Top 10 Cloud Security Issues, Threats, and Concerns

Does your company use the cloud to handle your data? Are you up to date on security protocols? There are plenty of threats facing cloud users. We unpack the leading top to cloud systems and users.

Does your company use cloud solutions? The cloud offers organizations the advantage of flexibility, scalability, and efficiency. With these advantages comes the challenge of security. It's easy for companies to become confused with the responsibilities of their cloud service provider (CSP) and their internal policies regarding security protocols.

This bewilderment at the allocation of responsibilities often leads to several vulnerabilities. To further complicate matters, conventional security protocols frequently don't adequately fulfill cloud requirements. What are the security risks of cloud computing?

Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) is a nonprofit with the mission of promoting the use of best practices relating to security assurance within cloud computing. CSA worked with companies to answer the question, "what are the security risks of the cloud computing environment?"

CSA outlined several issues facing the security of cloud computing. We unpacked the top 10 threats and concerns uncovered by this organization in this post.

#1 System and data breach

Top of the list of security issues for cloud computing is systems and data breaches. That's not surprising considering the recent escalation in hacking campaigns. While many people see the cloud as a much more secure way of storing data than on-site methods, that's not always the case.

The cloud has been responsible for several data breaches over recent years. Experiencing a data breach can bring an organization to the verge of ruin. The 2021 breach of Experian's systems is a good example of the damage a hack can bring to companies with seemingly sterling reputations.

If your company experiences a breach, you're looking at the potential of irreversible reputational damage, legal liability, a decrease in market value, and a huge financial cost in recovery. So, what can companies do to safeguard themselves against data breaches? Here are a few ideas companies will find useful to mitigate risk.

  • Define your data value and total data loss's financial and reputational impact.
  • Protect all data using encryption.
  • Design a comprehensive, stress-tested incident response plan.
  • Perform routine data integrity for inputs and outputs.
  • Apply principles of access control regarding least privileged users.
  • Establish procedures and policies for the secure removal and disposal of data.

CSA Security Guidance provides a fourth-generation document discussing the key objectives of cloud domains. This CCM document contains detailed controls and requirements, categorized by control ID and control area, mapping each to the following.

  • Control specs.
  • Architecture relevance.
  • Cloud delivery models like PaaS, SaaS, and IaaS.
  • Frameworks and standards like DSS, NIST, PCI, and FedRAMP.

#2 Deficient change control and misconfiguration

If organizations and CSPs configure assets incorrectly, it opens them to cloud computing security flaws. As a result, they're vulnerable to attack by bad actors. The Capital One breach is an excellent example of a breach traced back to a misconfiguration of the web application firewall exposing Amazon S3 buckets.

Insecure data storage protocols, default credentials, and excessive permissions are two other sources of major vulnerabilities in cloud solutions. Ineffective change controls are another related source of cloud misconfigurations.

Real-time, on-demand cloud environments require automated change controls to support rapid shifts and change. Misconfigurations and change controls are the responsibility of the customer and an example of a new threat to cloud security.

Here are examples of security protocols designed to mitigate this risk.

  • Pay attention to all data accessible through the internet.
  • Define the business value of your data and the impact of a breach causing its loss.
  • Create and maintain a strong incident response plan.
  • Ensure third-party partners recognize and adhere to the internal development team's change management and testing procedures.
  • Conduct risk assessments at planned dates.
  • Perform security awareness training with third-party users, employees, and contractors.

#3 Insufficient access, credential, identity, key, and access management

Most cybersecurity and cloud security threats are linked to issues with identity and access management (IAM) protocols. The following points with guidance lead to these problems.

  • Improper protection for credentials.
  • No use of automated rotation for the cryptographic password, keys, and certificates.
  • Challenges with IAM scalability.
  • No implementation of multifactor authentication (MFA) strategies.
  • Weak password creation and lack of random password generators in creating passwords.

IAM challenges are one of the new threats to cloud security. Accurate inventory monitoring, tracking, and management of cloud accounts are compounded by allocating and deallocating issues, excessive admin accounts, zombie accounts, and users bypassing these IAM controls. Firms need to take the following approach to customer responsibilities.

  • Implement two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • Practice strict IAM controls for identities and cloud users.
  • Rotate keys and remove unused access privileges and credentials.
  • Employ centralized key management.
  • Identify key managers and create and maintain key management policy.
  • Assign, document, and communicate roles and responsibilities for employment termination or procedural changes.
  • Perform timely de-provisioning of user access to network and data components.

#4 Inadequate or missing cloud security strategy and architecture

Many organizations attempt to implement cloud solutions without having the proper strategy and architecture in place. Customers might not understand the risks of implementing cloud solutions and their exposure to attacks.

Understanding how to securely migrate operations to the cloud and the shared responsibility model are critical to users. These cloud security risks are new and the responsibility of the customer. Without proper planning, customers create vulnerability to cyber attacks, resulting in reputational damage, financial loss, compliance, and legal issues.

New users can mitigate these risks with the following strategies.

  • Ensure alignment of security architecture with business objectives and goals.
  • Develop and implement security architecture frameworks.
  • Implement continuous monitoring of security procedures.

Customers must ensure their risk assessment policies include updating their procedures, policies, controls, and standards. Customers must assume responsibility for designing, developing, and deploying business-critical API and application designs and configurations. This includes system and network components.

These responsibilities must include agreed-upon capacity-level and service-level expectations, service management policies and procedures, IT governance, and restriction and monitoring of all traffic between connections in network environments.

