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Top 11 Threats in Cloud Computing and How to Prevent Them

By Hanna Welch | September 12, 2019 |

greater than 9 minutes

The most dominant risks involved with cloud computing are issues relating to configuration and authentication. This article seeks to outline and review the top eleven threats in cloud computing and explain how to prevent them.

One of the most recent reports by Cloud Security Alliance indicates that the most dominant risks involved with cloud computing are issues relating to configuration and authentication. This is a new direction as previous reports pointed to system vulnerabilities and malware.

Businesses are continuously moving their data to the cloud where servers host all sorts of data alongside assets and other apps. Moving to the cloud comes with a lot of advantages, some of which are directly related to operational scalability, access and management. For the most part, the advantages are enough for the modern business to fully trust and host their system on the cloud. But just as is the case with every other technology, there are also risks that come with use of the cloud. This article will outline and review the top eleven threats in cloud computing, starting with issues related to authentication and configuration.

The New Top 11 Threats Associated with Cloud Computing

Previously, security threats presented by the cloud included the like of data loss, system vulnerabilities and service denial. As of August 2019, Cloud Security Alliance published their latest report, which seems to argue that the latest threats in cloud security now involve decisions made around the cloud strategy and its implementation.

The report involved data gathered in a survey where 241 security experts participated. You can read the Top Threats to Cloud Computing: The Egregious 11 detailed report, which also covers effect on businesses, examples based on recent issues and lastly, recommendations that are the keynote of the report.

Security Threat 1: Data Breaches

These involve a wide range of issues and include the likes of cybersecurity incidents or attacks whereby confidential or sensitive data is viewed, accessed, stolen, sold, or used by unauthorised parties.

Impact on the Business

  • Regulatory ramifications that may result in financial loss.
  • Contractual and legal liabilities.
  • Data breaches have the potential of damaging the company’s reputation and result in mistrust within the business’ partners and customers.
  • Loss of Intellectual Property (IP) to the competition.
  • The company’s market value may be affected by the changes on its brand.
  • Data stored online can easily be accessed, exploited or misused by hackers.

Key Recommendations

  • Implementation of encryption techniques to protect data.
  • Strict company profiling and running double security checks on whoever can get access to the protected data.
  • Setting organisational expectations, definitions and value of the data uploaded on the cloud. Defining the impact of its loss on the business as well as those responsible for its protection.

Security Threat 2: Lack of Cloud Security Strategy and Architecture

Cloud migration comes with the need to secure the organisation. Companies move parts of their IT infrastructure to the public cloud, opening themselves to the complexities that come with putting the correct security measures in place to protect against cyber-attacks. The biggest mistake made by businesses migrating for the first time is assuming that they can just copy and paste the existing structure to the cloud, as well as the existing internal IT stack and security controls.

Impact on the Business

  • Financial and productivity loss and reputational damage as a result of severe cyberattacks.
  • Loss of crucial data during the copy-paste type of migration.

Key Recommendations

  • Develop a security architecture framework from scratch and implement it at the same time as you migrate to the cloud.
  • Check that the existing or your own developed architecture corresponds with your business objectives.
  • Keep the threat model up-to-date all the times.
  • Make sure that a proper security structure is applied throughout the process.
  • Keep the security structure visible all the times.

Security Threat 3: Misconfiguration and Change Issues

When computing assets are not configured correctly, they are left exposed, highly vulnerable, and susceptible to malicious attacks. The most common examples of misconfiguration include: unpatched systems, disabled logging, incorrect permissions, disabled security controls, improper configuration settings, etc.

Impact on the Business

  • The impact usually depends on the business, operations and their contingency plan, the level of use of cloud computing and most importantly, the nature of misconfiguration.
  • The major impact of misconfiguration is the exposure of data stored within cloud repositories.

Key Recommendations

  • Reconcile with the fact that cloud-based resources can be dynamic and complex and thus challenging to set up.
  • The cloud needs a new approach as traditional controls and approaches for change management won’t work.
  • Cloud-based resources can be challenging, complex and not so easy to understand, thus proving challenging when setting up.

Security Threat 4: Hijack of Account

Hijackers take over and gain access to business accounts and take control of highly privileged or sensitive data. When there are attacks, the most likely victims in cloud environments are all those accounts that identify as subscriptions or cloud service accounts.

Impact on the Business

  • Relying on a cloud account can be an outright gamble for the business because account hijacking means the hacker can get full control of all data. They can take over the business.
  • Account hijacking comes with risks of data leaks. As a result, the business can suffer brand value and reputational damage and disclosure of business information and personal information of executives and employees.
  • Security breaches can result in disruption of operations and complete loss of operations, assets, capabilities and data.
  • Bouncing back from account hijacking is difficult and can be impossible.

Key Recommendations

  • Account hijacking can result in severe losses and must be taken seriously.
  • Get AIM controls and Defence-in-depth tools as they are key in preventing account hijacking.
Your question: is cloud computing safe?
Our answer: It's effective but not really safe.
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Security Threat 5: Not Enough Management

With insufficient protection of business credentials come security breaches and increased incidents. The company’s cloud system can be easily attacked if you add more risks i.e. lack of multifactor authentication and failure to come up with strong passwords.

Impact on the Business

  • Insufficient credential, identity or key management can kick start unauthorized access to the business data.
  • Because of unauthorized access, data can be subjected to malicious parties pretending to be legitimate bodies or individuals and thus be read, altered and even deleted.
  • Cyber attackers are also able to issue management functions, snoop on data and release malware that will do a lot of damage as it appears to be from a legitimate source.

Key Recommendations

  • Use two-factor authentication to protect all accounts and eliminate the number of root accounts in active use.
  • Implement tighter identity and access controls for all members that can access the cloud.
  • Constantly rotate keys, get rid of unused credentials and privileges, use proper management practices.

