Enterprises are increasingly realizing the benefits of cloud computing. Migrating some data and assets from on-premises locations to private or public cloud helps organizations drastically reduce their IT operational expenditure. It also increases their flexibility in the face of an ever-changing digital economy and provides greater insight into their larger data ecosystems.
As enterprise IT infrastructure continues to become more hybridized, the number of attack vectors vastly expands, creating more opportunities for malicious actors to steal or compromise data and assets. For many businesses, cloud application security has fast become one of their top priorities.
What is cloud application security and why is it important?
Cloud application security refers to the governance and security controls that are put in place to protect data information across the entire cloud environment.
Cloud application security has become more relevant in recent years as the digital landscape continues to evolve. Businesses are rapidly migrating huge stores of their data into cloud infrastructure, increasing the potential of security vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit and possibly use to ransom enormous sums of money. Cyberattacks can levy a major financial and reputational blow to an organization. In fact, pre-pandemic estimates suggested the cost of cybersecurity breaches could reach $20 billion this year, according to Cybercrime Magazine.
Here are the 10 most common (and important) security risks facing cloud applications.
The leading cloud application security risks
- Misconfiguration: One of the leading security risks facing cloud applications and systems, misconfiguration often occurs when users inadvertently enable outbound access to cloud networks, allowing applications and servers that shouldn’t be privileged to have access to data and assets. Attackers can easily exploit those vulnerabilities by stealing the credentials of less secure touchpoints.
- Insecure data sharing: Storing critical data in either on-premises servers or cloud storage repositories or applications encourages employees to exchange greater volumes of data at a much higher frequency. Without a secure way to handle data-sharing between employees, all those exchanges can create cloud vulnerabilities that can result in compromised assets.
- Account hijacking: Black-hat hackers have developed their abilities as technology has evolved, turning cloud applications into a potential attack vector. Account hijacking occurs when hackers steal account credentials and use them to gain access to critical systems.
- Ill-equipped staff: For many companies, the development of technology, diversification of IT systems and the evolution of security threats are far outpacing the ability to hire qualified staff to manage their security management divisions. Many enterprises also simply lack the budget to hire the right personnel, don’t have the resources to train staff on new skills or can’t find new hires with cloud expertise. Lacking these personnel can unintentionally expose the organization to risk.
- Insufficient access controls: Insufficient access and identity controls are especially risky and problematic when companies hybridize their data infrastructure. Without an adequate governance policy to restrict access to data, sensitive information can become exposed and subject an organization to attack.
- Compliance risk: There are numerous data compliance frameworks that businesses must adhere to, including HIPAA, PCI-DSS and GDPR. Failing to comply with the relevant regulations could land companies in serious compliance risk — which could cost them a lot of money. Businesses should ensure they have proper authentication systems in place to keep all data compliant and reference documentation frameworks that outline steps to achieve compliance.
- Data loss: Companies lacking the proper data management controls and protocols can unintentionally cause data loss. That can happen when data is accidentally deleted or irreversibly changed, or encryption keys are altered, rendering fully intact data inaccessible. Data loss can lead to serious problems for enterprises, so routinely creating data backups is critical.
- Employee negligence: One of the leading security threats facing cloud applications actually results from negligent employee behavior. This is particularly true when it comes to account hijacking, as hackers can take advantage of employees unintentionally giving away critical personal information (for example, using a generic password for all accounts).
- Outdated firewall: As security threats learn to more effectively exploit increasingly sophisticated systems and applications, security architecture needs to be constantly updated to meet those threats. An adequate network and cloud firewall should be able to identify security vulnerabilities, giving companies the information they need to patch them and prevent exposure.
- Unsecure APIs: Customers, partners and even internal team members interact with cloud applications enabled via APIs, making these a significant attack vector. Any risk management strategy should include API protection and securing all API gateways.
How cloud application security risk can affect businesses
The number of cybersecurity incidents skyrocketed at the beginning of 2020, as coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions forced many businesses to transition to virtual work models. The number of cyberattacks increased 17% in the first quarter of 2020 alone, according to Security Magazine. This trend is expected to continue in 2021 and beyond as companies continue to embrace cloud computing and COVID-era virtual work models become more permanent hybrid ones.
Data and asset compromise can have a serious financial impact on businesses, the consequences of which can be long-lasting and even permanent. Beyond the immediate financial cost, however, cloud application security exposures can lead to additional reputational damage that can be equally as harmful. The nonfinancial effects security risks can have on businesses include:
- Damaged brand image: A successful cyberattack can force business activity to go offline for days (or weeks). When that happens, customers aren’t getting the products or services they’re paying for (or intend to pay for). That can cause serious, lasting damage to an organization’s brand image.
- Lost trust: The advent of mass data-sharing in the digital economy means customers are entrusting companies and organizations with reams of their personal information. If a business is subject to a cyberattack, customers might begin to worry that their data or assets aren’t safe in that company’s hands.
- Organization disruption: In the event of a cybersecurity attack, it’s often the case that more could have been done to prevent the attack, and that means some team members are ultimately held responsible. That can lead to terminations and replacements, which can be hugely disruptive for the organization.
- Forced closures: Sometimes security breaches are so damaging that affected organizations never recover, either causing them to drastically reduce their operations or forcing them to close down permanently. These occurrences are relatively rare, but they are possible.
[Related Reading: Top 8 Data Security Best Practices]
What can businesses do to mitigate cloud security risk?
While there is no single, one-size-fits-all way to guarantee cloud application security, there are a number of measures enterprises can take to ensure their assets and cloud infrastructure are as safe and secure as possible. Here are some of the most effective:
Phishing is one of the most common and, unfortunately, successful forms of cyberattack. It happens when hackers gain access to personal account information and passwords (usually as a result of procuring this information from unsuspecting users) and then encrypting that data to be used in ransomware attacks. Companies should encourage employees to create secure passwords (using a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols) and change them frequently.
Invest in a cloud security solution
Cloud computing has vastly expanded the reach and capabilities of businesses, but that also means traditional firewall security systems are no longer capable of providing adequate protection. Users can access networks and systems from any device and any location, creating innumerable potential attack vectors for hackers. Companies need to invest in cloud-native security software that’s capable of handling security across a hybrid ecosystem.
Conduct regular security audits
Insider attacks, data loss and employee negligence are the source of numerous cloud application security challenges. To combat these risks and others, companies should restrict data access to those who absolutely need to use it. They should also conduct regular security audits to understand exactly who has access to what data, and make appropriate adjustments as needed.
[Related Reading: How to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment]
Regular systems updates
Hackers are constantly developing their hacking capabilities to be able to overcome the latest data security advancements. Some enterprises mistakenly believe that older security software versions will still protect against current threats, but that isn’t the case. Companies need to regularly update their security software to the latest version to ensure it’s able to detect emerging threats.
[Related Reading: Why Updating Software Is Important for Maintaining Your Cybersecurity]
Cloud-native security solution for the enterprise
Effective cloud security starts with having the right security team on your side. Our team of experts at Alert Logic works with enterprises to learn their business and provide the technology, knowledge and expertise for their unique security needs. We provide 24/7 protection to organizations to ensure they have the most appropriate response plan to confront whatever threats arise.
Reach out and request a demo to start transforming your cybersecurity strategy today.