Cloud computing is growing exponentially in scale, scope, and service sophistication. While this provides many opportunities for service providers, organizations, and consumers alike, the rapid evolution of this technology has produced several cloud computing security concerns. Ranging from insignificant vulnerabilities to sophisticated attacks against your entire organization, the Cloud is a challenging place to tread alone.
Cloud Security at a Glance
Modern cloud security takes on many different forms. From cloud-based antivirus and traffic monitoring tools to advanced data encryption, user authentication, and more, today’s IT security teams are equipped to handle nearly any online threat.
Still, cybersecurity requires a proactive posture—before, during, and after your organization’s transition to the Cloud—and you should ensure your familiarity with:
- Pre-migration challenges
- Top cloud computing security concerns
- Mitigating threats to your cloud environment and resources
Challenges When Moving to the Cloud
Despite the Cloud’s usefulness, there are no shortage of security challenges to overcome during any migration. Although many of these persist even after your cloud environment has been set up and secured, there are a few that pose significant challenges to organizations when first moving to the Cloud.
Lack of Staff Knowledge
Untrained staff pose potential risks to data integrity, user privacy, and more. Simple user errors can easily spiral out of control (e.g., via cloud sync), so it’s critical that your staff knows the top cloud security issues, the fundamentals of consumer privacy, and the importance of regulatory compliance.
One of the major reasons for switching to the Cloud is data centralization. With remote teams and mobile workers more commonplace than ever before, employees need access to this critical data—regardless of where they’re physically located. This is a straightforward process for new and startup businesses, but established organizations need to develop a solid data migration plan to avoid the common cloud security concerns.
The typical data migration process involves three steps:
- Organizational analysis – Start by analyzing your organizational needs and goals. If you’re considering any major IT upgrades beyond the Cloud, this is also a good time to consider those purchases.
- Risk analysis and scope – Determine your top risks and overall project scope during this phase. Data loss or corruption during the migration are common hazards, but make sure to consider downtime, roll-back strategies, and more.
- Project execution and finalization – This is where the cloud migration actually happens. Overall success depends on various factors, including the experience of the migration team and the amount of data involved.
System and API misconfigurations add unnecessary complications to your cloud experience. While they often pose a more significant risk when organizations are first moving to a cloud environment, the introduction of new APIs or failed experiments with alternative system settings can occur at any point.
Unfortunately, cloud computing can negate the effectiveness of many traditional network monitoring and traffic analysis tools. Instead, you’ll need to implement cloud security equivalents to achieve similar resource visibility and protection, such as dedicated file integrity monitoring or installed agents that report back to a security information and event management (SIEM) system.
Similarly, any identity and access management systems will require integration to, first, provision new user accounts and, then, manage their access permissions.
Data Sovereignty and Residence
Those who are new to the Cloud often find it difficult to come to terms with data sovereignty and residence. Since most cloud service providers maintain numerous data centers in various geographic locations, it can be challenging to determine exactly where your data resides.
But this poses specific cloud security challenges of its own. With various data regulations in place around the world, like the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) within the US, it’s sometimes difficult to meet the appropriate standards.
In some cases, it’s difficult for cloud providers to separate the data of multiple tenants or organizations. This introduces some unique cloud security issues, including the potential for serial compromisings.
Top Cloud Computing Issues
Most cloud computing security concerns persist well after the initial setup, implementation, and data migration. In addition to the issues mentioned earlier, these long-term challenges introduce new threats and risks to the ongoing cloud experience. Unfortunately, they also offer motivated hackers and other malicious actors even more chances to ply their trade.
An established and well-documented threat outside of the Cloud, new variations of ransomware specifically target cloud-based data. Hackers generally use one of two techniques in these “ransomcloud” attacks, which are quickly becoming amongst the top cloud computing security concerns.
- Cloud-oriented ransomware is successfully installed on a user’s machine and synced with their organization’s cloud.
- The hacker targets a specific cloud service provider with a ransomware attack. Since some cloud providers cater to thousands of different organizations, which results in widespread service outages and other far-reaching consequences.
Another threat that originated well before the Cloud, denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) are also being adapted for emerging cloud technologies. As with ransomware, cloud-oriented DoS and DDoS attacks have the potential to cause widespread service disruptions.
Most cloud-based attacks of this nature fall into one of three categories:
- Application layer – Typically targeting the seventh layer of the standard OSI cloud model, these attacks overwhelm the system with continuous HTTP requests.
- Protocol layers – Attacks seen in the third and fourth layers attempt to render the targeted system inaccessible by exploiting cloud-based firewalls, load balancers, and other safeguards.
- Volumetric or amplification attacks – These attacks cause severe bandwidth congestion by bombarding the target with large datasets, generally in short bursts or timeframes. However, prolonged and continuous attacks do occur.
Thankfully, most cloud service providers have integration protections against cloud-based DoS and DDoS attacks.
Data integrity is a major concern in cloud computing. While data sovereignty and residence are amongst these cloud security concerns, they’re not the only issues.
- Incomplete data deletion – Given the limited visibility of the Cloud, it’s often difficult to ensure data deletion of outdated files. Remnants might remain and files aren’t always deleted securely, both of which can jeopardize data integrity and, in some cases, login credentials or confidential records.
