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3 Critical Cloud Security Threats and How to Mitigate Them

Once again, our guest blogger Eddie Segal gives us a great post discussing three Cloud Security Threats with possible solutions on how to fix them

Written by Eddie Segal • Last Updated: • Cloud •

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Cloud computing enables businesses and governments to deliver information technology services over the Internet, and accelerate innovation and collaboration. However, the transition to the cloud has introduced new security challenges, like insecure APIs, cloud misconfiguration, and complex compliance violations. This article reviews these three critical cloud security threats, and offers possible solutions.

How Traditional Cyber Security Differs from Cloud Security

Cloud security protects cloud-based data, systems, and infrastructure from attacks. It differs from traditional on-premises security in connectivity, resources and responsibilities.

On-premises security

Cloud security

Responsibilities

The data center administrator is responsible for security end to end

The cloud provider and cloud user share security responsibility

Connectivity

Uses separately-managed security tools

Driven by API-based security tools

Resources

Static resources with defined network security boundaries 

Dynamic resources with blurred network security boundaries 

Cloud Security Threats and How to Avoid Them

Make sure to track and correct cloud security vulnerabilities to protect your organizations from potential attacks. You can use vulnerability databases to stay up-to-date on current threats to your cloud systems and software. The sections below review the most common cloud security threats and offer suggestions on how to avoid them.

Incorrectly Configured Cloud Storage

Improperly configured cloud storage is the result of an insecure API cloud security threat. In most cases, cloud computing security issues happen due to lack of monitoring and subsequent outcomes. 

Cloud misconfiguration makes cloud servers vulnerable to breaches. The most common forms of misconfiguration include: 

  • Basic access management settings—default security settings of the server usually include basic access management and data availability setting. Basic settings cannot protect your environment from most attacks. 
  • Inconsistent access management—can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Deformed data access—when sensitive data is left out in the open for everyone to access without authorization. 

A good example of cloud misconfiguration is the National Security Agency’s data breach. Secure documents were available to the public from an external browser. 

How to avoid misconfiguration

Confirm that your cloud environment is properly configured when setting up a particular cloud server. This obvious task often gets overlooked in favour of more important things like storing data.

Use dedicated tools to verify the security of your configurations. You can use third-party tools, like CloudSploit and Dome9, to periodically check the state of security configurations and identify possible problems before it is too late. 

Compliance Violations

Cloud migration increases the risk of regulatory compliance violations. Many of these regulations require companies to know where their data is, who has access, how it is protected, and how it is processed. Other regulations require cloud providers to hold certain compliance credentials. Migration mistakes like moving to the wrong provider can introduce potentially serious legal and financial repercussions due to non-compliance.

How to avoid compliance violations?

Controlling and visualizing your data is a key component in cloud security. Cloud service providers should offer data visibility solutions. Visibility enables you to monitor who is accessing your data, regardless of your location.

Your cloud provider should also offer solutions that can discover configuration changes across your ecosystem. In addition, you should have the option to integrate external solutions that can improve your security.

Insecure API

Application User Interfaces (API) are used to operate the system inside the cloud infrastructure. This operation process includes external use by consumers via products like web or mobile applications, and internal use by the company’s employees. The external side is responsible for enabling the transmission of data to service, and also providing different types of analytics. 

However, sometimes API configuration does not meet all requirements and contains serious flaws that can compromise its integrity. As a result, APIs introduce significant cloud security risks like authentication and encryption problems. 

The most common problems that occur due to insecure APIs are:

  • Anonymous access, such as access without authentication 
  • There is no access monitoring, which can also occur due to negligence
  • Reusable passwords and tokens, which are often used in brute force attacks
  • Visible authentication text that you can see on your screen

The most famous example of an insecure API is the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica used Facebook API’s to expose user data, and then use it for analytics purposes. 

How to avoid API problems? 

There are a number of ways:

  • Penetration testing—that simulates an external attack on specific API endpoints. The test tries to break security defenses and gain access to the company’s internal information.
  • Encryption—of the secure socket layer and transport layer data transmission.
  • Multi-factor Authentication—to prevent unauthorized access due to security compromises.
  • Audits—of general system security.

Cloud Security Best Practices 

Follow these best practices to improve the security for your cloud environments:

  • Data encryption—encryption provides an important layer of security since hackers can execute attacks on data during migration and storage.
  • Network segmentation—improves performance and security by separating the networks into segments. You can assess and leverage a different protection approach in each segment.
  • Identity and access management (IAM)—prevents security threats like hijacking of accounts and unauthorized access. You can use IAM solutions to define and enforce access capabilities and policies like multi-factor authentication and role permissions. Cloud environments require access control lists (ACL) to monitor and record access.
  • Training—employees need to understand the security risks of uncareful usage of company tech. You should teach staff about the importance of strong passwords, shadow IT, and identification of malicious emails. Using unauthorized cloud services without permission can put the employee and company at risk.
  • Cloud disaster recovery—set up robust backup solutions to protect your data. Make sure that the standards of your cloud provider match your data retention, backup, and recovery policies.
  • Endpoint security—monitors and protects endpoints and cloud user activity. You can create a robust defense with firewalls, intrusion detection, anti-malware, and access control tools.
  • Implement cloud security policies—create guidelines that define the proper use of each service, the level of access of each user, the type of data you can store in the cloud, and the required security technologies.
  • Penetration testing and audits—enable you to improve your security infrastructure, and to keep it effective. Testing and audits help you analyze vendors' capabilities and compliance with your Service Level Agreements (SLA). It can also make sure that access logs show only authorized personnel.
  • Plan for compliance—ensure you have the required tools and expertise to fully comply with relevant industry standards and regulations. Don’t take the statements of cloud vendors in a literal sense. Rather, understand exactly what you have to do to become compliant in the cloud.

Conclusion

Cloud security is important for safe usage of applications and data in the cloud. There are many different cloud vulnerabilities like misconfiguration and insecure APIs. Therefore, you need to keep track of your vulnerabilities to prevent attacks on your systems. You can prevent these risks before they turn into breaches, by implementing network segmentation, access control, encryption, and penetration testing.

What tools do you use for Cloud Security? Do you add two-factor authentication? Post your comments below and let's discuss.

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Eddie Segal is an electronics engineer with a Master’s Degree from Be’er Sheva University, a big data and web analytics specialist, and also a technology writer. In my writing, I cover subjects ranging from cloud computing to agile development to cybersecurity and deep learning.

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