Five critical cloud security challenges and how to overcome them
By Chris Foster
Today’s organizations desire the accessibility and flexibility of the cloud, yet these benefits ultimately mean little if you’re not operating securely. One misconfigured server and your company may be looking at financial or reputational damage that takes years to overcome.
Fortunately, there’s no reason why cloud computing can’t be done securely. You need to recognize the most critical cloud security challenges and develop a strategy for minimizing these risks. By doing so, you can get ahead of problems before they start, and help ensure that your security posture is strong enough to keep your core assets safe in any environment. With that in mind, let’s dive into the five most pressing cloud security challenges faced by modern organizations.
1. The perils of cloud migration
According to Gartner, the shift to cloud computing will generate roughly $1.3 trillion in IT spending by 2022. The vast majority of enterprise workloads are now run on public, private or hybrid cloud environments.
Yet if organizations heedlessly race to migrate without making security a primary consideration, critical assets can be left unprotected and exposed to potential compromise. To ensure that migration does not create unnecessary risks, it’s important to:
- Migrate in stages, beginning with non-critical or redundant data. Mistakes are often more likely to occur earlier in the process. So, begin moving data that won’t lead to damaging consequences to the enterprise in case it gets corrupted or erased.
- Fully understand your cloud provider’s security practices. Go beyond “trust by reputation” and really dig into how your data is stored and protected.
- Maintain operational continuity and data integrity. Once migration occurs, it’s important to ensure that controls are still functioning and there is no disruption to business operations.
- Manage risk associated with the lack of visibility and control during migration. One effective way to manage risk during transition is to use breach and attack simulation software. These automated solutions launch continuous, simulated attacks to view your environment through the eyes of an adversary by identifying hidden vulnerabilities, misconfigurations and user activity that can be leveraged for malicious gain. This continuous monitoring provides a significant advantage during migration – a time when IT staff are often stretched thin, learning new concepts and operating with less visibility into key assets.
2. The need to master identity and access management (IAM)
Effectively managing and defining the roles, privileges and responsibilities of various network users is a critical objective for maintaining robust security. This means giving the right users the right access to the right assets in the appropriate context. As workers come and go and roles change, this mandate can be quite a challenge, especially in the context of the cloud, where data can be accessed from anywhere. Fortunately, technology has improved our ability to track activities, adjust roles and enforce policies in a way that minimizes risk.
Today’s organizations have no shortage of end-to-end solutions for identity governance and management. Yet it’s important to understand that these tools alone are not the answer. No governance or management product can provide perfect protection as organizations are eternally at the mercy of human error. To help support smart identity and access management, it’s critical to have a layered and active approach to managing and mitigating security vulnerabilities that will inevitably arise.
Taking steps like practicing the principle of least privilege by permitting only the minimal amount of access necessary to perform tasks will greatly enhance your security posture.
3. The risks posed by vendor relationships
The explosive growth of cloud computing has highlighted new and deeper relationships between businesses and vendors, as organizations seek to maximize efficiencies through outsourcing and vendors assume more important roles in business operations. Effectively managing vendor relations within the context of the cloud is a core challenge for businesses moving forward. Why? Because integrating third-party vendors often substantially raises cybersecurity risk. A Ponemon institute study in 2018 noted that nearly 60% of companies surveyed had encountered a breach due to a third-party. APT groups have adopted a strategy of targeting large enterprises via such smaller partners, where security is often weaker. Adversaries know you’re only as strong as your weakest link and take the least path of resistance to compromise assets. Due to this, it is incumbent upon today’s organizations to vigorously and securely manage third-party vendor relations in the cloud. This means developing appropriate guidance for SaaS operations (including sourcing and procurement solutions) and undertaking periodic vendor security evaluations.
4. The problem of insecure APIs
APIs are the key to successful cloud integration and interoperability. Yet insecure APIs are also one of the most significant threats to cloud security. Adversaries can exploit an open line of communication and steal valuable private data by compromising APIs. How often does this really occur? Consider this: By 2022, Gartner predicts insecure APIs will be the vector most commonly used to target enterprise application data.
With APIs growing ever more critical, attackers will continue to use tactics such as exploiting inadequate authentications or planting vulnerabilities within open source code, creating the possibility of devastating supply chain attacks. To minimize the odds of this occurring, developers should design APIs with proper authentication and access control in mind and seek to maintain as much visibility as possible into the enterprise security environment. This will allow for the quick identification and remediation of such API risks.
5. Dealing with limited user visibility
We’ve mentioned visibility on multiple occasions in this article – and for good reason. It is one of the keys to operating securely in the cloud. The ability to tell friend from foe (or authorized user from unauthorized user) is a prerequisite for protecting the cloud. Unfortunately, that’s a challenging task as cloud environments grow larger, busier and more complex. Controlling shadow IT and maintaining better user visibility via behavior analytics and other tools should be a top priority for organizations. Given the lack of visibility across many contexts within cloud environments, it’s a smart play to develop a security posture that is dedicated to continuous improvement and supported by continuous testing and monitoring.
Critical cloud security challenges: The takeaway
Cloud security is achievable as long as you understand, anticipate and address the most significant challenges posed by migration and operation. By following the ideas outlined above, your organization will be in a much stronger position to prevent and defeat even the most determined adversaries.