Top 5 Cloud security challenges, risks and threats

Cloud services are an integral part of modern business. They provide a cost-effective way to store data; and with the rise in hybrid workforces, they deliver a reliable way for employees to access information remotely.

But as is often the case with technological solutions, the benefits of convenience comes with security risks. In this blog, we look at the top five Cloud security challenges that organisations face, and provide tips on how to overcome them.

1. Data breaches

Some people mistakenly believe that storing information in the Cloud removes the risk of data breaches. There’s a kernel of truth in that, because the use of the Cloud will typically come with extra layers of protection compared to simply storing information on your own hard drives.

But remember that information in the Cloud is still stored in a physical location – a third-party server as opposed to your own – and if it’s accessible to you, then it’s accessible to criminal hackers.

The only difference is that you now share the responsibility for its security with the Cloud service provider.

This generally means that the third party will take responsibility for the physical security of its servers and their general upkeep, while organisations must protect the way information is accessed on its end.

Unfortunately for those who think Cloud storage makes data protection easier, the majority of security incidents occur when organisations make mistakes. Indeed, a Gartner study found that 95% of Cloud breaches are the result of the result of misconfigurations.

The most common of these errors are employees uploading a database to the Cloud but failing to establish password protections. That means that anyone who gains access to the location of the database has free access to it.

It’s a frustrating error, because its easily avoidable and criminals can exploit it with almost no hacking expertise.

2. Phishing scams

Phishing scams are bogus emails that purport to be from a legitimate sender. They are intended to trick the recipient into handing over their login credentials or downloading malware.

The versatility of these attacks mean that attackers can target information on the Cloud just as easily as they can target your internal infrastructure.

One popular attack involves the scammer claiming to be a colleague, and sending a link to a document that’s stored in the Cloud. When you follow the link, you are sent to a mock-up of the Cloud service provider’s login page where the recipient is asked to provide their credentials.

There is nothing the Cloud service provider can do to protect you, because the recipient is never using the organisation’s services during this attack. The website is simply designed to look like the real thing.

As such, the only way to protect your organisation is to educate staff on phishing attacks and teach them what to look out for.

You can find out how to get started with our Phishing Staff Awareness Training Programme.

This 45-minute course uses real-life examples of scam emails to demonstrate how attackers target individuals, and outlines the steps you should take to avoid falling victim.

The online course is also updated quarterly to cover scammers’ latest tricks and the tips you need to identify them.

3. Insider threats

Cyber criminals aren’t the only people you need to worry about. You should be just as concerned about insiders compromising information on the Cloud.

This includes negligent employees, contractors and partners as well as anyone associated with your organisation acting maliciously. For example, a disgruntled or recently fired member of staff might sabotage your systems in an act of revenge.

Alternatively, an employee might compromise information so that they can sell it on the dark web or hand it to a rival company.

An insider attack is likely to involve compromised credentials, but it could also lead to system downtime if, for example, the employee targets Cloud systems that are essential for day-to-day operations.

Although it’s impossible to eradicate insider threats, you can minimise the risk by creating robust processes and policies, and educating staff on the importance of that documentation.

Meanwhile, you should deploy access controls to limit the amount of data any one employee can access. Additionally, you should use data seeding or monitoring tools to track when an employee accesses or amends sensitive files.

4. Regulatory non-compliance

Organisations can easily lose track of how much data they store in the Cloud and how it flows each part of the business.

This means you could end up with large volumes of data sitting in folders unnecessarily. That will exacerbate the risk of a data breach and create GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) headaches, because you’re only permitted to hold on to personal data if you have a lawful basis to do so.

Data retention isn’t the only GDPR-related concerned that organisations should have when using Cloud services.

Another huge issue is that, under the Regulation, it’s harder for data controllers (the organisations that dictate what information is processed) to pass the blame when a third party suffers a data breach.

Data controllers must give instructions on how service providers handle personal information.

Unless the third party has explicitly failed to meet one of the requirements, both organisations will be subject to disciplinary action should a data breach occur.

5. Insecure UIs and APIs

Arguably the most insecure part of any Cloud service are user interfaces (UIs) and application programming interfaces (APIs). This is because they are accessible to customers, which means it is comparatively easy for attackers to identify and exploit vulnerabilities.

As such, organisations must be sure that effective security measures are in place. This includes avoiding API key reuse and using standard and open API frameworks.

Organisations should also segregate and restrict access to audit tools that interact with the organisation’s information systems, and restrict utility programmes that are capable of overriding the system.

Secure your Cloud services

You can find more tips like the ones in this blog by reading Securing Cloud Services: A pragmatic guide.

This book, written by security architect Lee Newcombe, explains everything you need to know about Cloud security. It covers the key concepts of Cloud computing and the its security architectures, and then looks at the security considerations you must acknowledge.

It’s ideal for anyone looking at implementing Cloud services, whether that’s infrastructure-, platform-, software- or function-as-a-service.

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