Many of the security risks and concerns that surround traditional data centres and IT infrastructures also apply to cloud computing. For both on-premise and cloud environments, malicious actors and cybercriminals look for security vulnerabilities to exploit. As 69% of companies have already discovered, moving to the cloud comes with many benefits for business, but in 2021, 98% of companies in the cloud reported experiencing at least one data breach within an 18-month period.
Luckily, despite the security risks associated with cloud computing, common cyberattacks are considerably less easy to achieve on the cloud, especially when you are aware of the security risks of cloud computing, and proactively take steps to mitigate them.
In this blog, we unpack some of the main security risks of cloud computing you need to be aware of, as well as the steps you can take to bolster your cloud security and ensure your sensitive data withstands potentially devastating threats.
What is data security in cloud computing?
While it’s normal to question the security of the cloud when looking to migrate your critical business data, most cloud service providers offer a variety of robust security tools to ensure maximum data protection in terms of where it resides, who can access it and how it’s used. Additionally, most cloud providers also adhere to strict security protocols like SOC 2, ISO 27001 and region-specific norms and certifications.
Data security in cloud computing refers to these security mechanisms as well as policies and practices that control data integrity, availability and confidentiality. With these security mechanisms in place in cloud computing, it’s safe to say that data stored in the cloud is more secure than data stored onsite. That said, data security in the cloud is the responsibility of both the cloud service provider and the organisation leveraging the cloud for their own infrastructure, meaning that IT teams need to be aware of key security risks of cloud computing and actively work to mitigate these alongside their cloud service provider.
Main security risk of cloud computing to be aware of
To effectively manage your organisation’s own cloud security, you need to be aware of the main risks associated with the cloud, so that you can take the best possible steps to prevent them from impacting your data security. We outline 6 of the main security risks of cloud computing below.
1. Data breaches
The core risk associated with poor security is data breaches and losses. While cloud providers do adhere to key security protocols and technology, cybercrime tactics have not fallen behind. Cybercriminals have kept up with these security measures and are capable of bypassing them to gain access to sensitive data.
This risk is aggravated by the inherent security vulnerability that comes with organisations shifting part of their control to their cloud provider, as should there be a data breach in the greater cloud environment, your data is at an increased risk of being leaked or lost entirely. This makes ensuring that your cloud provider can guarantee complete protection against unauthorised access and data breaches vital for organisations.
Additionally, the main source of data breaches remains human error and unintentional security oversights often made by users, especially with cases like phishing, where security gaps occur unwillingly, leading to increased data breach risk.
2. Global cyber attacks
Global cyber attacks are a big security risk because a threat can enter into your environment via your cloud, and then spread to all your connected IT systems across your cloud and on-premise infrastructure. Because public cloud-based infrastructures are accessible through the publicly available internet, they are an appealing target for cyber attackers, especially considering human error where proper security measures aren’t taken. With private cloud infrastructures, hackers use brute force attacks to gain access to data.
Additional global cyber attack risk occurs when more than one organisation leverages the data stored on a single cloud infrastructure. In instances like these, third-party companies or partners have access to the main organisation’s cloud infrastructure, and if attackers gain access to the cloud via one of these additional third-party companies, the risk of them being able to access the related organisation increases.
3. Ransomware and malware
Malware and ransomware attacks are evolving threats that come with moving data around in an internet-connected environment that organisations must be aware of. There are three main approaches cyber attackers take to execute ransomware in a cloud environment that can be a security risk of cloud computing if not defended against properly.
Ransomware-infected file-sharing occurs when ransomware infects a file-sharing service that’s synced to a cloud environment. The programme will first encrypt files stored on a local machine before spreading to the cloud environment to encrypt the virtually stored data for ransom.
A ransom cloud attack targets cloud-based email services through techniques like phishing, whereby an attacker gains access to the email accounts, encrypts emails and demands a ransom, or impersonates the account user in order to spread the ransomware to their colleagues’ accounts.
Then there are instances of ransomware targeted at cloud vendors, whereby attackers target the accounts of individuals who work within the greater cloud platform in order to encrypt data across the entire infrastructure (and multiple companies’ environments) causing widespread disruption.
4. Account hijacking
Account hijacking is a security risk of cloud computing that’s growing alongside organisations’ increasing reliance on cloud-based services for core business processes. Account hijacking occurs when an attacker gets hold of an employee’s credentials, gains full control of their online account, and accesses whatever sensitive data the employee has access to. Compromised password security, including weak passwords and password reuse, increases the risk of account hijacking and enables attackers to use a single stolen password to disrupt multiple accounts and functionalities. Not to mention the increased risk of data leaks and breaches that comes with this unauthorised access.