- Data loss or corruption – Many turn to the Cloud to protect against sudden data loss or corruption, but these issues can still occur. As a result, some organizations maintain local backups of their files in addition to those on the cloud.
- External data – Although your configuration protects data that resides within, data coming in from the outside can result in certain cloud security issues.
User Access and Authorization
Your organization’s employees also pose a significant risk to cloud security. Although it’s not uncommon to experience retribution or retaliation from a disgruntled employee, the most significant threats come from unsuspecting system users.
Any employee who has access to your organization’s cloud is a potential security threat. In some cases, they might be tricked into revealing their login credentials in a phishing attempt. Others might have their smartphones, laptops, or workstations infected with malware. Minimize these risks through continuous employee education and training.
The topic of regulatory compliance is a growing concern. As cloud technologies continue to emerge and evolve over time, new cloud computing security concerns become clear. As a result, additional regulations are established regarding consumer protection, data security, and employee privacy.
Some of the most pertinent regulations include:
- HIPAA – Organizations in the US healthcare sector are bound by HIPAA (Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
- GDPR – The EU’s GDPR applies to any entity that stores, processes, or transfers data related to an EU citizen.
- PCI – Merchants who accept credit card payments, either online or in-person, are subject to the Payment Card Industry’s Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
- SOC – Also known as Service Organization Control, SOC regulations typically apply to organizations outsourcing certain IT services, including data processing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and more.
Mitigating the Top Cloud Computing Security Concerns
Professionals use various strategies to combat cyberattacks and mitigate the most common security issues in cloud computing.
Network Traffic Monitoring and Analysis
Although many traditional network monitoring and traffic analysis tools aren’t compatible with the Cloud, there are plenty of cloud-oriented alternatives available. Most of the popular cloud service providers offer some integrated functionality, too.
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Users of AWS’ Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) benefit from a feature known as Traffic Mirroring. It copies cloud traffic to external security devices for threat inspection, monitoring, and remediation.
- Microsoft Azure – Microsoft’s built-in Traffic Analytics solution uses various flow logs to visualize cloud activity, identify potential cloud computing issues, and help you better understand cloud traffic flow.
- Google Cloud Platform – The Google Cloud Platform uses Network Telemetry to analyze firewall logs, network traffic logs, and more. Logs are easily annotated, filtered, and exported as needed.
Ongoing risk and vulnerability assessments are critical to organizational and cloud security alike. These help you clarify objectives, prioritize goals, and improve the overall user experience. Comprehensive risk assessments (e.g., you risk from third-party partners) can also uncover numerous cloud computing security concerns.
For best results, focus on specific risks relating to your organization and industry as a whole. While those in the healthcare sector will focus on securing patient data and ensuring privacy, most retailers are concerned with secure payments and consumer mistrust.
Identity and Access Management
Consistent user authentication is paramount to cloud security. The key to achieving this is with identity and access management, which helps you defend against threats like account hijacking, malicious insiders, and other cloud computing issues.
Suspicious user activities, including strange login times after business hours, are common red flags that are easily identified by verifying, authenticating, and controlling user access on an individual level. It also adds an extra layer of user accountability and traceability.
External data should remain encrypted at all times. Since your cloud security tools only cover the data within the Cloud, you, your staff, and your partners are still responsible for maintaining the data integrity and security of external data. One of the best ways to achieve this is through data encryption.
Several different encryption methods exist, including:
- AES – The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is required according to PCI DSS requirements. Although 128-bit encryption is acceptable in most instances, AES encryption is available in 192 and 256 bits, too.
- RSA – A form of asymmetric encryption that uses two prime numbers as its key, RSA is often overlooked in lieu of faster AES encryption.
- Triple DES – A form of symmetric encryption, Triple Data Encryption Standard (DES) uses a 56-bit key and is generally reserved for UNIX systems.
AI and Automation
Next-gen artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and automation are increasingly used to identify suspicious activities, create comprehensive reports, and prevent security breaches.
While these security tools continue to evolve, they’re already useful in many areas within the Cloud, including:
- Traffic monitoring
- Application testing
- Data backup and governance
- Cost controls and optimization
Staff Training and Education
Comprehensive staff training and continuous education are on the frontlines of most IT security programs, and this is true for the Cloud, too. When informing them of the top cloud computing concerns, try to focus on those that relate specifically to:
- Phishing and social engineering – Since so many organizations are transitioning to the Cloud, hackers have begun impersonating IT professionals of every rank. Remind them never to share login credentials online and to always report any suspicious emails, messages, or activity.
- Malware – With cloud-based malware on the rise, remote employees and users in Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) environments can easily infect your entire cloud network. Some issues are easily prevented with integrated or third-party cloud security tools, but it helps tremendously if your staff takes a proactive stance, too.
Overcoming All of Your Cloud Challenges
If you’re thinking about embracing the Cloud and all it has to offer, or if you’ve recently begun your transition and don’t know how to proceed, contact RSI Security today.
Our team is well-versed in the top cloud computing security concerns, network security, regulatory compliance, and more. We’ll walk you through your migration with robust security in mind.