While cloud computing has provided companies with the means to scale their operations quickly, in addition to an array of cost and performance benefits, it’s also opened them to a wide range of cyber threats. The main reason for this is that as companies move their data, applications, and systems to the cloud, as opposed to residing “on-prem”, they can lose visibility over their IT infrastructure and, as a result, the ability to implement sufficient cybersecurity policies and controls.
Understanding the cloud hack threat landscape
The current cloud hack threat landscape has been created by three factors:
- The vast number of organisations migrating to the cloud
Between the cost and performance benefits of the cloud and the rapid digital transformation accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies adopted cloud technology or improved their existing implementations.
- The increasing volume of digital data
The more companies migrate their workloads to the cloud, the more of their data cybercriminals will have access to and the more cloud cybersecurity protection they’ll need.
- The increasing amount of security issues in cloud computing
As malicious actors refine their attack methods, companies must constantly review and improve their cloud cybersecurity mitigation strategies to combat their evolving tools and techniques.
What is a cloud hack and how does it differ from other types of cyber attacks?
A cloud hack is a cyber attack on an organisation’s cloud infrastructure. Cloud hacks mainly differ from other cyber attacks because the infrastructure in which the cloud is stored, including the data and applications, isn’t typically located on a company’s premises but on that of a cloud service provider. This means a company has less control and visibility over their cloud infrastructure than conventional “on-prem” IT setups.
What are the potential consequences of a cloud hack for a business?
The potential fallout of a cloud hack for an organisation includes Data loss or corruption, Disruption of or inability to provide regular service, Financial loss: from ransom, financial penalties for non-compliance, compensation to clients, and Reputational damage.
Common security issues in cloud computing
Let’s turn our attention to some of the most pressing and frequent cloud cybersecurity challenges that companies face.
Lack of visibility
One of the most significant security issues in cloud computing is companies not maintaining enough visibility over their cloud-based infrastructure. Without the appropriate monitoring tools and frequent automatic auditing of their data and assets, companies will fail to adequately protect themselves against cloud hacks.
A lack of understanding of the shared responsibility model
Another overarching cloud security problem that companies face is a lack of understanding of the shared responsibility model: how and where their cloud service provider (CSP) is responsible for their cybersecurity and where their own responsibility lies. While, typically, the CSP is responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure and the organisation is accountable for their data and applications, there needs to be an early discussion to establish respective obligations.
Instances of “shadow IT”, i.e., users installing applications and services without the knowledge of their IT department, is another common cloud security risk factor. Security teams can’t monitor applications they’re unaware of, opening the door to cybersecurity gaps.
Misconfigured cloud services
Cloud misconfigurations, such as unrestricted ports and permitting too much access to workloads, are small errors that can lead to disproportionately large cybersecurity issues, if left unchecked.
Whether stolen access credentials or hijacked sessions, unauthorised access by malicious actors is one of the most common security issues in cybersecurity. Upon gaining access, hackers can freely move around your network – especially if it’s not segmented correctly.
While APIs are vital to cloud-computing environments, allowing companies to integrate a vast range of applications and services, they’re also prone to cyber attacks. Malicious actors may identify a vulnerability in a particular application’s API and use it to gain access to organisations that use it.
With less visibility over their cloud environments than their prior on-prem IT infrastructure, companies are often less effective at preventing malware infections. Malware attacks specific to cloud environments include hyper jacking, i.e., taking over virtual machines, as well as hypervisor and container infections.
Without the appropriate monitoring and controls, internal threats, like aggrieved employees, can operate more freely within a cloud environment, which could include stealing, corrupting, or deleting data, as well as committing other damage to infrastructure and assets.
Cloud cybersecurity best practices for businesses
To create and maintain the most secure cloud computing environment, companies must establish and follow a collection of best practices; here are some of the most important.
Develop a comprehensive cloud cybersecurity policy
This overarching policy establishes organisational guidelines on data access control and privacy, cloud configuration settings, third-party access, backups, patch management, etc. Creating a robust policy covering all aspects of cloud cybersecurity maximises threat prevention and ensures processes and procedures are in place in the event of a cyberattack.
Maximise visibility within the cloud environment
One of the primary aims of security teams is to create as much visibility as possible over the data and systems within the cloud. If cybersecurity personnel isn’t aware of an asset, they can’t monitor and log events from it – which then means they can’t detect if it’s being subject to or used in malicious activity.
Monitor user access
Companies must put tools and processes in place to monitor user access. This includes tracking and logging what a user is attempting to access, if they have sufficient access privileges for the data in question, and, when analysed in combination, if this is unusual behaviour that needs to be flagged. Subsequently, security teams must constantly analyse user access privileges and ensure that only the correct individuals have the appropriate amount of access for as long as necessary and no longer.
Establish a Patch Management Strategy
As unpatched applications are a common attack vector for cybercriminals, organisations must create reliable processes for consistently updating their software and systems. This includes leveraging tools that automate the tracking, implementation, and management of deploying patches and fixes to potentially vulnerable software and firmware.
Monitoring third-party apps
Determining how much access third-party applications have to your data and systems is an essential cloud cybersecurity best practice. Some applications may request access to, or even claim ownership over, your data without sufficient reason, while others have known vulnerabilities that malicious actors exploit in supply chain attacks. Monitoring third-party access to your cloud environment and consistently updating your organisation’s threat intelligence to track which applications are potentially malicious and which vendors are trustworthy is vital for preventing cloud hacks.
