Cloud computing services offer many advantages to organizations that use them. There are often financial advantages involved in cloud migrations as the provider’s ability to use an economy of scale-based solution results in cost savings for their customers.
In addition, companies can hire cloud services to enhance their computing resources with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML), which in-house capabilities cannot match. The inherent flexibility of virtualization, which underlies the cloud computing paradigm, allows companies to adjust their requirements and pay only for the resources they need.
The Security Challenges
Along with these benefits come the challenges of having enterprise computing resources in multiple locations. It is not uncommon for an organization to have an on-premises data center and cloud instances hosted by various vendors. It puts additional stress on IT teams to maintain high levels of availability and performance. You need to divide attention between the multiple platforms to deliver your solutions. This set of actions can be challenging to balance. Security in any computing environment is an activity that requires a clear focus.
Cloud Security Risks
The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) published in 2019 a guide on the top threats in cloud computing. The document explains the range of risks that need to be faced when using the cloud. Among the main ones are:
A data breach is perhaps the most feared security issue an organization can face. Data breaches can occur for various reasons, from inadequate network protection to credentials compromised by a phishing attack. The additional connections required to facilitate a cloud infrastructure and the introduction of personnel not under the direct control of the client company amplify the need for a greater emphasis on data breach protection.
Misconfiguration and muted cloud security architecture – Cloud-based resources are complex and prone to configuration errors. This requires the definition of improved change management processes to verify changes made to cloud instances.
Insufficient access control and management – Migrating computing resources to the cloud expose an organization’s environment to agents beyond its direct control. A tailored approach to identity and access management ( IAM) is needed to address the increased risk of unauthorized access or data breaches. The principles of IAM are the same when used with cloud resources or when used in more traditional settings.
Hijacked Accounts and Insider Threats – Account hijacking and misuse of authorized privileges are two related threats that can affect systems in the cloud and those in- premises datacenters. Attackers hijack accounts when they obtain privileged user credentials. It can be done through various means, including email phishing or by compromising the cloud service to steal information.
Insider threats can be malicious in origin or caused by malpractice, recklessness, or negligence. By involving cloud service providers, systems are exposed to additional outside personnel, which introduces more hands that can purposely or accidentally cause problems or access sensitive data that they are not authorized to handle.
Limited visibility into cloud usage – The inability to gain complete visibility into how resources in the cloud environment are being used is an issue that can lead to two types of cyber security issues. The first is the use of rogue applications running on cloud infrastructure. This issue gives rise to the concept of shadow IT, where employees use applications that do not meet corporate standards for legitimate support purposes. The inability to meet organizational guidelines makes these applications a security risk for the entire environment.
Likewise, authorized personnel may misuse valid applications or use stolen credentials, or practical applications may be misused. Discovering the misuse of computing resources requires a deep understanding of the behavior of each good user and the definition of a process to identify and resolve anomalies. The line between acceptable and inappropriate use is fine, and it cannot be easy to detect each case.
Crypto Jacking – Crypto Jacking is a recent addition to hackers’ arsenal and is seen as an easier way to extract financial gains from a company than using ransomware. It works by hijacking some of an organization’s computing resources, which are then used to mine cryptocurrencies—this infection results in fewer CPU cycles available to approved applications.
It can be challenging to identify systems affected by crypto-jacking as they continue to operate, albeit with degraded performance. In a complex cloud infrastructure, many factors can affect its performance. Degradation can sometimes be attributed to a slow network or a bad update.
Best Practices To Ensure Secure Cloud Environments
The risks involved in using cloud services require a set of best practices to keep effective cybersecurity and the company’s computing and data systems safe and available. Many of these methods also apply to on-premises environments. Still, they are even more critical regarding the complexity of cloud infrastructures and the additional opportunities they present for attacks.
Understanding Shared Security Responsibilities – Knowledge is power, which is also true when implementing a cloud security strategy. A company needs to know whose responsibility it is to protect the various aspects of its environment. It is not a problem to be solved with guesswork or guesswork. The well-being of an organization depends on a thorough understanding of the differences between who is responsible for which parts of the computing environment.
Data Protection – The responsibility to be assessed in all cloud models, whether Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Software as a Service (SaaS), refers to application data. In all cases, the client company is responsible for protecting its data. It has to be done by enforcing policies that ensure that data is encrypted at rest and in transit.
When choosing between data security and the performance of the systems that use it, safety always is emphasized. The company must control the keys needed to unlock the encrypted data. Encryption should also be mandatory for backups to protect data from unauthorized entities.
Enhanced Access Management – Two related concepts that any organization should build upon for their cloud presence are the Zero Trust concept and the principle of least privilege. These are the pillars used to develop the identity and access management controls, which provide enhanced cloud security for your infrastructure and your data.
The Zero Trust security model dictates that there are no trusted agents. Requires authorization whenever the user has involvement with the computing environment. It means in practice that simple access to Infrastructure does not allow a user to use its resources indiscriminately. The authorization must be verified at every step of the work through a more granular access management approach, which utilizes multi-factor authentication and analytics technologies.
Frequent audits of user privileges are highly recommended to enforce robust access management. It includes modifications that are necessary as per individual roles within an organization. It also extends to the timely removal of accounts that are no longer needed or are inactive.
Monitoring Strategy – A comprehensive monitoring strategy can be one of the best defenses in cloud computing environments. Many of the hard-to-identify problems can be resolved through a firm monitoring policy. At the most basic level, monitoring will alert organizations to attempts by unauthorized agents to gain access to their resources. Networks, systems, and applications should be in the scope of monitoring, whether the responsibility for protecting them lies with the company or the cloud provider.
Identifying unauthorized application usage can be addressed through historical monitoring, where baselines are constantly compared to current usage patterns. By using these tactics, anomalies that would otherwise slip out of sight can be discovered and promptly addressed. It reinforces the security and ensures that customers are not paying for resources being used for unapproved purposes.
The challenge of maintaining cybersecurity in the cloud is a multifaceted process that requires cooperation between the client company and the cloud provider. Organizations must never lose sight of the fact that they are responsible for their systems and data security.
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