Cloud Security Challenges in 2020
By Ashwin Chaudhary, Chief Executive Officer, Accedere Inc.
The worldwide public cloud services market is forecast to grow 17% in 2020 to total $266.4 billion, up from $227.8 billion in 2019 according to Gartner. As the cloud continues to be more and more heavily adopted, it’s important to be aware of the challenges organizations are faced with when leveraging cloud computing. Recently the Cloud Security Alliance presented the following major cloud challenges in its report “Top Threats to Cloud Computing: Egregious Eleven.” In this blog, I will be summarizing each threat covered in the report and discuss its implications to organizations today.
1. Data Breaches
Consequences of a data breach may include:
- Impact to reputation and trust of customers or partners
- Loss of intellectual property (IP) to competitors, which may impact products release
- Regulatory implications that may result in monetary loss
- Brand impact which may cause a market value decrease due to previously listed reasons
- Legal and contractual liabilities
- Financial expenses incurred due to incident response and forensics
2. Misconfiguration and Inadequate Change Control
This is one of the most common challenges of the cloud. In 2017, a misconfigured AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) cloud storage bucket exposed detailed and private data of 123 million American households. The data set belonged to Experian, a credit bureau, which sold the data to an online marketing and data analytics company called Alteryx. It was Alteryx that exposed the file. Such instances can be disastrous.
3. Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy
Worldwide, organizations are migrating portions of their IT infrastructure to public clouds. One of the biggest challenges during this transition is the implementation of appropriate security architecture to withstand cyberattacks. Unfortunately, this process is still a mystery for many organizations. Data are exposed to different threats when organizations assume that cloud migration is a “lift-and-shift” endeavor of simply porting their existing IT stack and security controls to a cloud environment. A lack of understanding of the shared security responsibility model is also another contributing factor.
4. Insufficient Identity, Credential, Access and Key Management
Cloud computing introduces multiple changes to traditional internal system management practices related to identity and access management (IAM). It isn’t that these are necessarily new issues. Rather, they are more significant issues when dealing with the cloud because cloud computing profoundly impacts identity, credential and access management. In both public and private cloud settings, CSPs and cloud consumers are required to manage IAM without compromising security.
5. Account Hijacking
Account hijacking is a threat in which malicious attackers gain access to and abuse accounts that are highly privileged or sensitive. In cloud environments, the accounts with the highest risks are cloud service accounts or subscriptions. Phishing attacks, exploitation of cloud-based systems, or stolen credentials can compromise these accounts.
6. Insider Threat
The Netwrix 2018 Cloud Security Report indicates that 58 percent of companies attribute security breaches to insiders. Insider negligence is the cause of most security incidents. Employee or contractor negligence was the root cause of 64 percent of the reported insider incidents, whereas 23 percent were related to criminal insiders and 13 percent to credential theft, according to the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of Insider Threats study. Some common scenarios cited include: misconfigured cloud servers, employees storing sensitive company data on their own insecure personal devices and systems, and employees or other insiders falling prey to phishing emails that led to malicious attacks on company assets.
7. Insecure Interfaces and APIs
Cloud computing providers expose a set of software user interfaces (UIs) and APIs to allow customers to manage and interact with cloud services. The security and availability of general cloud services are dependent on the security of these APIs. From authentication and access control to encryption and activity monitoring, these interfaces must be designed to protect against both accidental and malicious attempts to circumvent the security policy. Poorly designed APIs could lead to misuse or—even worse—a data breach. Broken, exposed, or hacked APIs have caused some major data breaches. Organizations must understand the security requirements around designing and presenting these interfaces on the internet.
8. Weak Control Plane
Moving from the data center to the cloud poses some challenges for creating a sufficient data storage and protection program. The user must now develop new processes for data duplication, migration and storage and—if using multi-cloud—it gets even more complicated. A control plane should be the solution for these problems, as it enables the security and integrity that would complement the data plane that provides stability and runtime of the data. A weak control plane means the person in charge—either a system architect or a DevOps engineer—is not in full control of the data infrastructure’s logic, security and verification. In this scenario, controlling stakeholders don’t know the security configuration, how data flows and where architectural blind spots and weak points exist. These limitations could result in data corruption, unavailability, or leakage.
9. Metastructure and Applistructure Failures
Cloud service providers routinely reveal operations and security protections that are necessary to implement and protect their systems successfully. Typically, API calls disclose this information and the protections are incorporated in the metastructure layer for the CSP. The metastructure is considered the CSP/customer line of demarcation—also known as the waterline. Failure possibilities exist at multiple levels in this model. For example, poor API implementation by the CSP offers attackers an opportunity to disrupt cloud customers by interrupting confidentiality, integrity, or availability of the service.
10. Limited Cloud Usage Visibility
Limited cloud usage visibility occurs when an organization does not possess the ability to visualize and analyze whether cloud service use within the organization is safe or malicious. This concept is broken down into two key challenges. Un-sanctioned app use: This occurs when employees are using cloud applications and resources without the specific permission and support of corporate IT and security. This scenario results in a self-support model called Shadow IT. When insecure cloud services activity does not meet corporate guidelines, this behavior is risky— especially when paired with sensitive corporate data. Gartner predicts that by 2020, one-third of all successful security attacks on companies will come through shadow IT systems and resources.
Sanctioned app misuse: Organizations are often unable to analyze how their approved applications are being leveraged by insiders who use a sanctioned app. Frequently, this use occurs without the explicit permission of the company, or by external threat actors who target the service using methods such as credential theft, Structured Query Language (SQL) injection, Domain Name System (DNS) attacks and more.
11. Abuse and Nefarious Use of Cloud Services
Malicious actors may leverage cloud computing resources to target users, organizations or other cloud providers. Malicious attackers can also host malware on cloud services. Cloud services that host malware can seem more legitimate because the malware uses the CSP’s domain. Furthermore, cloud-hosted malware can use cloud-sharing tools as an attack vector to further propagate itself.
About the Author
Ashwin Chaudhary, MBA, CPA, CISSP, CCSK CISA, CRISC, CISM, CGEIT, ITIL, PMP is the Chief Executive Officer of Accedere Inc., a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firm focusing on System and Organization Controls reporting, cloud data security and privacy. He can be reached at [email protected].
Read more by Ashwin in his blog on “Using SOC Reports for Cloud Security and Privacy” here.
Sign up to receive CSA's latest blogs
This list receives 1-2 emails a month.