The cloud has become a staple in enterprise infrastructure, enabling employees to connect with important resources even when they're operating from outside the office. But the impact of the cloud doesn't end there: The platform has also allowed for the remote monitoring and management of key technological systems, ensuring that the IT team is never in the dark about the business's critical solutions.
However, with so much essential activity taking place in the cloud, the platform has become a favorite target of hackers as well. There are a number of threats that businesses must consider with their use of the cloud. But when these issues are addressed and mitigated, enterprises can leverage their cloud technology more effectively without worrying about cybercriminal interaction.
Let's examine some of the top threats to cloud security today, and how business leaders and IT teams can go about eliminating these problems within their own infrastructures.
The dreaded data breach
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but is still one of the top threats to cloud environments. According to a 2014 report from Cloud Security Alliance that identifies the group's leading worries when it comes to the cloud, data breaches are the number one concern.
"Cloud computing introduces significant new avenues of attack," the report stated according to InformationWeek. "It's every CIO's worst nightmare: [T]he organization's sensitive internal data falls into the hands of their competitors."
The report listed the CSA's number two concern as data loss, typically connected to – and often the result of – a data breach. While there are effective means to protect against data breaches, the CSA noted that some security measures can serve to safeguard some areas, and put others at risk.
"Unfortunately, while data loss and data leakage are both serious threats to cloud computing, the measures you put in place to mitigate one of these threats can exacerbate the other," the report pointed out.
For instance, many organizations utilize encryption to secure sensitive data stored in the cloud. However, if a breach takes place and the encryption key is lost, the business may lose all the information connected to the key. This situation illustrates the importance of having a strategy in place, not only in the case of a breach, but to prevent one in the first place. A decryption key should be stored in a place that is inaccessible to external parties, and is heavily guarded against misuse. This will ensure that the encryption technology provides the protection that it is designed to, and that the decryption key is not at risk.
The importance of availability and reliability
When considering threats to the cloud, business leaders must also keep in mind some not-so-obvious factors that could impact the way they interact with their cloud services. This includes the overall availability and reliability of the platform, especially as it pertains to the service provider. Cloud Tech contributor Dejan Lukan noted that one of the main reasons many businesses make the move to the cloud is its availability. However, many decision-makers may not realize that cloud services are only as reliable as the service provider offering them.
It is incredibly difficult – and often impossible – to implement a 100 percent uptime guarantee. A power outage or event that causes unplanned downtime could make cloud services inaccessible. For this reason, it is important that business leaders examine the uptime guarantee outlined in their Service Level Agreement, and have a backup plan in place should downtime take place.
The potential for an insecure API
The CSA's list of cloud security threats also included the possibility of an insecure application programming interface, technology which outlines how a third party connects and is verified by the platform. Babcock noted that APIs have provided the answer for a main contradiction with the cloud – enabling some to make use of the service while blocking out others that might do it harm. However, many experts have pointed out that no public API is completely secure.
"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 policy," the report stated. "Reliance on a weak set of interfaces and APIs exposes organizations to a variety of security issues related to confidentiality, integrity, availability and accountability."
Accidental exposure and malicious insiders
While external threats are typically a main focus, business leaders must prepare for the possibility that someone inside the company could be putting the cloud environment at risk – whether accidentally or intentionally.
For example, an employee who is not well educated on the cloud, its security measures and their responsibilities in connection with these protections could accidentally misuse the technology and put sensitive information at risk. For this reason, it is paramount to have training in place to prevent these types of situations from happening.
At the same time, however, there have been cases of malicious insiders – employees who willfully and knowingly create risks in connection with the cloud. This could be a disgruntled worker or someone who is simply looking to collect sensitive information and capitalize on its value. Whatever the reason may be, the company should ensure that there are protections in place that can help flag suspicious activity that could be connected to an insider threat. Putting silos in place that ensure that only those who need to access certain information are able to can assist in these means. A monitoring program that alerts key managers when these silos are broken is also helpful. With these protections in place, the chances of a malicious insider gaining access to information are greatly reduced.