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Security & Identity

Best Kept Security Secrets: Tap into the power of Organization Policy Service

September 26, 2022
Anton Chuvakin

Security Advisor, Office of the CISO, Google Cloud

Seth Rosenblatt

Security Editor, Google Cloud

The canvas of cloud resources is vast, ready for an ambitious organization to craft their digital masterpiece (or perhaps just their business.) Yet before the first brush of paint is applied, a painter in the cloud needs to think about their frame: What shape should it take, what material is it made of, how will it look as a border against the canvas of their cloud service. Google Cloud’s Organization Policy Service is just such a frame, a broad set of tools for our customer’s security teams to set broad yet unbendable limits for engineers before they start working. 

Google Cloud’s Organization (org) Policy Service is one of our most dramatic features but is often under-appreciated by security teams. It provides for a separation of duties by focusing on what users can do, and lets the administrator set restrictions on specific resources to determine how they can be configured. This drives defense in depth from configuration errors as well as defense in depth from attacks. An org policy lets the administrator enforce compliance and conformance at a higher level than Identity and Access Management, which focuses on which users can access specific resources.


Org policies can reduce toil and can improve security at the scale needed by today’s cloud users. Financial services provider HSBC is one of Google Cloud’s largest customers and has been using org policies for years to help it manage cloud resources across its highly-regulated enterprise environment. As the company explains in this video, HSBC’s creative use of org policies manages more than 15,000 service accounts and 40,000 IT professionals. They control 6.5 million virtual machines per year. That’s 22,500 virtual machines per day, and only 2,500 of those VMs exist for more than 24 hours.

HSBC prefers org policies instead of other preventative controls because they are native to Google Cloud and can be enforced independently of how the request originated (such as from Infrastructure-as-Code, Google Cloud services interacting with each other, or a user in the UI.) Detecting resource violations is expensive for many customers, and often comes too late to prevent harm. Org Policies can be deployed to prevent violations from occurring and eliminate detection and remediation costs. 

Importantly, HSBC’s custom installation is designed so that org policy violations are immediately discoverable, which can help HSBC personnel quickly understand how to quickly and accurately correct an error condition. When an action violates org policy, an error code is returned telling the resource requester which policy was violated. Corresponding logs are generated for administrators to monitor and provide further troubleshooting.

Diagram of the organization policy workflow

Here are two additional use cases that further illustrate the power of organization policies.

  • Organizations that operate in a region with rigorous data residency requirements can configure and enable the Location org policy to help ensure that all resources created (such as VMs, clusters, and buckets) are deployed in a particular cloud region. 

  • Admins who want to ensure that only trusted workloads are deployed for Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) or Cloud Run may want to restrict developers to only use verified images in their deployment processes. They can create a custom org policy that targets GKE cluster resource type and create and update methods to block the creation or update of any clusters that do not have binary authorization enforced. 

How it works

Google Cloud offers more than 80 org policies that can be used to restrict and govern interactions with Google Cloud services and resources across important domains such as security, reliability, and compliance. Org policies can help:

  • Restrict resource and service access to the organization domain only, secure public access to resources, or stop service account key abuse. 

  • Enforce use of global or regional DNS, and global or regional load balancing, to Improve service reliability and availability.

  • Specify which services can access resources, in which regions, and at what times in support of compliance objectives.

  • Secure Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) networks and reduce data exfiltration risk by preventing data from leaving a specific perimeter. 

See the Organization Policy Service list of constraints for more about org policies and constraints. 

You can also use the recently introduced Custom Organization Policies to tailor guardrails so they meet your specific compliance and security requirements. With Custom Organization Policies, security administrators can create their own constraints using Common Expression Language (CEL) to define which resource configurations are allowed or denied. Administrators can develop and deploy new policies and constraints in minutes. 

With great power comes great responsibility, so with that in mind we will soon be introducing Dry Run for Custom Org Policies. It will let users put a policy in an audit-only mode to observe behavior during real operations without putting production workloads at risk.

Getting started

Setting up your first org policy is straightforward. An organization policy administrator enables a new organization policy on a Google Cloud organization, folder, or project in scope. Once set, the administrator then determines and applies the constraints. Here’s how it works:

1. Design your constraint, which is a particular type of restriction against either a single Google Cloud service or a group of Google Cloud services. You can choose from the list of available built-in constraints by configuring desired restrictions and exceptions (based on tags) or create custom org policies.

It’s important to remember that descendants of the targeted resource hierarchy node inherit the org policy. By applying an organization policy to the root organization node, you can drive enforcement of that organization policy and configuration of restrictions across your organization.

2. Deploy the org policy to evaluate and allow or deny resource Create, Update, and Delete operations. This can be done through the Google Cloud console, gCloud, or via API. 

3. Monitor audit logs and your Security Command Center Premium findings to detect and respond to policy violations.

Do I need an org policy?

Org policies can help maintain security and compliance at scale while also allowing development teams to work rapidly. Because they give you the ability to set broad guardrails, they can help ensure compliance without adding operational overhead and monitor policy violations. 

To learn more about org policy, please review these resources:

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