Security Threat 6: Insecure APIs and Interfaces

If you’re searching for how to keep data secure on a cloud, you’re showing initiative and seriousness, which is how cloud migration must be handled. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and User Interfaces (UIs) are arguably the most vulnerable parts of any system, at times the only asset(s) having a public IP address out of the trusted boundary. These interfaces have to be designed with a mindset of protecting against attempts to break the company’s security system, and this fact must be taken into consideration when implementing authentication, access control, encryption, and activity monitoring processes.

Impact on the Business

  • The availability of security systems implemented by cloud providers doesn’t eliminate the need for businesses who are customers on those platforms to understand security implications.
  • An unchecked set of APIs and UIs leaves the organization exposed to multiple security issues.

Key Recommendations

  • Use excellent APIs all the time. Implement testing, inventory, protection against abnormal activity, and auditing.
  • Adopt simple and easy-to-use API frameworks such as Open Cloud Computing Interface (OCCI) and Cloud Infrastructure Management Interface (CIMI).
  • Implement proper protection of API keys.

Security Threat 7: Insider Attacks

These threats will always be the most difficult to pick and avoid. Insiders get critical information, such as passwords, handed to them . Thus, there is no need for them to go through firewalls, VPNs and whatever other security measures placed. They can easily operate on a trusted level with full access to the company’s computer systems, personal and organizational data and networks.

Impact on the Business

  • Brutal results that include loss of intellectual property (IP) and proprietary information.
  • As a result of data loss, members and partners of the organization can lose confidence in its services.
  • Business productivity is heavily reduced.
  • The company’s security budget is stretched to handle security incidents as funds must be apportioned to correction, post-incidence analysis, monitoring, surveillance, remediation, and escalation.

Key Recommendations

  • Create strong passwords that are difficult to memorize and update them regularly.
  • Minimize or eliminate insider negligence to remove consequences associated with insider threats.
  • Inform and remind employees of the consequences that come with malicious insider activity.

Security Threat 8: Metastructure and Applistructure Failure

There are multiple levels in the applistructure and metastructure models, and these are a source of a high number of potential failures.

Impact on the Business

  • When metastructure and applistructure components fail at cloud provider levels, this severely impacts service consumers.
  • Also, misconfigurations on the customer’s end might result in operational and financial loss.

Key Recommendations

  • Cloud providers need to be specific about possible mitigations for customers to feel that their selected provider is fully transparent from the onset.
  • Penetration testing must be done by cloud providers, and the results should be provided to customers.
  • Cloud providers are to give customers the go-ahead to implement appropriate features and controls in original cloud designs.

Security Threat 9: Weak Control Plane

From the control plane, the business can achieve a complementary system together with security and integrity to come up with stability for the data. When the control plane is weak, the person in charge of the organization’s security is not in full control of the infrastructure of the data’s layout, verification and security. In such cases, there is no need to wonder whether or not cloud computing is secure; it will clearly not be safe.

Impact on the Business

  • Insecure control planes usually lead to data loss as a result of corruption or theft.
  • They might also result in incurred regulatory punishments for the lost data.
  • Users can also fail to protect their cloud-based business data and apps when working with a weak control plane.

Key Recommendations

  • Check that the selected cloud provider offers adequate security controls that facilitate the business’ needs to fulfil its own legal requirements.
  •  It is the duty of the organization to do due diligence and ensure that they select a cloud service that offers an adequate control plane.

Security Threat 10: Abusive Use of Cloud Services

Misuse of cloud resources can be a factor when targeting cloud providers and their customers. The misuse of cloud services is usually related to individuals hosting malware on cloud services. Look out for abusive use of cloud services such as phishing campaigns and email spam, brute-force attacks, and DDoS attacks, among others.

Impact on the Business

  • Hackers can use the cloud as storage for their malware that can be propagated at any moment. Businesses should keep controls in place to handle such attacks.
  • The cloud service can be used by attackers for illicit activities on the customer’s financial resources (piggyback).

Key Recommendations

  • Use Data Loss Prevention (DLP) technologies to monitor and hinder unauthorized data exfiltration.
  • Organizations should monitor their employees’ online and cloud activity because the traditional system cannot mitigate any risk presented by the usage of a cloud service.

Security Threat 11: Poor Cloud Usage Visibility

When a business fails to analyze whether or not the use of a cloud service can lead to malicious activity, the result is limited cloud usage visibility.

Impact on the Business

  • Leads to ungovernable employees and systems within the organization.
  • Low to non-existing security, such that when employees misconfigure the cloud service, this gap can be exploited not just for the current data but for future uploads as well. Organizational data and finances can end up at risk because of a system that has been compromised by botnets, malware, cryptocurrency mining malware, etc.
  • The organization will end up blind to employee activities.

Key Recommendations

  • Develop a fully inclusive cloud visibility effort that covers the entire organization.
  • Develop and implement mandatory training on acceptable cloud storage services, uses and effects.
  • Effect solutions specifically designed to check and control all the key enterprise cloud apps.
  • Have a cloud security architect who will review and approve or disapprove all cloud services used by the company.

Conclusion

If you would like to find more details on how to ensure security in cloud computing, read the report by Cloud Security Alliance. You will be able to learn more about the system and how best to implement the key recommendations to your business. While at it, check out FileWhopper, which is an advanced cloud system. You can upload any organizational data without the fear of getting hacked. Upload what you want, then pay for the size of data uploaded, and provide the link to anyone you would like to view the files in that link. Your data will be deleted from the cloud 14 days after the upload starts. You no longer have to worry about top-secret data being susceptible to any of these top security threats.

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