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Increased Cloud Use Increases Convenience But Also Vulnerability

Here we explore the reasons cloud services are being exploited, how it’s happening, and what you can do to prevent it.

10 min read

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Cloud-based services are useful to companies in a number of ways. They can help reduce operational costs, increase scalability, improve collaboration between team members, expand mobility and flexibility, and reduce the need to perform low-level tasks such as manually updating software and backing up data. 

All these benefits add up to greater convenience, especially now that more companies than ever have expanded their remote workforce. But working in the cloud also presents challenges. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for new attack vectors and are well aware of the migration into the cloud over recent years and in 2020 in particular. 

Furthermore, a shocking number of them are taking advantage of it. Reports indicate that between 75% and 80% of companies have reported their cloud data has been compromised. Still, that doesn’t mean you need to bring all your computing back in-house. Here we explore the reasons cloud services are being exploited, how it’s happening, and what you can do to prevent it. 

Why the Cloud is Vulnerable

No matter where data is stored and used, cyberattacks are always a possibility. The use of the cloud for these purposes presents specific challenges. The public cloud is a large attack surface for hackers and users of cloud services don’t always have extensive insight into their own virtual environments. Also, the flexibility that makes cloud computing so attractive can also be a problem in that security may not always be enforced within a constantly changing environment. 

Security can become even more of an issue in complex multicloud environments, in which methods and tools must work across various public and private cloud providers as well as on-premise deployments. Additionally, cloud service customers are responsible for making sure their own environments are compliant with various regulations, such as GDPR. 

How Cloud Assets Are Being Attacked

The more places where your data exists, the more opportunities hackers have to gain access to it. That’s why cloud cybersecurity is so important. Hackers use a variety of methods to steal your data. For example, they may discover login credentials using a method called phishing, in which they send an email or other types of messages that request the information via a link to a phony website that captures the information.

The following video provides a simple explanation of phishing:

With one set of credentials, it’s sometimes possible for the criminals to gain access to others, given the common practice to reuse the same passwords. The more accounts they have access to, the more data they can collect, and the more leverage they gain. Ransomware attacks involve holding this data hostage or threatening to make it public unless a ransom is paid. 

It’s important to note that phishing attacks and other forms of social engineering involve the participation of someone inside a company, which is why employee training in cybersecurity is so critical. Workers need to know what to look for and what types of scenarios to avoid. 

Cloud Cybersecurity Best Practices

While the cloud services your company uses will have their own cybersecurity methods and practices, your organization must take an active role in ensuring the safety of your data. After all, in the event of a security breach, it’s you who will face customer ire, pay fines, and spend the necessary time and money to set things right. Here are some methods to consider. 

  • Staff training. A large percentage of cloud-based data breaches are due to things like misconfigured or improperly secured systems. So, ensuring employees understand the latest threats and prevention techniques is one of the most important things you can do to keep cloud data safe. 
  • Secure devices. Naturally, employees prefer to use their own devices to access cloud applications, rather than having a separate one just for work to keep track of. That arrangement can work out fine as long as your company maintains policies for mitigating the security and risk factors involved. 
  • Cloud-based security. Cloud service providers like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google bake security into their systems and have resources to make sure you take full advantage of it. If you’re uncertain about how the security works in the systems you use, ask your vendor. 
  • Zero Trust. The Zero Trust security method entails not trusting anyone, even those within the network, and verifying all interactions. Users are only given the access they need to perform their roles. Embracing this approach can significantly increase the security in any corporate network.
  • Identity and access management tools. Identity and access management (IAM) security manages digital identities. Its practices include identifying, authenticating, and authorizing users and disallowing unauthorized users to access the network. Principles include using higher levels of authentication for users with more extensive privileges. 
  • Web application firewall. A web application firewall (WAF) examines and controls data transfer to and from web application servers and updates according to shifts in traffic patterns. 
  • Password manager. Passwords may seem like a small thing but they’re actually important because they present the easiest way for cybercriminals to gain access to accounts. Consider equipping your employees with a password manager so they won’t be tempted to use easy or repeated passwords. 
  • Multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) ensures that, even with a password, cybercriminals can’t access accounts because there’s a missing piece. Examples include access to a certain phone, a fingerprint, or a physical key. 
  • Data backups. Remember that cloud applications should be backed up too. If the vendor doesn’t provide this service, consider using a third-party one. 
  • Encryption. Be sure your cloud service providers are encrypting data that will be stored with them. This strategy in combination with access privileges forms the foundation of being able to meet common regulatory policies. 

Revisit Your Cloud Security Posture

On balance, the benefits of cloud computing outweigh the risks. However, companies that rely on cloud services must take extra precautions to ensure data security. While many tools are available to assist, perhaps the most important measure is making sure all employees understand their role in keeping data secure. 

Ongoing presentations, reminders, and even attempted hacking simulations can help team members — especially those working remotely — stay on top of the latest threats. Their contributions might just be what stands between your company and the loss of data, time, money, and customer trust. 

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