Cloud security professionals are dealing with no shortage of security concerns. Digital transformation to the cloud and a split of the security responsibilities between cloud vendors and cloud clients has led to an increase in the attack surface. As a result, cloud security stakeholders are constantly having to research and learn about new threats and vulnerabilities so they can mitigate any organizational risks.
To help, we’ve compiled a list of the top 24 cloud security concerns to date. We recommend taking these concerns into account when building your security plan. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to our consulting team.
One of the most common security concerns, a data breach is a violation in which an unauthorized individual gains access to sensitive or confidential information, and leaks it. This can occur intentionally, as the result of an attack, or accidentally, due to lax security measures. According to a recent Identity Theft Research Center report, by Q3 2021, 2021’s data breaches had already surpassed those of 2020.
An insider threat is a risk that occurs from within the organization. The risky inside actor can be a current or former employee, a vendor, a board member or a supplier. Such a threat can be the result of an individual abusing their access maliciously or providing access to attackers accidentally. One way to avoid this is to manage identities and permissions.
Denial-of-service (DoS) Attacks
A DoS attack is one in which a system connected to the public internet is flooded with requests and traffic to make it crash. This kind of attack action makes the system unavailable to users. DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) means the attacks originate from multiple resources.
Hackers exploit insecurely designed APIs to gain access to organizational systems. When building API endpoints, organizations need to take security best practices like authentication, access control and monitoring into consideration.
Misconfigurations in systems and networks can provide an entry point to attackers and enable them to move laterally in the network or, if they’re already inside, to access sensitive resources. Misconfigurations can be the result of overlooked system areas or a “lack of a security mindset” when setting up and auditing the configurations.
Global and industry regulations like HIPAA, GDPR and ISO-27001 require organizations to take various security measures across their cloud infrastructure. Failure to do so has financial and legal implications. Securing the cloud according to compliance requirements can help organizations pass various security audits, and build trust and confidence among customers.
Identity theft involves impersonating another individual or user for the purpose of committing fraud. Quite often this type of attack is carried out for financial ends, like access to bank accounts. For businesses, identity theft can include stealing credentials from an employee to gain access to organizational systems.
Ransomware and Other Malware
Ransomware and other malware are software intended to cause damage to a network, system or device. Attackers use it to infiltrate systems to extract data and information, bring the system to a halt or demand a ransom. Despite the growth in such threats, companies can easily stave off points of attack by exercising better security practices.
Lack of Visibility
Lack of visibility is the inability to view and analyze the security level of the cloud — or at least not at a granular enough level to spot risk. This opaqueness means that misconfigurations, insecure APIs (see above), excessive permissions and other vulnerabilities put an organization at risk. No-code/low-code systems (shadow IT), which bypass the main IT department in introducing new applications, contribute much to lack of cloud visibility.
Risky Identity Management and Access Permissions
The growing number of human and machine identities in the cloud have made it very difficult for IT/cloud security teams to manage permissions and access policies. As a result, many organizational users have excessive access to organizational systems. If their credentials are breached, attackers can gain access to sensitive information.
Cloud Account Hijacking
Hijacking of cloud accounts is the act of maliciously gaining access to privileged and sensitive accounts. It enables attackers to progress laterally in the system in a relatively easy manner. This security threat puts an entire cloud infrastructure at risk. The hijacking often occurs through direct attacks, such as phishing, on the accounts.
Metastructure and Applistructure Failures
Metastructure and applistructure failures are any security operational failure that takes place at the cloud provider level. It is important to understand which part of the cloud you are responsible for and stay up-to-date on security operations your cloud provider is implementing.
Cloud Service Abuse
Abuse of cloud services is malware directed at cloud computing. Such malware can be hosted on cloud services and leveraged by cloud sharing tools for distribution.
External Data Sharing or Data Loss
The sharing of data with employees or the supply chain without proper security measures can expose the data externally or result in data breaches. Recovering from such incidents can be costly and take a lot of time.
Data privacy involves protecting how the organization handles sensitive data so as to ensure that Personal Identifiable Information (PII) or confidential business information is not exposed to malicious actors. Data privacy is ensured through compliance regulations (see above). In any case, it is recommended to take extra measures to secure valuable data. Protecting private data is also a way organizations can prove to their customers they can be trusted.
Incident responses refers to the activities an organization takes upon an attack to identify, analyze and remediate the consequences of the attack and prevent it from occurring in the future. With the growing likelihood of organizations to be cyberattacked, incident response guidelines can help minimize the immediate and long-term risks these attacks entail.
This security concern involves the control of data storage and access policies to ensure data privacy and security. In the cloud, controlling storage and policies is more challenging than on-prem due to the constant growth of cloud identities and complexity of so many policies granting access to resources. Controlling data is a preemptive security measure that requires ongoing auditing to be effective in preventing data breaches.
Inadequate Architecture and Strategy
As IT transitions infrastructure and systems to the cloud, it is important to plan which security measures will be implemented during the transition and after it is complete. Otherwise, data and configurations can be exposed to vulnerabilities (see above) and exploited by malicious actors.
Lack of Staff and Expertise
Cloud computing is a fairly new set of technologies. As a result, the job market suffers from a gap in cloud security professionals and expertise. Forced to manage their cloud systems without implementing best practices or industry know-how, organizations are exposed to vulnerabilities and attacks.
The pandemic may have accelerated remote work but distribution of vulnerable systems and devices across the cloud started long before then. Multiple edges, including mobile devices, laptops, data centers and access from remote locations, demand use of new security technologies and models to effectively secure access.
Multiple Security Vendors
The growing number of threats has led to new technologies and vendors that claim to address these threats — and that clamor to say their security category is the most important to invest in. Understanding which vendors provide the best solutions to the most critical vulnerabilities is time-consuming and risky. Even after choosing the best solutions, IT teams need to ensure they all integrate with each other in a frictionless manner.
New Types of Identities
The cloud has introduced new types of users that require security management. In addition to human users, machines now also have identities that are entitled to perform actions such as turning on virtual machines and buckets, or providing access to other identities. Management of these entitlements is a complex process which, if overlooked, can result in data breaches and network penetration.
“The cloud” is not a homogeneous entity; rather, it is made up of different components. In addition, there are multiple Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs), with AWS, Azure and Google Cloud being the most known — and each provider has its own security controls. It is important to take a unified, multicloud approach to security when possible, for simplicity and greater control.
New types of threats are constantly surfacing. IT technologies and security solutions are being created every day alongside ever-evolving business needs. It is difficult to stay ahead of these changes and not submit yourself to firefighting mode however it is essential to be able to plan and mitigate risks for the long run.
The list above may seem overwhelming, and it may seem hard to know where to start strategically. The best approach to securing your cloud infrastructure is to gain deep visibility. Review your internal systems and organization to identify what you can’t see. Remember that you need to be able to see risk to fix it.
Then, determine the steps necessary toward gaining visibility into your blind spots and identifying and mitigating risks. Consider solutions, as Gartner recommends in its recent reporting on cloud-native application protection needs, that take an integrated, lifecycle approach to securing cloud-native applications.
It is important to communicate to business stakeholders that not all risks can be mitigated and that you need to assume you’ll be breached at some point in time. However, by taking steps to reduce the risks and their severity, and reduce your attack surface to minimize the impact of a cyberattack — and by keeping your auditors and command chain informed of your incremental security posture improvements — you’re enabling your business to continue enjoying the benefits of the cloud while keeping security risk in check.