cyber security is a discipline, and DDoS protection, in particular, is a specialization. Only a team with a distinguished, long track record in protecting specifically against DDoS attacks can ensure that you have the staff, skills, and experience required to be fully protected.
- SLA: The final qualification are the service guarantees provided by your cloud security vendor. Many service providers make extensive guarantees, but fall woefully short when it comes to backing them up. The Service Level Agreement (SLA) is your guarantee that your service provider is willing to put their money where their mouth is. A high-quality SLA must provide individual measurable metrics for attack detection, diversion (if required), alerting, mitigation, and uptime. Falling short of those should call into question your vendors ability to deliver on their promises.
A high-quality cloud security service is more than the sum of its parts. It is the technology, network, and service all working in tandem – and hitting on all cylinders – in order to provide superior protection. Falling short on any one element can potentially jeopardize quality of the protection delivered to customers. Use the points outlined above to ask yourself whether your cloud security vendor has all the right pieces to provide quality protection, and if they don’t – perhaps it is time for you to consider alternatives.