Efficiency, flexibility, lower fixed costs, better collaborative opportunities, and scalability are just some of the most prominent aspects of cloud computing that appeal to businesses. Hence, it is no surprise that more than 70% of the world’s businesses now operate on the cloud. However, while cloud computing does allow businesses to maximize their potential, it is not immune to challenges and risks. The most daunting challenge is security.
Traditional security methods, controls, practices, and mechanisms often fail to fulfill an organization’s cloud security needs properly. The risks and threats faced by cloud computing are consistently evolving.
To counter these threats, it is essential to know them. So, here are the top 10 security risks within cloud computing (in no particular order), as well as the best ways organizations can address them.
Data breaches represent perhaps the most significant threat to your organization’s cloud security. As the overall number of data breaches continues to grow, more and more organizations find their cloud computing capabilities subject to reputational and financial woes brought on by the regulatory and legal blowback from such breaches.
These risks are further amplified if your cloud computing involves using sensitive data at any junction since it opens you up to irreparable implications.
Fortunately, the best way to avoid dealing with such a scenario is to do the basics well. This means ensuring the following:
- All data, specifically sensitive data, is encrypted via the strongest encryption protocols
- Data input and output integrity routines are regularly performed
- Data is removed, disposed of, or relocated per strict policies and procedures
- A robust and proactive incident response plan is in place to mitigate the damage in case of a breach
While hackers are consistently honing their tools to exploit any vulnerabilities, an organization’s lack of a robust cloud security architecture can make it easier for them.
It goes without saying that while cloud computing has been vital in transforming how businesses operate, businesses need to be extremely diligent in making their cloud computing decisions to avoid risks. This starts with a detailed analysis and evaluation of which cloud security architecture best suits their unique business goals and needs.
Other steps organizations can take in that regard include the following:
- Restricting traffic between trusted and untrusted connections on the cloud and network environments
- Running regular risk assessments and making proactive changes in policies, procedures, and practices as required
- Implementing a continuous security monitoring procedure
Like most threats faced by digital assets, cloud computing is also severely vulnerable to an organization’s internal incohesive data access protocols. This is especially true regarding an organization’s overall cloud security and the sensitive data being shared on it.
Ensuring that only the relevant personnel, i.e., employees that need access to a particular cloud environment, gain access to it could be a simple yet highly effective way of eliminating threats to an organization’s cloud infrastructure.
Some other access governance-related steps an organization may take include:
- Implementation of cryptographic access keys, passwords, and multi-factor authentication
- Running regular access privilege assessments and removing any unnecessary or unused credentials
- Implementation of crucial management policies
- Timely modification of each employee’s access to cloud, network, and data components based on their role and need to access these resources
- Documentation of all access control changes
Malware remains a highly effective way of disrupting any organization’s operational protocols, including its cloud computing capabilities.
For elements looking to jeopardize your organization’s cloud security, malware injection via scripts that can be embedded in the cloud services being used at your organization is a tried-and-tested method. These scripts are read as SaaS to the cloud servers since they act as valid instances. Since numerous other software and services are running on these cloud servers, they can remain hidden long enough to cause sizable damage.
With this malware, an attacker can gain oversight of all communication via the compromised cloud. This includes the transfer of sensitive data. This data can then be copied, removed, or altered, causing organizations billions of dollars in remediation costs.
- Have a reliable enterprise malware removal
- Have a robust incident response plan to deal with any malware attacks
Thousands of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) allow users to customize and personalize the native cloud environment based on their needs and preferences. Owing to their widespread use, it’s no surprise that these APIs are the most exposed components of the overall cloud environment.
- Deploy APIs per the industry standards to ensure regulatory and legal compliance
- Avoid utility programs with the system, network, object, and application overriding capabilities
- Avoid reusing API keys
- Use open API frameworks
It is essential to realize that effective cloud computing security relies on proactive measures from the provider and the client.
A client must ensure they have robust and reliable preventative practices and procedures to protect against any cloud security threats adequately. Most providers have protocols of their own to address these issues appropriately.
However, that is where the shared vulnerabilities come in. Lapses in security from either end can compromise the data on the cloud.
Some ways to neutralize these external vulnerabilities include:
- Conducting risk assessments
- Regular security awareness training with third parties that have any access to your cloud and employees
- Ensure all external partners and contractors have adequate preventative measures on par with yours and vice versa
Phishing, keylogging, and buffer overflow are techniques that predate cloud computing. And yet, they remain effective tools in hackers’ arsenals. Using these techniques, a hacker can access employees’ login information to remotely access sensitive data stored on the organization’s cloud infrastructure.
There are more refined versions of these techniques, such as the Man in Cloud attack, where the hackers gain access to an employee’s user token, which cloud platforms use to verify individual devices before authorizing their access. These tokens can enable multiple logins, giving the attacker seamless access to the cloud environment.
The best ways to deal with account hacks include the following:
- Implement strict identity and access management controls
- Have a defense-in-depth protocol enabled across your cloud environment
This threat circles back to an organization’s lapses in its access governance. While access controls will ensure any unintended harm is mitigated as much as possible, employees aiming to deliberately cause harm to the organization’s cloud security in the form of data loss, data breaches, and system downtimes are harder to deal with.
It should also be noted that a malware injection is most likely to be made by an insider with existing access to the cloud environment.
Such threats require organizations further to toughen their access governance protocols in the following ways:
- Permanently restricting access to critical systems for all employees, barring the top management
- Repetitive authorization for any relocation, transfer, or duplication of data on the cloud servers
- Segmented cloud infrastructure for various business units
- Regular revalidation of user access controls
The metastructure is the glue that helps bind the various technologies used within the cloud infrastructure. As you can imagine, this is also a widely targeted layer by attackers. Additionally, several other issues may leave the overall cloud environment and infrastructure vulnerable.
This can include poor API implementation, improper cloud usage, and malicious third-party app access.
The best way to avoid such a scenario is to:
- Conduct regular penetration
- Have plans in place to ensure business continuity
- Have all data, in storage, in transition, and in use properly encrypted
This has long been a problem for organizations. It is no surprise that it has also spilled over into cloud computing security threats. While cloud computing does offer better results and operability than any other traditional method, a lack of visibility into its usage can lead to several security vulnerabilities.
Employees using apps and software not sanctioned or recommended by the IT department or using it in a manner not advised can lead to problems related to access governance, as stated above.
The most effective ways of dealing with it include:
- Having cloud visibility mechanisms enabled throughout an organization
- Conducting regular company trainings and workshops on acceptable cloud usage policies
- All unapproved apps and services are to be reviewed and approved by the organization’s internal cloud security architect