Nexix Security Labs
Cloud Computing Security Vulnerabilities and What to do about them
Companies are rapidly switching to the cloud to revolutionize their digital transformations. There are several benefits of cloud computing including potential lower cost (with more capabilities in the public cloud that could aid productivity versus more limited capabilities in a private cloud) and faster time to market.
However, with the array of benefits that the cloud offers, data security is amongst the key concern holding back enterprises from adopting cloud solutions. Cloud infrastructure may be complex, and everyone knows that complexity is the enemy of security. While most cloud security experts would agree that companies can benefit from the security solutions built into the cloud, but organizations could also make grave errors and expose critical data.
How can companies gain the benefits of cloud computing technology while maintaining data security?
There are many preventive measures that companies can adapt to prevent cloud security vulnerabilities in the early stages. This ranges from simple cloud security solutions such as implementing multi-factor authentication to more complex security controls for compliance with regulatory mandates.
What are some Cloud Computing Security Vulnerabilities, and what are the ways to prevent them?
1. Misconfigured cloud storage
Cloud storage is an enormous source of stolen data for cybercriminals. Cloud storage misconfiguration can quickly escalate into a major cloud security breach for an organization and its customers. The several types of misconfigurations are:
AWS security group misconfiguration: AWS security groups are responsible for providing security at the source, destination, port, and protocol access levels. A misconfiguration in the AWS security groups can allow an attacker to access your cloud-based servers and exfiltrate data.
Lack of access restrictions: Inadequate restrictions or safeguards in place to prevent unauthorized access to your cloud infrastructure can put your enterprise at risk. Insecure cloud storage buckets can result in attackers gaining access to data stored in the cloud and downloading confidential data, which can have devastating consequences for your organization.
How to prevent misconfigured cloud storage:
When it comes to cloud computing, it's always a good idea to double-check cloud storage security configurations upon setting up a cloud server. While this may seem obvious, it can easily get overlooked by other activities such as moving data into the cloud without paying attention to its safety.
You can also use specialized tools to check cloud storage security configurations. These cloud security tools can help you check the state of the security configurations on a schedule and identify vulnerabilities before it's too late.
2. Insecure APIs
Application user interfaces(APIs) are intended to streamline cloud computing processes. If left insecure, APIs can open lines of communications for attackers to exploit cloud resources.
A study revealed that two-thirds of the enterprises exposed their APIs to the public so that external developers and business partners can access software platforms.
With increasing dependence on APIs, attackers have found common ways to exploit insecure APIs for malicious activities for example:
Inadequate authentication: Often developers create APIs without proper authentication controls. As a result, these APIs are completely open to the internet and anyone can use them to access enterprise data and systems.
Insufficient authorization: Too many developers do not think attackers will see the backend API calls and don't put appropriate authorization controls in place. Backend data can be compromised easily if this is not done.
How to prevent insecure APIs
Encourage developers to design APIs with strong authentication, encryption, activity monitoring, and access control. APIs must be secured.
Conduct penetration tests that replicate an external attack targeting your API endpoints and get a secure code review as well. It is best to ensure you have a secure software development lifecycle (SDLC) to ensure you continually develop secure applications and APIs. Also, consider using SSL/TLS encryption for data-in-transit. Implement multi-factor authentication with schemas such as one-time passwords, digital identities, etc. to ensure strong authentication controls.
3. Loss or Theft of Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property (IP) is undeniably one of the most valuable assets of an organization, and it is also vulnerable to security threats, especially if the data is stored online. For many organizations, the IP is the data they own, and data loss means they lose their IP. The most common causes of data loss are as follows:
Data alteration: When data is altered in a way, and it cannot be restored to its previous state, it can result in loss of complete data integrity and might render it useless.
Data deletion: An attacker could delete sensitive data from a cloud service which poses a severe data security threat to an organization's operations.
Loss of access: Attackers can hold information for ransom (ransomware attack) or encrypt data with strong encryption keys until they execute their malicious activities.
How to Prevent Loss or Theft of Intellectual Property
Frequent backups are one of the most effective ways to prevent loss or theft of intellectual property. Set a schedule for regular backups and clear delineation of what data is eligible for backups and what is not. Consider using data loss prevention (DLP) software to detect and prevent unauthorized movement of sensitive data.
Another solution to prevent loss or theft of data is to encrypt your data and Geo diversify your backups. Having offline backups is also very important, especially with ransomware.
4. Compliance violations and regulatory actions
While the cloud offers the benefit of ease of access, it also poses a security risk as it can be difficult to keep track of who can access the information in the cloud.
Under compliance or industry regulations, organizations need to know the details about their data storage and access control.
Moving your applications to the public cloud certainly doesn't guarantee regulatory compliance and usually makes compliance more difficult. The "shared responsibility model" offered by service providers means they own the cloud security, you must maintain your data security in the cloud.
How to Prevent Compliance Violations and Regulatory Actions
The first and foremost step for compliance in the cloud is to thoroughly analyze the cloud service agreement and ask for cloud and data security policies from your service provider.
Make sure you implement a model for access management where you can see the record of what systems are deployed and their cloud security levels.
Implement an incident response plan for violations related to cloud computing. This way, you can quickly identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities in case a cloud data breach occurs, or a vulnerability is exposed to attackers.
5. Loss of control over end-user actions
When companies are not aware of how their employees are using cloud computing services, they could lose control of their data assets and ultimately become vulnerable to breaches and insider security threats.
This can lead to the loss of intellectual property and proprietary information which has clear implications for the organization.
How to Prevent Loss of Control Over End-User Actions
Provide training to your employees to teach them how to handle security vulnerabilities, such as phishing and malware. Educate them about cloud computing and how to protect confidential information they carry outside the organization on their mobile devices or laptops. Inform them of the repercussions related to malicious activities.
Routinely audit servers in the cloud infrastructure to identify data security vulnerabilities that could be exploited and fix them on time. Ensure that privileged central servers and access security systems are limited to a minimum number of people and that, those employees have adequate training to securely handle their administrative rights in the cloud server.
6. Poor Access Management
Improper access management is perhaps the most common cloud computing security risk. In breaches involving web applications, stolen or lost credentials have been the most widely used tool by attackers for several years.
Access management ensures that individuals can perform only the tasks they need to perform. The creation of roles and management of access privileges within the cloud infrastructure can also be challenging for enterprises.
How to Prevent Poor Access Management
To combat poor access management in cloud services, enterprises need to develop a data governance framework for user accounts. For all human users, accounts should be linked directly to the central directory services, such as Active Directory, which is responsible for provisioning, monitoring, and revoking access privileges from a centralized store.
Organizations should also ensure logging and event monitoring mechanisms are in place in cloud environments to detect unusual activity or unauthorized changes. Access keys should be tightly controlled and managed to avoid poor data handling or leakage.
Companies operating in the cloud are taking a preventable yet big risk if they are not looking at mitigating the risks that come with it. Businesses must have strong cloud security policies that can be well integrated into the IT processes that teams use to build applications and deploy them in the cloud infrastructure.
The adoption of cloud computing has transformed the way both companies and hackers work. It has brought a gamut of opportunities as well as a whole new set of cloud security risks. Enterprises need to continuously address cloud security risks and challenges while adopting the right security tools to help make the operational work easier.
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