Cloud computing is the term given to the use of networks of remote servers in order to store or process data. The cloud lessens our reliance on local storage and on-premises equipment in favor of tools and storage that can be accessed online — requiring only a computer or connected device and the internet. Particularly during 2020, when the majority of offices were closed and many worked from home, did the cloud truly prove its value.
But the aspects of cloud computing that make it so appealing to people around the world (its ease of access) is also what makes it alluring to bad actors and serves as a potential vulnerability. It’s why cloud security is so incredibly important, although in many cases it continues to be underrated and even fatally ignored by cloud users.
More reliant than ever on the cloud
Organizations are increasingly reliant on cloud-based infrastructure. The cloud can reduce costs, result in an improved customer experience, allow remote working, enhance collaboration and teamwork, offer greater scalability, disaster recovery, and more.
However, cloud security is lagging. Public cloud security is a concern for many. While cloud providers offer ever more robust security measures, ultimately customers are responsible for their workloads’ security in the cloud. Today, the most notable threats to cloud users and cloud systems include platform configuration errors, unauthorized cloud access, improperly secured interfaces, and account theft.
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There is good reason to worry about the potential dangers associated with this. There are no shortage of examples of cloud data loss, frequently as the result of malicious attacks. As one notable illustration, in 2020, Capital One, the tenth largest US bank in terms of assets, agreed to pay a massive $80 million in damages. This was related to a data breach involving cloud-based systems. The attack, which took place in 2019, involved an incorrectly configured web application firewall (WAF). This was targeted by attackers who used it to expose personal data belonging to approximately 100 million Americans. Certain data was exfiltrated from Capital One’s systems without its knowledge.
Employing best practices
There are multiple best practice steps companies can take to bolster the security of particularly business-critical cloud systems. For starters, they should make sure that they have a detailed understanding of both historical and current assets stored on the cloud. Keeping track of assets owned and how they are currently exposed (meaning the user accounts who can gain access to them) is a basic, but nonetheless vitally important, step. This alone won’t keep cloud assets safe. But, just like doing an inventory in any business, it’s difficult to come up with exact solutions if you are not in possession of all the facts.
Related to this is the importance of carrying out regular reviews of cloud configurations. This will provide reassurance that there are not configuration changes that have occurred, which may expose cloud-based systems to potential attackers. Since misconfiguration of the cloud platform is consistently one of, if not the, biggest concern for organizations using the cloud, it’s a very important step to take. Regular checks are needed since configurations could be changed by accident or as a result of cloud resources and applications being updated.
Mitigating data loss and other attacks
When you know all of your assets and potential exposures, you can then take steps to mitigate data loss or the potential of an attack such as cloud ransomware. This process should include backing up files and systems so that the cloud is not their only location, archiving information that does not need to be accessed regularly, and establishing automated disaster recovery processes, allowing you to rapidly recover from a data breach if it takes place.
Another vitally important measure is to make sure that services are kept up to date. Installing updates and patches can be a time-drain for businesses. However, it’s also crucial. Vulnerabilities that can be used to attack targets may already have been patched by developers. But you are only protected if you have installed the patch or update in question. If not, it’s the equivalent of having someone offer to fix all of the ways that a burglar might enter your home, but not actually allowing them to carry out the work.
Improving enterprise cloud security
In many cases, steps to ensure cloud security can be taken by cloud users on their own. In other scenarios, it’s worth bringing in cyber security experts to help. Cyber security systems designed for the cloud can help protect against web applications and API attacks, carry out virtual patching, ensure compliance when it comes to data security regulation, and more. These tools can additionally carry out automated checking of some of the points raised above.
Companies need a cloud-native security solution that can be used for configuration management and access control. Fortunately, those solutions exist today. Just make sure you take advantage of them.