The technological change of the 21st century has seen rapid growth in the innovation and fastest adoption of cloud computing. It is now considered the most ingenious solution that removes the idea of having a data centre by helping businesses meet their needs virtually in the most cost-effective, efficient, and productive way.
Cloud computing has become a fundamental part of every business and its IT strategy in a short span.
Businesses of every category are increasingly migrating to cloud services and depending on their day-to-day tasks and needs. Still, in between meeting the operational demands, they often overlook the security posture of their cloud-based assets. To understand and mitigate the security risks of cloud computing. It is essential to learn what cloud computing is and what services it offers.
What is Cloud computing?
In definition, cloud computing is described as the on-demand delivery of computer system resources through the internet. It includes resources such as data storage, servers, network, software, etc. Cloud computing offers users and companies virtual hardware and software to store, access, and retrieve information remotely via the internet.
Types of cloud computing models
There are three types of Cloud computing models:
Software as a Service (Saas): A cloud-based service model offers software accessibility via an Internet browser. Subscribers pay to use software virtually instead of downloading or installing it on desktop, PC, or business network.
Examples of Saas are Microsoft office 365, Dropbox, Google workspace, etc.
Platform as a Service (PaaS): In PaaS, the cloud service provider (CSP) or third-party vendor allows the subscriber to develop, run and manage the application or software over an on-demand platform without the need for infrastructure to create or build the software/application.
Examples of PasS are Oracle, TomCat, Google App Engine, etc.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) refers to the cloud service model that offers overall hardware and infrastructure as a service. IaaS enables businesses to have on-demand resources for accessing, monitoring, networking, storage, and other services instead of various hardware and solutions.
IaaS are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine (GCE), etc.
What are the security risks of cloud computing?
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).
We have covered an extensive read on the types of cyber attacks here.
It is one of the most significant security risks 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.
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.
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 improper configured IAM policies
- Unencrypted AMI
- Unrestricted outbound access
- Privileged access posing security risks in cloud computing environments
- Unencrypted tokens or keys
In cloud computing security, the APIs are the backbone of processing 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 cloud security design policies, lack of authentication and access control mechanism with wrong dependency chain of APIs. By following OWASP API Top 10 risks, API security can be added to the 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, resulting in disrupting the cloud availability, performance, and service level agreement between the cloud service provider and its customer.
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 risks on cloud computing assets. 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 risks of cloud computing. A stolen credential of a hijacked cloud account has multiple consequences, from producing unauthorised access to impersonating. The account hacker can carry off the data exfiltration, fraud transactional activities, or compromise the customer integrity that can later commence the owner to pay a hefty fine to regulatory compliance in case of confidential information or personal data leak.
Supply chain vulnerabilities
In cloud security issues, supply chain vulnerabilities play a significant role in data loss. Nevertheless, it is the sole responsibility of CSP, but it imposes a high cloud security risk to the overall ecosystem.
Today, more businesses are opting for SaaS and PaaS services and a few to IaaS services; it has become a source of attraction to 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 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 concerns 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 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.
Every information stored and accessible online takes a minor glitch to cause a data breach and violate the compliance requirements. This is why it is considered that meeting the compliance standard for many organisations is one of the most significant cloud computing security risks because the cloud service provider might not have the same security policies.
Accidental credential exposure
Usually, the cloud has a one-time log in policy required to access the entire cloud environment. In some cases, it requires account credentials confirmation before granting access to a specific document or application. To obtain the certificates, threat actors often send forged messages and phishing emails to the targets to push them open a link or attachment that requires them to confirm a username or password.
Thus, it gets easy to gain access or any employee or cloud customer credentials of cloud services.
Since the customer does not own cloud infrastructures, it increases cloud computing risk because of the lack of visibility and control issues. Because of the multi-tenanted cloud environment and privacy concerns, cloud service providers have all the rights reserved. In contrast, cloud customers have no or minimal visibility below the level of their acquired ecosystem that masks many security threats.
The lack of cloud visibility and controls affects the 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, access control and privilege is another high-security risk. Due to a lack of user access control policies, there are high chances of data theft or data leak. You might not be aware, but any employee can steal or copy the confidential data available 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 control policies 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, access 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 cloud services 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 cloud 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 security risks in cloud computing
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. Cloud security assessments such as cloud penetration testing, AWS security testing, Azure testing or SaaS security assessments should be undertaken regularly. At the least, an annual assessment or upon major changes, security validation exercises should be considered to discover weaknesses in your cloud 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. At the very least, an organisation can start with a CIS benchmark, secure build configuration review or compliance guides to ensure cloud security baselining is in place. This adds to the organisation’s proactive approach from the early days and ensures a multi-layered data security approach.
Encryption is more than a certificate on your website. It also involves making sure 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, it is important to ensure encryption secure configuration checklists and standards before production builds.
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.
It is imperative that you 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 service provider. 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 the digital risks, cloud 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.
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 securing 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 – 24/7/365! We have been doing this for years with on-premise infrastructures; now, we’re expanding our managed services to include cloud computing security issues because we know essential data protection for businesses today. Get in touch to schedule a call.
Shahrukh, is a passionate cyber security analyst and researcher who loves to write technical blogs on different cyber security topics. He holds a Masters degree in Information Security, an OSCP and has a strong technical skillset in offensive security.