Cloud computing is ubiquitous and growing quickly, making cloud security increasingly important. We discuss cloud security challenges and ways to overcome them.
What Are Cloud Security Challenges?
Cloud security refers to the procedures and policies that protect complex cloud-based systems. Cloud security challenges include the following:
- Preventing data breaches and unauthorized access
- Compliance with regulatory mandates
- Lack of IT expertise
- Unsecured APIs and interfaces
- Avoiding misconfigurations
- Lack of cloud security strategy
The widespread adoption of the cloud is reflected in the estimated 90% of today’s enterprises that have migrated to it. However, as they have moved away from a traditional IT architecture, these organizations now face a broader threat landscape.
This has subsequently made cloud security a focal point for most companies.
But most of the cloud security problems stem from the “lift and shift” approach embraced when moving on-premises infrastructure and workloads to the cloud with little refactoring. On the other hand, the cloud environment requires rethinking security processes so that new approaches to security are generated.
As a result, companies encounter modern security challenges that hamper them from delivering secure innovation to customers in the cloud.
Here are some of cloud security challenges and solutions used to overcome them.
Lack of Cybersecurity Expertise and Shortage of Skilled Cloud Security Personnel
Organizations need skilled IT personnel to safeguard digital assets. Unfortunately, a lack of IT expertise, especially in the cloud security and cybersecurity domain, is a serious problem. It is estimated that by 2025, there will be 3.5 million jobs open in cybersecurity, representing an astounding 350% increase within an eight-year span.
Further compounding this issue, there’s no quick silver bullet to solve the cybersecurity skill gap. While it is an intractable problem that transcends the capabilities of a single organization, companies with global reach have launched initiatives to bridge the cybersecurity gap.
For example, part of Microsoft’s global campaign with 23 countries focuses on helping community colleges expand the cybersecurity workforce by increasing skill and diversity. Closing the cloud security skills gap with more education, support, and upskilling investment by businesses is one path to follow.
Cybersecurity advocates have also been calling for more use of AI in cybersecurity. This is because it's extremely difficult to keep pace with the number of malware and sophisticated attack vectors discovered each day.
In the absence of enough skilled cloud security personnel, some companies are turning to AI to help handle the staggering, unrelenting volume of cyberattacks and shore up their defenses. AI’s ability to spot hidden patterns is suited for filtering out false positives and unwanted alerts.
The Scourge of the Insider Threat
The flip side to the shortage of skilled IT expertise within organizations is the threat posed by inside employees who abuse their privileged access. The 2022 Ponemon Cost of Insider Threats Global Report details on how pervasive the problem has become, as it has grown more than 44% in the past two years.
Companies need to trust their staff and stakeholders in order to successfully conduct business. However, trust should come with caveats and shouldn’t be taken too far so insiders can’t easily subvert the boundary of trust.
Organizations should be vigilant because most intellectual property theft is perpetrated by employees. For example, a rogue employee stole trade secrets worth about $1 billion from a U.S. petroleum company involved in the development of a next-generation set of battery technologies.
Insider threats are insidious because perpetrators gain access to secure networks with relative ease, often in the guise of carrying out legitimate work-related activities. Insider threats also constitute former employees, who could use bogus backdoor accounts to gain access into the system and then exploit access with remote code execution.
However, not all insider threats are malicious. Some stem from sheer negligence or human error, such as losing sensitive documents and devices through carelessness.
The antidote to insider threats and compromise is vigilance. Businesses need to deploy robust identity access management. While applying the least privileges principle to accounts wouldn’t entirely eliminate insider threat abuse, it prevents users or attackers from escalating their roles and subsequently elevating the duties they can perform on accounts.
Businesses should immediately revoke the access of ex-partners and employees to the corporate network and practice good password hygiene (for example, prevent users from reusing passwords).
User and employee education are vital to ensure staff doesn’t unwittingly fall prey to phishing and social engineering attacks and understand the overall importance of cloud security.
Preventing Data Breaches and Protecting Data
The distributed architecture of the cloud, including the surge in endpoint connections, used to access networks, poses a security challenge to the protection of data. Protecting and discovering data at scale requires implementing several robust cloud security practices.
Organizations should leverage data protection mechanisms such as strong encryption, key management, and storage strategies. They should also apply data classification to define data value and identify critical data, and the subsequent impact of its loss.
Part of modern digital security entails provisioning, deploying, and managing public and private SSL/TLS certificates. The constant specter of data breaches requires the deployment of cloud firewalls to protect cloud assets by blocking malicious traffic. Unlike traditional firewalls that defend the perimeter, cloud firewalls are able to provide a virtual cloud security barrier around the cloud architecture. In addition, they block vulnerability exploits, DDoS attacks, and malicious bot activity.
Since cloud security and constant vigilance go hand-in-hand, organizations should use intrusion detection tools for continuous monitoring. These should be capable of providing deep and broad visibility into what’s happening in the environment, especially with sensitive files, accounts, data, and workloads.