Carry out regular backups
Scheduling frequent data backups is a cloud cybersecurity best practice because it supports disaster recovery and aids business continuity in the event of a cyber attack. With sufficient backups, the cloud environment can be restored to a prior, stable state before a malware attack or data breach.
Compliance with data privacy regulations
Companies must ensure their cloud cybersecurity mitigation programs comply with data privacy regulations like PCI-DSS and GDPR. As alluded to above, part of this is determining which compliance aspects are met by their CSP (typically, infrastructure) and which are their responsibility (usually data, workloads, applications, etc.). As with other aspects of cloud cybersecurity, this depends on how much visibility your security teams have into the cloud environment and their ability to determine which data and assets don’t meet compliance standards.
How to prevent cloud hacks
Here are some ways companies can use their cloud cybersecurity best practices to prevent cloud hacks.
- Cybersecurity awareness training
Training your employees to understand common lapses in cybersecurity and be more vigilant is a fundamental and far-reaching way of preventing cloud hacks – and cyber attacks in general. Often, small changes in your employees’ mindsets and habits can significantly improve your company’s cybersecurity posture. Phishing, for instance, is one of the most common ways for cybercriminals to gain access to organisations, so training employees how to spot phishing links decreases the chance of falling victim to one.
- Enforce Strong Password Hygiene:
Though simple, establishing a robust password policy sits atop any organisation’s cloud cybersecurity “stack” – especially in light of the risk of employees overusing passwords. As well as requiring employees to use passwords with upper and lowercase letters, numbers, special characters, be of a certain length, etc., security teams could deploy password managers that generate and remember random passwords for optimal hygiene.
- Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Requiring users to authenticate themselves in multiple ways, i.e., a username and password, help prevent cloud hacks even if a hacker steals access credentials. Plus, MFA, along with the purported location of the user, the device they’re trying to log on with etc., creates context – which helps your access control system flag unauthorised access attempts if something seems unusual.
- Implementing least privilege access
Whether through a Zero Trust architecture or another form of cloud identity access management (IAM), security teams must implement the principle of least privilege to ensure only the appropriate user accounts can access sensitive data.
- Encrypting data
Encryption protects data in transit and at rest, ensuring it is unreadable if intercepted or exfiltrated by malicious actors.
- Regularly Testing Cloud Cybersecurity Measures
After implementing controls and policies to prevent cloud hacks, testing their effectiveness through measures like penetration testing is critical. Not only does this measure the efficacy of your cloud cybersecurity mitigation strategy, by it helps you identify additional IT security gaps in your cloud environment.
How can businesses recover from a cloud hack and prevent future attacks?
• Isolate the hack and ensure the unauthorised user, malware infection, etc., can’t access or spread to other parts of the cloud.
• Restore data to its last known safe state; this requires frequent, scheduled data backups.
• Remediate the cloud hack.
• Investigate the source of the cloud hack and implement the required controls to prevent a future recurrence.
Cloud security tools and technologies
Here are some of the most important cloud cybersecurity solutions companies can use to prevent cloud hacks.
Cloud security posture management (CSPM)
CSPM enables security teams to continuously monitor their cloud infrastructure for misconfiguration issues, compliance risks, and other vulnerabilities, with some CSPM platforms able to auto-remediate certain cyber threats. CSPM increases a company’s visibility within the cloud and allows them to enforce its cloud cybersecurity best practices across multi-cloud and hybrid environments.
Cloud access security broker (CASB)
A CASB is positioned between a company’s cloud infrastructure and their CSP to enforce cloud cybersecurity policies and control who accesses data and what they can do with it. Subsequently, a CASB can assist with authentication, device analysis, encryption, malware detection and prevention, blocking instances of shadow IT, and enforcing Zero Trust.
Cloud workload protection platform (CWPP)
A CWPP secures cloud-based workloads, i.e., hosts, VNS, containers, APIs, etc., and allows security teams to discover workloads deployed in the cloud and apply the appropriate security controls. In the process, a CWPP provides granular visibility and control over workloads, preventing cloud hacks.
The role of cloud cybersecurity in data protection
One key advantage of cloud computing is that a company’s data can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, and from any device. This is especially important with the growing prevalence of distributed teams. However, this also means that an exponentially-increasing amount of data is being stored in the cloud – so data protection controls and policies must be an essential part of your cloud cybersecurity mitigation strategy.
Your data protection policies should include:
- Protection measures that cover the access, transfer and storage of data, including how access permissions are enforced and data encryption methods;
- Ensuring data protection policies comply with the appropriate data privacy regulations;
- Procedures for data discovery and classification: obtaining a comprehensive inventory of your organisation’s data, classifying it accordingly (public, confidential, etc.), and applying the appropriate controls.
The future of cloud cybersecurity
With organisations migrating their work processes to the cloud increasingly rapidly and the enormous amounts of data that accompany them, vendors will continue to enhance their cloud cybersecurity solutions.
Cloud security tools and technologies will become better at protecting multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments and providing security teams with measures to maintain visibility. The amount of automation offered by cloud cybersecurity solutions will also increase, including auto-detection and auto-remediation features. Additionally, cloud security platforms will make more use of AI and ML to analyse large amounts of threat intelligence data and better identify behavioural characteristics typical of malicious activity.
Assessing your cloud cybersecurity
RiskXchange can help you increase visibility within your cloud computing environment, better identify risk factors associated with cloud hacks, and improve your cloud cybersecurity posture.
Contact us for your free cyber risk assessment and prevent cyber attacks on your cloud infrastructure.