Stay up to date
Stay up to date with the latest threat reports, articles & mistakes to avoid.
Simple, yet important content.
No salesy pitches and all that, promise!
Cloud computing has become a fundamental part of every business and its IT strategy quickly. Still, in between meeting the operational demands, they often overlook the security posture of their cloud-based assets. Amongst all the drivers that demand cloud security assessments, SaaS penetration testing or other types of security reviews, data security and compliance are the two most compelling reasons.
A compliance certificate or a reputed cloud provider usage doesn’t equalise security, so cloud computing security risks must be handled head-on. Let’s understand what these cloud security risks to cloud computing operations are.
The following image shares an easy-to-understand example of various cloud computing services/software models based on the shared responsibility model.
The most common security risks of the cloud computing that many businesses and organisations face are a lack of cyber security measures and strategy in their cloud migration process. These top security concerns for cloud computing cover a range of issues affecting a single service (misconfiguration issues) to the entire cloud (DDoS attack). For a generic read, we have covered an extensive read on the types of cyber attacks here.
The top cloud security risks of cloud computing in 2023
It is one of the most significant security concerns of cloud infrastructure. A small misconfigured component can have a big impact on cloud security and lead to a ripple effect on the security issues in other assets. Most cloud providers are concerned not to experience data breaches due to such issues.
In 2018, an American multinational delivery service company named FedEx suffered a data breach due to a failure in the third-party, public cloud service provider that exposed 119000 scanned documents of FedEx. Cloud misconfiguration mainly occurs due to a lack of secure configuration on cloud applications and ecosystems. Amazon S3 bucket leakages is another example of misconfigured assets that could lead to a data breach.
The following are some of the few components that lead to the misconfiguration security issue in cloud computing.
- Publically accessible or misconfigured Simple Storage Services (S3) bucket.
- Absent or insecurely configured IAM policies
- Unencrypted AMI
- Unrestricted outbound access
- Privileged access posing security concerns in cloud computing environments
- Unencrypted tokens or keys
In cloud computing security, the APIs are the processing backbone and are designed to facilitate data access and integration. If not combined securely, the same APIs can impose a high-security risk on a line of communication through MITM (Man-in-the-Middle Attack) and exploitation of the sensitive data in the cloud.
The primary reason for the insecure API layer is improper security design policies, lack of authentication and access control mechanisms with the wrong dependency chain of APIs. Following OWASP API Top 10 risks can add API security to cloud applications.
Denial of Service (DoS/DDoS)
With businesses utilising more cloud services to run their day-to-day operation, denial of services attack risk has become a severe security threat to the overall cloud computing environment.
A successful DoS (Denial of Service) or DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services) attack can fail various cloud services and resources, disrupting the cloud availability, performance, and service level agreement between the cloud storage provider or service provider its customer.
Data sharing between cloud based resources or on-prem
When cloud computing became handy, the hassle of storing data, files and later sharing them with individuals or groups became more accessible and convenient. But with the same, it introduced the confidentiality and integrity risks on cloud computing.
People can share data and files externally via email or a publicly accessible link in a cloud ecosystem.
This feature for reaching out to the file with the URL shared on public visibility can have multiple security threats on cloud computing services. Any attacker who gets the URL by any cyber attack or breach can invade the shared data privacy, confidentiality, and integrity.
It is one of the important and severe security concerns of cloud computing. A stolen credential of a hijacked cloud account has multiple consequences, from producing unauthorised user access controls to impersonating. The account hacker can carry off data exfiltration, fraud transactional activities, or compromise the customer integrity which can later commence the owner to pay a hefty fine to regulatory compliance in case of confidential personally identifiable information or personal data leak.
Supply chain vulnerabilities
In cloud issues, supply chain vulnerabilities play a significant role in data loss. Nevertheless, it is the sole responsibility of CSP, but it imposes a high security risk to the overall ecosystem.
Today, more businesses are opting for SaaS and PaaS services and a few to IaaS services; it has attracted sophisticated threat actors. Suppose attackers manage to compromise a single vulnerability in the CSP. In that case, they can penetrate the whole CSP customer’s cloud infrastructure and access sensitive data to misuse or take business critical data hostage for ransomware.
Data Loss or theft
Cloud computing shares the convenient and accessible data storage mechanism, leaving behind the necessity of on-prem or hard drive data storage requirements. This triggers the biggest cloud security concern regarding data loss/leakage and theft. Cloud-based file sharing and storing services are accessible via the public internet and contain important confidential information not meant for public release. Suppose any attack befalling the cloud provider or the customer through any security attack can jeopardise the whole data confidentiality.
Besides the cyber attack, data loss can also occur in natural disasters, human error, or other damage to the contracted cloud service provider (CSP).
Data privacy compliances
This remains a significant security issue of cloud computing for many businesses. Data protection rules and regulations such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR, etc., take the organisation liable for processing and protecting the customer’s personal data stored in the cloud. While using cloud services, sensitive data migrates to third-parties cloud service providers and often relies on their data and cloud security strategies.
Security protocols, hardened operating systems, services or any tasks to automate data workflows that are reviewed from data security perspective are some of the tasks involved in securing a cloud platform.
