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    How Secure Is the Cloud with Cloud Security Tools?

    by Kristin Burnham

    Key Points

    • Cloud security remains a top concern for organizations.
    • Cloud computing is typically more secure than on-premises data centers, but security is a shared responsibility between cloud service providers and customers.
    • Several tools are available to help companies protect against the top cloud security threats.

    Organizations everywhere are turning to cloud computing to reduce costs and improve mobility, flexibility and collaboration. Despite rapid adoption, however, 96% of cybersecurity professionals say they are at least moderately concerned about the security of cloud computing, according to a report from ISC2.[1]

    How secure is cloud computing? And what can organizations do to fortify it? Answering these questions begins with understanding common cloud computing vulnerabilities and the cloud security policies, processes and tools to reduce them.

    What Is Cloud Computing and How Secure Is the Cloud?

    Cloud computing enables the delivery of computing services on demand over the internet. For businesses, these services can range from databases and storage to customer intelligence, data analytics, human resources platforms and enterprise resource planning. Cloud computing is attractive to many organizations because it can provide significant cost savings — organizations typically subscribe to and pay only for the cloud services they use, which can save them time and money otherwise spent on infrastructure and IT management.

    The other benefit of cloud computing is enhanced security. In most cases, the cloud is more secure than on-premises data centers. When a company operates and manages its own on-premises data center, it’s responsible for procuring the expertise and resources to appropriately secure its data from end to end. Cloud-based providers, however, offer a higher level of security than many businesses can match or could afford, particularly for growing organizations or ones with limited financial resources.

    4 Common Cloud Computing Vulnerabilities and How to Secure Them

    While organizations can benefit from improved security by migrating to the cloud, that doesn’t mean they’re free from threats. Importantly, cloud security is a shared responsibility between cloud service providers and their customers. Discussed below are some of the top risks that a cloud environment poses and what organizations can do to protect against these vulnerabilities:

    • Misconfiguration.
    • Poor access control.
    • End user error and misconduct.
    • Insecure APIs.

    Misconfiguration Creates Most Cloud Vulnerabilities

    While cloud service providers often offer tools to help manage cloud configuration, the misconfiguration of cloud resources remains the most prevalent cloud vulnerability, which can be exploited to access cloud data and services, says the U.S. National Security Agency.[2] Misconfiguration can impact organizations in many ways, making them more susceptible to threats like denial of service attacks and account compromise.

    • How to secure it: Organizations should ensure proper configuration beginning with infrastructure design and automation. They should also consider technical controls that prevent misconfigurations or alert administrators to improper configurations, including encryption, access control lists, application gateways, intrusion detection systems, web application firewalls and virtual private networks.

    Poor Access Control Gives Attackers Privileges

    Poor access control results when cloud resources use weak authentication methods or include vulnerabilities that bypass authentication methods. This can allow attackers to elevate privileges and compromise cloud resources. 

    • How to secure it: Companies can mitigate poor access control by enforcing strong authentication and authorization protocols. These protocols include: multi-factor authentication, disabling protocols using weak authentication, limiting access to and between cloud resources, using cloud-based access controls on cloud resources, using automated tools to audit access logs for security concerns, and enforcing multi-factor authentication for password resets.

    Employees Pose Risks

    Companies that have difficulty tracking how employees are using cloud computing services risk becoming vulnerable to both external attacks and insider security threats. End users can access an organization’s internal data without much trouble, so they can steal valuable information or be exploited by attackers to do similar harm.

    • How to secure it: Train employees to recognize security risks, including phishing and malware, and educate them on the repercussions of malicious activities. In addition, organizations should ensure that there are a limited number of people with access to privileged central servers and security systems, and that these individuals receive training in handling their administrative rights on the cloud server.

    Insecure APIs Are Becoming a Major Attack Vector

    Many APIs require access to sensitive business data, and some are made public to improve adoption. APIs that are implemented without adequate authentication and authorization, however, pose risks to organizations. Insecure APIs are becoming a major attack vector for malicious actors.

    • How to secure it: Companies should develop and use APIs with strong authentication, data encryption, activity monitoring and logging, and access controls. APIs developed in-house should receive thorough security reviews and penetration testing. Other APIs that don’t meet established security guidelines should be avoided.

    4 Types of Cloud Security

    Since cloud security is a shared responsibility between the cloud provider and the customer, sharing arrangements need to be well understood. While a provider would typically be responsible for safeguarding the infrastructure, patching and configuring the physical network, for example, its customer’s responsibilities could include managing users, their access privileges and data encryption. The following cloud security tools help organizations fortify their environment:[3]

    • Identity and access management (IAM): IAM is a framework of policies and technologies that helps organizations ensure that the right users have appropriate access to both cloud-based and on-premises services. IAM creates and controls digital identities for users so companies can monitor and restrict access whenever and wherever necessary.
    • Security information and event management (SIEM): This technology supports threat detection, compliance and security incident management by collecting and analyzing security events and data from a variety of sources.
    • Data loss prevention: These tools and services ensure the security of cloud data by using a combination of remediation alerts, data encryption and other preventive measures.
    • Disaster recovery and business continuity: Despite an organization’s best efforts, outages and data breaches still occur. Disaster recovery solutions provide organizations with the tools, services and protocols necessary to recover lost data and resume normal business operations.

    Why Cloud Security Policies Are Important 

    A cloud security policy is a formal guideline developed to ensure safe and secure operations in the cloud. Without one, a company risks security breaches, financial and data loss, and other costly consequences including fines for regulatory noncompliance. 

    A cloud security policy should include:

    • Introduction stating the reasons for having a cloud security policy.
    • Purpose and scope of the policy.
    • Operational details.
    • Leadership, including who’s responsible for approving and implementing it.
    • Monitoring plan for verifying policy compliance, including assessments and penetration tests.
    • Penalties for failure to comply with policies.

    The Bottom Line

    Cloud computing can provide important opportunities and cost savings for organizations. While security remains a prevalent concern, understanding the most common threats and putting in place the proper policies, processes and tools can help companies protect themselves and their data.

    [1]2021 Cloud Security Report,” ISC2

    [2]Mitigating Cloud Vulnerabilities,” National Security Agency

    [3]What Is Cloud Security?”, IBM

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