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Mitigating Cloud Computing Threats and Vulnerabilities

Cloud computing generally refers to the delivery of computing services over the internet. These services are typically made available on-demand and on a pay-as-you-go basis. Businesses today are increasingly embracing cloud computing to deliver services they require ranging from processing and storage power to applications. Gartner estimates that there would be a US$39 billion in 2020 increase in the global market for cloud computing, rising from US$227.4 billion in 2019 to US$266.4 billion.

Cloud computing offers many benefits including cost efficiency, flexibility, and rapid scalability. However, a major concern for organizations looking to adopt cloud solutions is data security. While solutions have been built into the cloud to help improve its security, many organizations still make grave errors and expose critical data and systems. This article highlights major cloud computing threats and vulnerabilities and how to mitigate them.

  1. Cloud Storage Misconfigurations: Cloud storage misconfigurations can quickly escalate into a major cloud security breach for a business. For example, some organizations fail to put adequate access control protocols in place allowing attackers to gain access to data stored in the insecure cloud storage buckets which can have devastating consequences. It is good practice to always change the default settings and double-check security configurations upon setting up a cloud server. Specialized tools should be used for checking the state of security configurations on a schedule and to identify vulnerabilities promptly before they are exploited. Also, controls should be put in place to restrict who can create, access, and configure cloud resources.
  2. Insecure APIs: Application user interfaces (APIs) facilitate the smooth running of cloud computing processes. They, however, can open lines of communications for attackers to exploit if they are left insecure. Developers often fail to implement proper authentication controls for APIs leaving them open to the internet. They fail to emphasize authorization controls as they believe that attackers will not see the backend APIs calls. This is however untrue as cybercriminals can compromise backend data if proper authorization controls are not in place. To mitigate this vulnerability, developers should incorporate strong authentication like implementing multi-factor authentication, encryption, access control, and activity monitoring when designing APIs. Regular penetration tests should be carried out as well as secure code review.
  3. Data Loss or Theft: Data stored online are especially vulnerable to security threats. There are several causes of data loss. They include data alteration, data deletion, and loss of access like in the event of a ransomware attack, etc. Proactive measures must be taken to safeguard data in a cloud environment. Data backups remain the most effective way to prevent data loss. A schedule for regular backups should be implemented. Data loss prevention (DLP) software should also be used to detect and prevent the unauthorized movement of sensitive data. Strong data encryption can be to prevent data loss or theft of data.
  4. Compliance Violations: Compliance regulations require that organizations need to know the details about their data storage and access control. Data protection regulations like CCPA, PCI-DSS, GDPR, NDPR and many others all apply to cloud computing. Failure to meet compliance requirements could result in strict regulatory actions with potentially damaging consequences. For an organization that manages a lot of sensitive data, moving to cloud computing could make compliance more of an issue as even though the service providers own the cloud infrastructure, the organization is still responsible for the security of the data. To be compliant in the cloud, organizations should thoroughly analyze the cloud service agreement and data security policies before committing to a service provider. Access management which provides a record of systems deployed and their cloud security levels must be implemented. Organizations must have steadfast rules to determine who can access which data and what they can do with it.
  5. Insider threats: Employees, contractors, and business partners can, without having any malicious intent, become some of your biggest security risks due to a lack of training and negligence. They have direct access to sensitive enterprise data as they do not have to break through virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls, or other security defenses. Dealing with end-user actions requires monitoring, escalation investigation, remediation, and post-incidence analysis all of which should be integrated into the company’s data security plan. Employees should be taught proper cyber hygiene and how to protect the confidentiality of enterprise data they carry on their mobile devices or laptops. Privileged central servers and access security systems should be limited to a minimum number of people, who must have adequate training to securely handle their administrative rights in the cloud server.
  6. Poor Access Management: Proper access management requires that individuals be able to perform only the tasks they need to perform. The process of verifying what an individual has access to is known as authorization. Organizations often struggle with the creation of roles and management of access privileges within the cloud infrastructure. User password fatigue, inactive assigned users, improper user and service provisioning and deprovisioning, and users being able to bypass access controls are common challenges organizations face while using cloud services. To improve access management in cloud services, a data governance framework should be developed for user accounts. A directory service, such as Active Directory, should be used to provision, monitor, and revoke access privileges for user accounts from a centralized store. Also, it is good practice for enterprises to regularly review roles, privileges, users, and groups set up for their cloud service environments. Logging and event monitoring mechanisms should also be employed to detect unusual activity or unauthorized change. Policies that ensure the tight control of access keys should be adopted to avoid poor data handling or leakage.
  7. Contractual Breaches: Contractual partnerships on cloud computing developed by organizations often include restrictions on how any shared data is used, how it is stored, and who has authorized access to it. Unknowingly moving restricted data into a cloud service whose providers maintain the right to share any data uploaded into their infrastructure with third parties could create a breach of contract with clients or business partners as their sensitive data make be leaked, which could lead to legal actions. Organizations must ensure they have a clear understanding of cloud service contracts before adopting a service provider. The contract should include the rights to review, monitor, and audit reports. This helps to identify security risks before they become an issue. Organizations should also ensure that service contracts include service termination rights they have and that these rights are expressly defined so as not to be locked into an undesirable service contract.

Ushering a gamut of opportunities, cloud computing is transforming the way companies operate. But with this along with these opportunities is the introduction of a whole new set of security risks. Enterprises need to continuously address cloud security risks and challenges while adopting the right security tools to help make the operational work easier.

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