Accidental credential exposure
Usually, the cloud has a one-time log in policy required to access data across the entire cloud environment. Sometimes, it requires account credentials confirmation before granting access to a specific document or application. To obtain the certificates, threat actors often send the targets forged messages and phishing emails to push them open a link or attachment that requires them to confirm a username or password.
Thus, gaining access cloud credentials or any employee or cloud customer credentials of cloud services is easy.
Since the customer does not own cloud infrastructures, it increases cloud computing risk due to limited visibility and control issues such as layout of network operations, geographically distributed data centers, environment and network based monitoring practices and implementation of data protection regulations. Because of the multi-tenanted cloud environment and privacy concerns, cloud providers have all the rights reserved. In contrast, cloud customers have no or minimal visibility below the level of their acquired ecosystem which masks many security threats (such as how cloud based data workflows are established or the involvement of third-party services to sync data or configs).
The lack of cloud visibility and controls affects businesses and impose risks by not monitoring the breach of compliance and other security issues such as the MITM attack.
Lack of access control policies
In cloud computing and traditional data center environments, access control and privilege is another high-security risk. Due to a lack of user access control policies, there are high chances of security incidents whether using public cloud services or cloud software. You might not be aware, but any employee can steal or copy the confidential data on the cloud for themselves or any other malicious purposes. Similarly, they can take advantage of accesses already granted to them in their personal or external individuals’ favour.
With appropriate access controls, control policies poor security measures and monitoring, businesses can regulate permission and reduce the cause of data breaches or theft costs that may impact the business in terms of time, money, or reputation.
Malicious insiders can be current or retired employees, contractors, vendors, or anyone with authentic and authorised access to your cloud environment. The insider attack usually comes in sharing legitimate access to others or leaking sensitive data, and it remains a significant security threat to the cloud infrastructure. By deploying the cloud environment, businesses lose track of traditional security solutions and services, making it difficult to detect malicious inside activities or incidents because of inside attackers.
The best way to avoid this is by constantly auditing and managing file sharing, enforce proper access control permissions, and identifying unusual activities.
Malware has remained a significant security issue in all digital areas, including cloud computing. Attackers inject malware to control user information, steal or modify data, change or reverse functionality, or hostage the target. They infect the cloud modules, including virtual machines, with malicious services implementation through application attack vectors such as XSS or SQL attacks.
Once the malware is successfully deployed, it redirects the user to implanted services to execute it on the user cloud application.
This myth that migrating to cloud computing removes the pressure of traditional security problems and automatically ensures security controls and privacy. Contrary to this, cloud computing security is the shared responsibility of the cloud service provider and the client.
The majority of cloud service providers take the dedicated approach to ensure security. However, those countermeasures are of no use if the cloud customers do not implement security to secure sensitive data and access at their end.
Mitigation of cloud security risks
Regular third-party checks
It is important to identify gaps in the security controls regularly. This ensures all blind spots are checked and corrected to avoid any unnecessary attack surface. Security assessments such as cloud penetration testing or SaaS penetration testing assessments should be undertaken regularly. At the least, an annual assessment or upon significant changes whichever first, security validation exercises should be considered to discover weaknesses in your own cloud systems and network infrastructure.
Secure hardening practices
Ensure technical security baselines are in place and secure hardening ensures security controls before any assets are released in the production environment. This adds to the organisation’s proactive approach from the early days and ensures a multi-layered data security approach.
Encryption (cloud service provider and cloud services)
Encryption is more than a certificate to encrypt data used on your website. It also involves ensuring that data at rest and in transit are secure. This can be difficult due to the lack of resources or developers trying to reinvent the wheel. Therefore, for your assets in cloud environments, ensuring encryption secure configuration checklists and standards before production builds is important.
Your evaluation criteria of cloud provider and their approach towards cloud services on offer must include security as one of the top items.
Two-factor authentication (2FA) must be added as an extra authentication factor to access cloud accounts. This will help reduce the likelihood of account compromises by a great deal, whether it is an insider attack or a credential leakage concern.
A lack of strong authentication could pave the way for brute force attacks or other password related attacks. On the other hand, providing such features as part of your basic security strategy adds to your competitive advantage and improved cloud service experience. This automatically improves your reputation around how cloud computing introduces security protocols and practices, data security commitments to cloud adoption, securing EU citizens data or related compliance from data leakage and other security weaknesses.
You must routinely perform secure backups (at data centres or separate cloud storage locations) to ensure your files are not lost. This may be provided as a feature by your cloud providers. However, you should test how the restore function works to ensure it works when you need it.
User education and training are even more important with remote connectivity and cloud technologies usage. Training your staff regularly on digital risks, security concerns, in this case, helps to ensure staff understand the need to protect assets from accidental events such as phishing attacks and social engineering attacks.
The above is not a complete list of prevention measures, it’s just scratching the surface and providing you a high-level overview.
Your cloud infrastructure is as important to your business as the physical security of your office. But it’s not just about limiting access and then securing data on your network – you need to be proactive in identifying all potential threats before they happen so that you can take preventative measures and mitigate risk. You also want a provider who will proactively monitor any breaches or vulnerabilities, identify them quickly, and fix them before anything bad happens.
At Cyphere, service quality underpins everything we do. Schedule a call to discuss your concerns, improvements to your security strategy or request an assessment.