Concerns about security issues remain one of the top barriers to companies migrating their IT workloads to cloud computing environments. Some IT decision-makers are cautious due to a slew of perceived cloud security challenges that they can’t get on top of.
While some of this hesitance is justified, it’s worth noting that the cloud offers many security benefits. Still, it’s worth clarifying what exactly the main cloud security challenges are and outlining some useful solutions—this blog post aims to do just that.
Top Cloud Security Challenges and Issues
Well over a decade since cloud computing entered into mainstream adoption by companies, security is still a huge concern. In fact, a report from 2023 found that 95% of enterprises worry about security in public cloud environments while 43% of respondents feel that public cloud services are riskier than on-premise environments. Let’s take a look at some of the top cloud security challenges and issues that are contributing to this worry about cloud security along with suggested solutions to each challenge.
Many of the most high-profile cloud breaches arose from issues with misconfigurations. A common example that makes media headlines is companies leaving cloud storage services wide open for anyone to access.
In June 2023, 98,000 files containing the personal information of 3,200 doctors in the UK were found easily accessible in an unsecured Amazon S3 bucket. Cloud environments provide a vast array of configuration options to allow users to tailor services to their specific needs. While this flexibility is powerful, it can also be overwhelming. Misunderstanding or overlooking important settings via simple human error can lead to misconfigurations that leave resources vulnerable. Misconfigurations can lead to a range of security issues, including unprotected data storage, unnecessary permissions, and open access points, making it easier for attackers to gain access, escalate privileges, or exfiltrate data.
Here are some pointers to reduce these risks:
● Use Configuration Management Tools: These tools can help manage and monitor configurations across all of your cloud resources. They can also often identify and alert you to potential misconfigurations.
● Implement Infrastructure as Code (IaC): IaC allows you to define and manage your cloud infrastructure using code, which can help ensure consistent configurations and make it easier to audit and manage configurations.
● Least Privilege Principle: Follow the principle of least privilege, which means giving users or systems only the permissions they need to perform their tasks and no more. This can help reduce the risk associated with misconfigurations.
Regulations related to data protection and privacy such as GDPR, HIPAA, and others mandate strict controls over how your business handles and protects certain types of data. Maintaining regulatory compliance is a challenge in cloud environments, especially when data might be stored or processed in different geographical locations with different legal frameworks. This stands in contrast to on-premise, single-location environments.
Different countries and regions have different privacy and data protection regulations. Complying with multiple sets of laws is complex enough, but the cloud’s visibility and geographical issues complicate matters further. It’s also important to remember that many companies opt for a multi-cloud model in which they use multiple cloud service providers’ services; managing compliance across all these vendors can be difficult.
On a final point about regulatory compliance challenges, data might automatically get moved or replicated to different locations for load balancing or redundancy in the cloud, which can make it harder to know where data is at any given moment.
This movement presents challenges for regulations that require knowing exactly where data is stored.
Some tips to overcome this cloud security issue include:
● Look for Cloud Security Tools: For example, Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) can provide visibility into cloud usage and help enforce security policies.
● Do Your Due Diligence: Research and choose cloud providers who demonstrate robust security measures, familiarity with compliance regulations, and provide transparency about their practices.
● Employ Strong Data Management Practices: This includes data classification (identifying and tagging data based on sensitivity and regulatory requirements), as well as strong access control and encryption.
As companies increasingly move their operations to the cloud, there is a rising demand for professionals with cloud security expertise. However, this demand currently outpaces the supply of qualified professionals, which leads to a significant skills gap. A 2023 report into the chronic cybersecurity skills gap found that cloud security tops the most needed cybersecurity skills and hardest-to-fill roles for organizations.
Cloud security is a complex field that requires a deep understanding of a wide range of technologies and processes. And, as mentioned, many businesses use services from multiple cloud providers. Managing security across these multi-cloud environments can be complex and requires skills and experience with each of these unique platforms.
Here are some strategies to help address this challenge at your company:
● Upskill Existing Staff: Invest in training and education for existing IT staff to build cloud security skills. This could involve formal courses, certifications, workshops, or on-the-job training.
● Managed Security Services: Consider partnering with managed security service providers. These firms have the expertise to manage your cloud security needs and can help fill the skills gap.
● Foster a Security Culture: Create a culture of security within the organization where everyone understands the importance of cloud security and follows best practices.
Visibility and monitoring
Visibility and monitoring in the context of cloud security refers to the ability to see and track what’s happening across your cloud environments, including user activities, resource configurations, network traffic, and more. This visibility is crucial for detecting potential security threats and for responding effectively when incidents occur.
Aside from the complexity of cloud environments, the concept of a fixed perimeter doesn’t exist compared to on-premise environments, which makes monitoring access and activity more difficult. Another cause of this cloud security challenge is the large volumes of data generated in the cloud; processing and making sense of this data to identify potential security threats can be a struggle.
Some pointers for dealing with this issue are:
● Use Cloud-native Monitoring Tools: Most cloud service providers offer native monitoring tools that can provide significant visibility into your cloud environment. Learn how to leverage these tools effectively.
● Adopt Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Systems: SIEM systems can collect and analyze security data from a wide range of sources, providing centralized visibility and alerting for potential threats.
● Security Training: Regularly train your IT team in cloud security practices, including the effective use of monitoring and visibility tools.
The shared responsibility model
Many cloud breaches stem from businesses not understanding the shared responsibility model in cloud computing. This model states that cloud providers are responsible for the security of the cloud, but customers are responsible for security in the cloud.
While this sounds pretty clear-cut, the different cloud service delivery models (PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS) complicate understanding who is responsible for what. For example, when using SaaS apps, you’re only responsible for managing your data and setting appropriate configuration options where provided, such as user access controls. But with a PaaS offering, you take on responsibility for securing any applications you develop and run on the platform, and the data these applications handle.
Here are some tips to better comprehend and manage these responsibilities:
● Understand the Cloud Service Models: Familiarize yourself with the three main cloud service models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) and what responsibilities fall to the customer in each case. As a rule of thumb, the more services that the cloud provider manages for you (like in SaaS), the fewer security tasks you’re responsible for, and vice versa (like in IaaS).
● Consult with the Provider: Speak directly with your cloud service provider to clarify any uncertainties. They can provide documentation or guidance on what aspects of security they cover and what aspects your organization is expected to handle.
● Read the Fine Print: Be sure to read and understand the service level agreements (SLAs) and terms of service. These documents often delineate who is responsible for what in the shared responsibility model.
● Create a Cloud Security Policy: Your organization should have a clear, comprehensive cloud security policy. This policy should reflect an understanding of your responsibilities under the shared model and provide guidance on how your organization will fulfill these responsibilities.
● Leverage Tools and Services: Utilize cloud security tools and services to help manage your responsibilities. These can include encryption tools, cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools, and more. Some cloud providers offer built-in tools to help you better manage your side of the shared responsibility model.
● Regular Audits and Penetration Tests: Perform regular audits to ensure your organization fulfills its responsibilities under the shared model. Penetration test services that use teams of skilled ethical hackers to break into your network can also be useful in uncovering gaps in protection where neither you or the cloud provider is taking responsibility for certain aspects of security.
How DIESEC Helps Secure the Cloud
Our team of experienced penetration testers improve your cloud security by finding security gaps and vulnerabilities in the cloud that you didn’t know about. Our detailed reports provide clear results on the current security status of your cloud setups and highlight where there is a general need for action/improvement.