Organizations should embrace vulnerability management and take advantage of the in-built cloud security tools provided for data protection by most cloud service providers (CSPs). They should invest in cutting-edge technology that exceeds the typical traditional network and log-driven systems.
Maintaining Regulatory Compliance
Cloud-based systems add another layer to the regulatory and internal compliance regimen businesses have to maintain. An organization equally has to ensure its cloud environment adapts to PCI/DSS, HIPAA, GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other requirements established by customers and partners.
To successfully implement a regulatory-compliant cloud computing infrastructure, organizations have to enforce clear policies and procedures, in addition to maintaining audit and accountability capabilities.
Most of these regulations require that companies know exactly where their data is stored, how it's accessed, how it's protected, and processed. So, they need to constantly audit their cloud security and usage to assess how risk management and compliance requirements are being met.
While cloud service providers offer solutions capable of delivering effective regulatory compliance, organizations may also need to leverage third-party tools to manage interweaving compliance, especially if they operate multi-cloud and/or hybrid environments.
However, organizations should also be aware when the cloud might not be the ideal repository for deploying data.
For highly sensitive information, government regulations may require the data to be air-gapped, which means that the server on which it is hosted has to possess no network interface or network connectivity whatsoever. Hence, the only suitable alternative would be on-premises storage.
Managing Unsecured APIs and Endpoints
The cloud, IoT devices, mobile devices, and an increasingly remote workforce have all contributed to the explosion of vulnerable endpoints. Hackers are ecstatic about APIs since they are a common point of software integration and a means to exploit information stored on cloud systems.
This surge of endpoints and APIs has increased the surface of attack and attack vectors available for malicious actors to exploit. Hence, the need for more adequate endpoint protection.
These interfaces can be protected through comprehensive endpoint security management. This typically involves connection control management, application blocking, network access control, host intrusion prevention, and patch management.
However, one significant way to safeguard and secure endpoints is by implementing endpoint data loss prevention (DLP). Endpoint DLP helps protect endpoints by monitoring them to detect any anomalous behavior and subsequently preventing potential data breaches.
Endpoint protection also provides organizations with the relevant information to detect and respond to various cloud security issues. It helps organizations identify which users are accessing their services, including discovering when the API and endpoint calls were made, and who made them by determining the source of the IP address.
Avoiding Misconfigured Cloud Infrastructure
One of the main culprits of data leakage and loss from the cloud is poorly configured or outrightly misconfigured systems. Cloud configuration is particularly prone to human error; Gartner reports that “through 2025, 99% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault.”
This is partly due to the multitude of configuration settings which makes it difficult to guarantee security in the cloud.
The CSP’s business model incentivizes them to place a high premium on cloud security. However, misconfiguration is also fueled by the misguided belief that cloud security is entirely the cloud service provider's responsibility. So, businesses that host their services and infrastructure on the cloud should not assume that however they operate and whatever they do inside the cloud is going to be secure.
This mindset has manifested in improper protocols such as the following:
- Inappropriate ports left open to the internet
- Outrightly permissive firewall rules
- Lack of encryption of data storage
- Turning off security protocols, whether accidentally or maliciously
- Poor and inadequate configuration practices, like leaving credentials in their default state
Cloud server misconfigurations often result in data breaches that expose data directly to the internet. The updated Too Much Information: The Sequel | New Research report from the Photon Research Team at Digital Shadows detected over 2.3 billion files that had been “exposed across SMB-enabled file shares, misconfigured network-attached storage (NAS) devices, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and rsync servers and Amazon S3 buckets.”
Among the exposed data were payroll files, credit card details, medical imaging information such as scans and x-rays, intellectual property patents, etc. The researchers also discovered about 17 million files encrypted as ransomware.
Since a cloud’s architecture is only as secure as its configurations, it is imperative that getting security right should be top of mind for organizations. To do so, the first remedy is debunking the assumption that the CSP will apply all of the required security controls on your behalf. Therefore, organizations should frequently audit their configurations.
Lack of Cloud Security Strategy
To be effective, cloud security policies need to be consistently applied across data centers and an organization’s entire cloud infrastructure. Without this consistency, say in providing strong user authentication or encryption, hackers are bound to find, target, and exploit weak links.
Security problems often occur when people inside an organization are unsure of their responsibility. Companies should clarify to their employees which cloud infrastructure that falls within their purview, as opposed to those of their CSP. In other words, embracing and upholding the shared responsibility model.
Companies need to enact strategies to investigate potential security issues. They should include implementing and testing incident responses, disaster recovery, and preparing business continuity plans.
Explore How Lightspin Can Help Your Organization Overcome Cloud Security Challenges
Fixing the cloud security issues enumerated in the article starts with understanding and addressing the underlying problems that make them possible. It requires a partner with demonstrated expertise in vulnerability management, misconfiguration detection, and risk management, along with a host of other cloud-based security solutions.
Lightspin’s security solutions extend to Azure, AWS, GCP, Kubernetes, and other popular cloud integration technologies.