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Cloud computing and risk
Cloud computing has become an integral part of today’s business operations with innumerable benefits to modern IT departments. However, with the convenience of cloud computing comes a range of security risks and threats that must be considered. In this blog post, we will explore some of the most prevalent security risks and threats associated with cloud computing, as well as provide specific details on best practices for mitigating those risks.
A major security risk associated with cloud computing is data loss. Data loss can be the result of a variety of factors: hardware failure (without backups), software updates/bugs corrupting data, or human error. Whatever the case may be, any of these can cause significant business disruption and/or financial loss.
To mitigate the risk of data loss, it is important to have a robust disaster recovery plan in place. This should include regular backups, as well as a plan for how to quickly restore data in the event of a loss. Additionally, consider a cloud provider that offers data redundancy options for added protection.
Data leaks are a significant risk associated with cloud computing. Data leaks can occur when sensitive information is accidentally (or deliberately) shared with unauthorized individuals. Leaks are most commonly the result of human error, with an employee accidentally sharing sensitive information with the wrong person. Alternatively, a software bug may cause data to be unintentionally exposed. Yet another frequent cause is the use of third-party apps and services. These apps and services may have access to sensitive data and, if not properly secured, can cause data leaks. Any one of these instances can lead to legal issues and reputational damage for an organization.
To prevent data leaks, organizations should implement strict access controls and monitor their cloud environment for any unusual activity. Additionally, organizations should regularly review and update their data classification and handling policies to ensure that sensitive information is properly protected.
Data breaches are another meaningful security risk associated with cloud computing. Data breaches can occur when unauthorized individuals gain access to sensitive information stored in the cloud. As is the case with other risks, human error can frequently play a role in making breaches possible, with employees falling victim to a phishing scam or web behavior/activity infecting their machines with malware. Additionally, the rise of cloud-based services and IoT (Internet of Things) devices that rely on the cloud has expanded the attack surface for hackers. As more devices are connected to the cloud, more opportunities are then created for hackers to gain access to sensitive data.
To prevent data breaches, it is important to implement strong security measures, such as encryption and multi-factor authentication. Additionally, organizations should conduct regular security audits and penetration testing to identify and address vulnerabilities in their cloud environment.
Unsecured APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) represent a considerable security risk associated with cloud computing. APIs allow different systems to communicate with each other and, if they are not properly secured, can be exploited by attackers to gain access to sensitive information. In some cases, an attacker might use an unsecured API to manipulate data, leading to data integrity issues. In other cases, unsecured APIs can be used as a vector for DDoS attacks, leading to service disruption and availability issues. In still more cases, unsecured APIs can be used for reconnaissance-like activities, revealing information about the underlying systems and infrastructure to provide bad-actors with valuable information for targeted attacks. In any of these events, organizations might be held liable if sensitive data is not protected.
To prevent this, organizations should implement strict access controls and authentication methods for their APIs, and regularly monitor and audit their API usage.
The use of shared resources creates another security risk associated with cloud computing. Cloud providers often use shared resources (servers, storage, etc.) to provide services to a multitude of customers. The rise of multi-tenancy in cloud services expands the attack surface for hackers and, if segmentation or isolation protections are lacking, increases instances of one customer’s data becoming vulnerable to attack when another customer’s data is compromised.
To mitigate this risk, it is important to use a cloud provider that has strict security measures in place to protect shared resources. Additionally, organizations should consider implementing segmentation and isolation techniques to limit the potential impact of a security incident.
Remote and hybrid work
Remote work has become the norm in recent years, and it has also introduced new security risks associated with cloud computing. When employees work remotely, they are often not working from a secure location and may not have the same security protocols in place as they would in an office. Once again, human error also plays a significant role in heightening risk, with more remote employees equating to more mistakes- which can lead to data breaches or other security incidents increases. Moreover, the shift to remote work has increased the attack surface for hackers. As more employees work remotely, more opportunities emerge for hackers to gain access to sensitive data.
To mitigate this risk, organizations should implement secure remote access solutions and provide employee training on security best practices.
Poor control over data repositories
Lack of control over data repositories is another security risk that comes along with cloud computing. When businesses store data on a cloud server, they are often relying on the management of a cloud provider. While it is true that providers generally have robust systems in place, they are not immune to data loss or corruption. In other instances, a lack of visibility into who has access to data stored in cloud repositories can render controls that are in place ineffectual. Finally, vendor lock-in can create circumstances where a business may become dependent on a single cloud provider and have limited options for migrating data and resources to another provider if needed.
To mitigate this risk, organizations should use cloud providers that offer granular access controls and activity monitoring capabilities.
Insider threats represent a very real security risk associated with cloud computing. Malicious insiders can include employees, contractors, or vendors who have access to sensitive data and resources stored on the cloud, and who can use that access to steal data, disrupt operations, or cause other harm. They may have the ability to bypass traditional security measures, and their actions may go unnoticed for an extended period of time. Insider threats that arise from accidents (sharing sensitive information, falling for phishing scams, etc.) can also have enormous consequences and those are now often magnified by remote work. Additionally, as more employees work remotely, more opportunities crop up for malicious insiders to gain access to sensitive data and resources.
To mitigate this risk, organizations should implement strict access controls and monitoring capabilities, and conduct regular security audits and penetration testing to identify and address vulnerabilities in their cloud environment.
Account hijacking threats are one more serious risk associated with cloud computing. Hackers can use a variety of techniques (phishing, malware, brute-force attacks, etc.) to gain access to cloud accounts and steal sensitive data or disrupt operations. Once they gain access, bad-actors can move laterally to gain access to even more resources and sensitive data. In some cases, malicious insiders may already have access to cloud accounts and use that access to steal data or disrupt operations. As is the case with insider threats, these situations often go unnoticed for extended periods of time, further exacerbating the risk. And once again, as remote work continues to expand, the risk of account takeover increases as more employees and devices are connected to the cloud.
To prevent account hijacking, organizations should implement multi-factor authentication and regularly monitor their cloud environment for any unusual activity.
Cloud computing offers tremendous flexibility to today’s businesses, with global access and near endless scalability making it easy for organizations to adapt on the fly. That said, understanding the risks and vulnerabilities of using cloud services is a core component of developing a mature security posture. Safeguarding your business against those with malicious intent and ensuring that best practices are in place to minimize the impacts of human error are critical.
Incorporating things like cloud penetration testing or third-party security audits can provide an organization with an added layer of awareness. Detailed threat assessments will help with identifying, monitoring, and managing threats that may be associated with cloud services. Prior to committing to a cloud provider, a conversation that specifically focuses on security may prove incredibly valuable when it comes to protecting the integrity of your business operations.