#5 Cloud account corruption and hijacking

Cloud hijacking involves the accidental leakage, disclosure, exposure, or compromise of a cloud account concerned with the cloud environment's maintenance, operations, or administration. If breached, these highly sensitive accounts create massive issues for organizations.

From credential stuffing and phishing campaigns to stolen or weak credentials, compromising accounts leads to service disruptions and breaches. This issue is a problem for CSPs and customers, requiring the two parties to realize the following.  

  • Account hijacking isn't as simple as resetting a password.
  • Implementing IAM controls and defense-in-depth.

Both customers and CSPs must implement the following to mitigate risk.

  • Establish, document, and adopt a business continuity plan.
  • Separate both production and non-productive environments.
  • Maintain and update compliance in preparation for forensic investigation and law enforcement engagement.

#6 Insecure APIs and interfaces

APIs and CSP user interfaces remain the most exposed components of the cloud environment for customers and CSPs. CSPs must integrate security, and customers must remain vigilant in monitoring and managing the "front door" of their cloud environment.

CSPs must implement the following to mitigate risk in these environments.

  • Practice effective and secure API management and use.
  • Avoid reusing API keys.
  • Avoid using open and standardized API frameworks.

CSPs can design, develop, deploy, and test APIs per industry best practices. They must also adhere to applicable statutory, legal, and regulatory requirements. Restricting and segregating access to auditing tools to prevent data tampering and disclosure. They must limit programs that can override systems, networks, objects, and application controls.

#7 Insider threats

Employee risk to cloud computing is very real and a huge part of compromised systems. The 2022 breach of Uber systems through an insider threat is a great example of the relevance of this security issue.

Risks associated with contractors and employees within the organization's network can create a platform for reduced customer confidence, system downtime, data loss, and data breaches. Insider threats are the responsibility of the customer. These problems incorporate credential problems, stolen or leaked data, human error, and cloud misconfiguration.

The following strategies mitigate these problems.

  • Conduct employee and contractor training for security awareness.
  • Fix and cloud server misconfiguration.
  • Restrict employees and contractors to critical systems.
  • Require authorization before transferring or relocating data, software, or hardware.
  • Validation and permission of user access controls.
  • Segment networks, infrastructure, and multi-tenant apps.

#8 Weak cloud control planes

The cloud control plane is one of the newer threats to cloud computing security. It defines the collection of interfaces and cloud administrative consoles implemented by an organization and includes data storage, migration, and duplication.

The Improper security involved in a breach of the control plane has the potential for prospective data loss, resulting in consequences like regulatory fines and reputation destruction, leading to financial and revenue loss.

Use the following strategies to mitigate this risk.

  • Require proper control of the plane from the CSP.
  • The CSP must perform due diligence on the cloud service to determine if it has sufficient control planes.
  • Establish and implement policies and procedures for review by personnel and external third parties.
  • Implement defense-in-depth countermeasures for detecting and responding to network-based cloud attacks as quickly as possible.
  • Establish policies to handle, label, and secure objects and data.

#9 Limited cloud visibility on usage

Cloud visibility is a new security risk, despite it long being a concern for admins. Limited cloud visibility creates two challenges. The unsanctioned use of apps by employees, known as "shadow IT," creates an environment where employees do not use the app as intended or approved by IT for use.

This shadow IT includes authorized users accessing the app with stolen credentials. They may obtain these credentials via a DNS attack or SQL injection. As a result, the cloud environment experiences a lack of security, awareness, and governance, resulting in a cyber attack leading to data breaches and loss.

The following strategies mitigate this risk.

  • Development of a top-down cloud visibility strategy.
  • Enforcing company-wide mandates on training for policies relating to cloud usage.
  • Review and approve nonapproved cloud services by third-party risk management or cloud security architects.
  • Conduct regular risk assessments.
  • Instruct personnel on security roles, responsibilities, and compliance.
  • Document and maintain data flows.

#10 Applistructure and Metastructure failures

We wrap up our security risks in cloud computing with the metastructure. The metastructure is the mechanism and protocol providing the interface between the infrastructure layers. Essentially, it's the interface tying technology in the cloud while enabling the configuration and management of the system.

We can think of the metastructure or "waterline" as the line in the sand between customers and CSPs. There are several security threats on this plane. Some examples would be the ineffective implementation of CSP APIs or the improper use of cloud apps on the customer side.

These security challenges may lead to misconfigurations and service disruptions, leading to consequences like data and financial loss.

The applistructure is the app deployed in the cloud, with the underlying app services used in the build. This presents a security threat that's the responsibility of CSPs and customers to neutralize. The following strategies mitigate these risks.

  • CSPs must offer exposure and visibility of mitigation strategies to counteract a lack of transparency by tenants.
  • CSPs must conduct penetration tests, providing the findings to customers.
  • Customers must implement controls and features in native cloud designs.
  • Develop and maintain auditing plans addressing disruptions in business processes.
  • Implement encryption for data storage protection.
  • Establish procedures and policies for storing and managing identity information.

In Closing – Work with a Top-Level Cloud Security Specialist

The risks to cloud security are very real. Don't leave your cloud unprotected. Implementing the solutions to the ten threats mentioned in this post creates a secure environment for your systems and data.

It would help if you worked with the right partner to secure your cloud. Select a partner from cyber security companies in Phoenix that understand the importance of their obligations to you as a CSP. Your partner should provide the advice you need to secure the cloud on the customer side of the environment.