5. Insecure APIs
APIs are often given by cloud providers to help organisations integrate their systems and tools. While useful and necessary for streamlining processes, APIs that are not properly secured within a cloud environment do pose a security risk. APIs are also well-documented to help ensure ease of use, but this documentation can also be used by malicious attackers to identify and exploit potential methods for accessing and removing sensitive data from an organisation’s cloud environment, effectively using their APIs’ capabilities against them.
6. Limited visibility
Where public cloud solutions are used, resources in the cloud environment are hosted outside an organisation’s network, on infrastructure the organisation doesn’t own. This means that the tools traditionally used for network visibility aren’t applicable to cloud environments, effectively limiting the organisation’s network oversight and its ability to respond to security threats. This visibility is further compromised by the shared data management responsibility the organisation shares with its cloud service provider. This limited visibility risk emphasises the need for organisations to establish, from the start, what protocols their public cloud provider has in place to ensure maximum data management process transparency. These should include Identity and Access Management policies.
How to bolster your cloud computing security
Migrating to the cloud offers businesses ample opportunity to streamline their IT operations and optimise their infrastructures, but how do you mitigate the effects of cloud computing security risks? Below are five key practices you should be prioritising for effective cloud security management.
1. Risk assessments
Risk assessments should form a big part of your risk management strategy and include regular cybersecurity auditing of your IT infrastructure, focusing particularly on your internal, external or web-based architecture. Here, your team should assess the effectiveness of your local and cloud-based security tools in use and whether their capabilities meet your data security needs. These assessments should also help your teams identify possible security gaps and the best measures to bridge them.
Penetration testing should also be conducted as part of your risk assessment process as it’s an effective way to proactively assess just how secure your cloud infrastructure is, by probing for vulnerabilities in your system, the same way a cyber attacker would. Both cybersecurity assessments and penetration testing should be conducted regularly.
2. User Access Controls
Identity and access management tools available with most cloud platforms are imperative for defining user access and establishing who is allowed access to what. Because the cloud is easier to access because of the accessibility of the internet, user access controls are vital for protecting your data from unauthorised access and possible leakage. Best practice is to limit access to critical systems and data to only a few individuals in your organisation and to ensure your user access controls follow the principle of least privilege.
3. Continuous monitoring
Continuous monitoring is vital for not only decreasing the risk of limited visibility but also for assessing, in real time, the security of your data. With cyberattacks reaching new levels of sophistication every day, leveraging this essential function of the cloud is key to ensuring the security of your data no matter what. Organisations must ensure that their cloud provider has the capabilities and policies to support continuous monitoring and that they are able to respond to different types of cyberattacks quickly and efficiently when their monitoring systems are alerted to a threat.
4. Contingency planning
In the event of a data breach or cyberattack, proper contingency plans become of paramount importance. It’s essential to ensure that your cloud service provider has adequate business continuity plans in place that outline their strategy for protecting data stored in their servers should a disaster strike. It’s also important to check that they test and update this plan regularly to ensure that everything works correctly and that they conduct thorough crisis management exercises frequently.
5. Security awareness and training
Your risk management strategy is only as good as your teams’ security awareness and training. As such, you should take the steps to foster a security-first culture amongst your teams by implementing comprehensive security policies and offering regular security training. It's worth finding out if your cloud service provider offers training to educate teams about the security risks of cloud computing, the tools available to help mitigate them, and the steps to take to help ensure optimal cloud security. This is especially important for reducing the risk of human error and encouraging individuals to practise proper cyber security hygiene, like maintaining strong, unique passwords.
Security risks of cloud computing, like security risks of local infrastructures, are a reality every organisation must contend with. But through awareness of these risks, and proper risk management practice, you should be able to avoid these concerns and enjoy the benefits of cloud without compromise.
With the right cloud service provider by your side, you’ll have the tools and expertise readily available to help you ensure your cloud and data security are optimal. At BSO, we offer flexible cloud solutions that meet your business needs precisely. Our experienced cloud and networking experts collaborate with your teams to build and maintain an effective, and secure, cloud environment that sets your business up for success.
If you’d like our insights into creating the most optimal cloud strategy for your business, download our guide to creating a DevOps hybrid cloud strategy, or get in touch with us to discuss your cloud security needs.