The cloud is the future for every industry. From finance to entertainment to healthcare, cloud computing capabilities help businesses compete with increased flexibility, availability of information, and access. But just like on-premises, data center-based computing, moving to cloud brings its own own cybersecurity risks.
Let’s look at five security threats to cloud computing and how you can best prepare for them.
5 vulnerable areas in cloud computing
Data security in cloud environments is constantly evolving, for both cybercriminals and the security professionals dedicated to stopping them. As technology advances at an incredible pace, it can be difficult for security solutions and professionals alike to keep up. Given the rapid changes in cloud technology, here are five common security issues that every company using cloud resources needs to be aware of:
- Cyberattacks by malicious actors
- Lack of IT operations expertise
- Lack of data visibility
- Lack of access control
- Lateral attacks from one workload to another
Let's dig into each type of threat in more detail:
1. Attacks on cloud data by malicious actors
One of the biggest threats to cloud services are attacks by malicious actors that seek to expose sensitive information; actors that can be both outsider and insider threats. Insider threats have the potential to cause catastrophic damage to a company and its network, whether that threat is accidental or intentional. And malware, ransomware, denial of service, data breaches, and data leakage are all threats to the safety of customer data in cloud environments.
67% of cybersecurity professionals consider data loss and leakage to be the biggest concern in their data protection strategy. Defending against this, and the malicious actors who cause data loss and leakage, must be among the top priorities for security planning and preparation efforts.
2. Lack of IT expertise
The pace of evolution in cloud technology and security is staggering; so much that many companies may find themselves struggling to find enough security professionals to staff their teams or discover they lack the expertise and resources to keep their current team up to date. One report found that 25% of IT managers could not identify up to 70% of their network traffic (with an average of 45% of traffic unidentified across the study). If you have a team that does not know what to look for or what they are looking at, that is a problem. And that lack of knowledge and expertise could easily contribute to issues with misconfiguration, outages, or non-compliance down the road.
3. Lack of data visibility
Sometimes it isn't the IT team's fault that traffic is unidentifiable. That's because in the cloud, the data that security teams need to see isn't always visible; or at least, it's not easily visible. With ever-changing cloud applications, data constantly in transit between different cloud services and environments, and data moving between on-prem environments and to the cloud, traffic can be exceedingly difficult to track, regardless of your team's level of expertise. Changes in regulations, such as HIPAA and GDPR, make visibility into who accessed your data, how, and when, critically important.
Data visibility industry-wide is poor enough that in one survey, 84% of IT professionals agreed that they are concerned about security due to a lack of visibility into network traffic. When you can't see what's happening, how can you prepare to defend against threats? You need to become proactive instead of reactive.
4. Lack of access control
Unauthorized access to sensitive data is a common issue in cloud environments. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) aren't necessarily secure, and hackers are known to pursue vulnerabilities and misconfigurations as part of their typical strategies. Cloud service providers are supposed to plug any holes that arise because of new updates; but that doesn’t mean that organizations don’t need to handle security considerations at all. Inadequate credential protection, misconfigurations, and (as usual) poor password hygiene are all exploits used by attackers to gain access and exfiltrate valuable data.
5. Lateral attacks
We've written about the dangers of lateral movement in hybrid environments previously, and that remains a challenge. Whether you're working with a Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), or Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers (or most likely a combination of all of these services), lateral movement is an attack strategy designed to circumnavigate both cloud and on-premises systems by securing permissions, loopholes, and entry anywhere they can find it. Lateral movement is a long-term penetration technique employed by malicious actors who patiently search through a network, increasing permissions as they go, until they achieve access to the valuable data they are hunting for.
This type of attack is crucial can be slow and hard to detect, making it imperative that organizations adopt a readiness-mindset. Cyberattacks are not a question of if, but when, so being prepared is the best way to accelerate recovery efforts and increase resiliency to future attacks.
The best defense against common cloud security risks
Firewalls and other compensating controls don’t defend cloud environments from security threats, and while there are many solutions designed to detect and prevent intrusion, attackers still find a way in. Cloud adoption continues to accelerate, as does innovation in these new environments. Considering these cloud security challenges is an important step in making sure your organization is ready if —or when — an incident occurs in your cloud environment. Measures such as enforcing multi-factor authentication, adopting a zero-trust model, conducting enhanced risk assessments and exercises, and increased readiness to ransomware and breaches are all key to getting ahead of attackers and keeping your business running smoothly.