Cloud services: Vulnerabilities and solutions
Things look a tiny bit cloudy on the cloud horizon. Undoubtedly, adoption of cloud services is rising at a constant pace, but most IT professionals agree that cloud services are getting increasingly complex and managing privacy and data on the cloud is becoming a concern. It was earlier thought that when cloud computing increases, on-premises systems would decrease. However, that has not happened quite as much as expected and instead, businesses are now using multi-clouds, or more than one cloud. As more and more legacy systems mix with private clouds or are mixed with several public clouds, cloud complexity is increasing. Cloud complexity must be managed well to prevent potential security threats.
Adoption of cloud services, especially multi-cloud adoption, is rising globally. Cloud services are attractive because of the flexibility and productivity they offer, and the reduction in operating costs. As per the 2022 Thales Cloud Security report, organisations are now using an average of 110 software as a service (SaaS) applications. This is a steep increase from just 8 in 2015. Further, there has been an increase in the number of businesses subscribing to multiple infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers too. In fact, almost 72 per cent of the businesses surveyed for the report use multiple IaaS providers, a sharp rise from 57 per cent in 2020.
Cloud security breaches are growing almost as fast as cloud services adoption. Cyber criminals have become very efficient at attacking cloud services and are using more and more sophisticated tools and techniques to exploit cloud vulnerabilities. Globally, almost 92 per cent of organisations host at least some of their data on a cloud. That makes a huge playground for cybercrime.
Cloud vulnerabilities: Why and how?
Managing business data on the cloud is getting complex and brings both risks and vulnerabilities. Cloud vulnerabilities can be categorised as technical and non-technical. Data breach, data loss, malicious attacks on the infrastructure and system crashes are all technical risks, while data ownership rights and privacy issues are the non-technical risks.
Over 52 per cent of businesses surveyed by Thales agree that privacy and security management are getting complex. Cyber-attacks are becoming more and more frequent. In fact, it is one of the most sophisticated forms of digital terrorism today. A high percentage of businesses who use cloud services reported that they use the cloud to store approximately 21-60 percent of sensitive organisational data. A third of the surveyed group reported that they have had at least one instance when they were required to issue data breach notifications to their stakeholders. Businesses reported seeing an increased occurrence of cyber-attacks in the form of malware, ransomware, and phishing/whaling.
There are numerous reasons for cloud vulnerabilities. The leading causes are:
- Imperfect configuration of cloud services
- Compliance and auditing security issues
- Unauthorised users with privileged access leading to data leaks and thefts
- Lack of expertise in cloud management
- Controlling cost and storage, and not doing enough to secure data
- Accidental exposure of user details
- Unintentional human errors, which is probably the biggest cause
Other reasons include spending above budget and diminishing uptime. Not enough time is being dedicated to thinking through situations or foreseeing problems. IT staffers cannot keep up with maintenance of systems since changes are so quick and so frequent. Exploiting overlooked vulnerabilities is how hackers sneak in.
Suggested solutions to manage cloud vulnerabilities and complexities
- Prioritise encryption and key management: Most IT professionals agree that the key to data security in multi-cloud environments is encryption and management of security keys. However, reality is slightly different and only a small percentage of businesses encrypt their data. Further, many businesses use multiple key management platforms.
- Train and inform employees about risks: Employees need to be trained well on how to handle any security vulnerabilities. They should be made aware of the repercussions of any malicious activities, and how to protect any confidential information they carry in their different mobile devices.
- Improve infrastructure security: Risk exposure can be reduced by implementing threat management solutions at multiple endpoints, such as applications, access ports, devices to name a few. This step can help businesses prepare and mitigate risks to a large extent.
- Stay alert: Businesses must be agile* and keep a close watch on the growth of the cloud complexity troubling them. An IT environment is already complex, so it is necessary to watch the growth closely. Businesses can leverage approaches that allow organisations to scale better and thereby increase complexity, yet help the business manage those complexities.
- Develop fast response times: Avoid gaps in time between vulnerability reports or security breaches and remedial measures. This can be achieved by implementing a suitable cloud vulnerability management service that would be continuously running to detect any anomalies. Businesses can be always prepared by monitoring constantly, running safety protocols and backing up data regularly.
Access to cloud services must be managed well, regularly updated and checked so that no unauthorised person can access any data. Clearly businesses must treat encryption of sensitive data as a priority. In fact, many businesses managed to avoid data breaches despite being attacked because of encryption and tokenization. Some businesses are executing Zero Trust strategies as an additional security measure. While all of this is positive news, there is plenty of room to grow.
Cloud vulnerability management services can also manage any gaps in regulations and compliance. Such services are dynamic and are being constantly updated in terms of tactics and strategies. There are specialists and third-party suppliers who can take on almost all the responsibility of keeping a business safe.
Finally, staying alert and aware is what it all boils down to. Whether a business is subscribed to one or many cloud service providers, ensuring the safety of sensitive data must be the topmost priority. Risks and challenges must be continuously addressed, and the right security tools must be adopted. It is important to understand that hackers today are not working alone or just playing around, they are funded very well and are highly competent. Their capabilities should not be underestimated.
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