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Common Cloud Computing Security Issues and How to Mitigate Them

Securing your cloud environment effectively is no easy task. What cloud security issues should you be prepared for? What are the most serious security risks? Which best practices are most effective at keeping your data safe?

In this article, we will explore the two primary cloud models and the principal security concerns you will face when using each model.

Private vs public cloud: How the security issues differ

There are two primary models for cloud environments: private and public. The cloud computing security issues you will face are mostly similar, but there are important differences that you need to understand.

Public cloud. Here, organizations don’t have much control over the details of the cloud infrastructure or the vendor’s security controls. There are various public cloud offerings, including IaaS (infrastructure as a service), PaaS (platform as a service) and SaaS (software as a service). Using a public cloud requires a high level of trust in your providers, along with a clear understanding of the division of responsibilities.

Private cloud. Companies have full visibility and control over their infrastructure and applications. The flip side of gaining that full control is that you also have complete responsibility for:

  • Deploying and maintaining the hardware and software
  • Ensuring the physical security of your infrastructure
  • Implementing appropriate security controls to protect against security threats and attacks

Top Cloud Security Issues and How to Mitigate Them

Data breaches in the cloud have become commonplace. They can be caused by outside attackers, malicious insiders or mistakes by well-intentioned admins. The first line of defense is to follow proven cloud computing best practices. It’s also essential to fully understand the most critical cloud security issues. Here are the top 5 risks and how to mitigate them.

Misconfigurations of security controls

Applicable to private and public clouds

In May 2019, the contact information of nearly 50 million Instagram users was exposed to anyone on the internet. The cause? The database simply was not password protected.

In this case, the database was hosted on an Amazon server, but the problem of misconfiguration is not limited to the public cloud. Indeed, in the public cloud there is less chance of screwing up because you have access to fewer configurations, while in a private cloud, you need to configure everything yourself, including setting up your firewalls, controlling encryption of sensitive data and deciding when to require multi-factor authentication.

Even a single misconfiguration, whether in the private or in public cloud, can be devastating, as the example above clearly illustrates. To mitigate your risk, be sure to:

  • Establish baseline configurations.
  • Regularly audit your configurations and correct any drift from your baseline.
  • Enable continuous change monitoring so you can detect and revert suspicious changes before they lead to a breach.
  • Ensure you can investigate each change quickly and thoroughly. Be sure you will know exactly which settings were modified, who made the change, and when and where it happened.

Security of access

Applicable to private and public clouds

Proper management of access in the cloud is essential to minimizing the risk of data loss due to external attackers, malicious insiders, and errors like accidental sharing of sensitive data. There are many effective strategies, including the following:

  • Adhering to the least-privilege principle when assigning access rights to both users and admins
  • Conducting regular entitlement reviews and revoking excessive rights
  • Monitoring for unauthorized changes and access
  • Classifying your data
  • Establishing and enforcing policies that determine how different types of data can be shared

Data security

Applicable to private and public clouds

There are many ways to improve data security. It’s essential to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities that could be exploited, as well as to monitor activity around your data, since lack of visibility enables malicious attackers free rein to steal information or do other damage.

One essential best practice for protecting your data is to perform data discovery across your IT ecosystem and classify each file by its content. Knowing which data is sensitive or subject to a particular regulation, you make informed decisions about which data can go in the cloud and implement appropriate security policies to protect it.

Shared responsibilities

Applicable to public cloud

In the public cloud, responsibility for cloud data security is shared between the cloud provider and the customer. You need to lock down all responsibilities and security guarantees as you negotiate a contract. While most cloud providers offer an array of features and configuration choices to help keep your data safe, you shouldn’t rely solely on them. Instead, supplement native security measures with your own to comply with legal and business requirements.

Compliance concerns

Applicable to private and public clouds

If your organization is subject to any compliance regulations, you need to be able to demonstrate to auditors that you have adequate control over and insight into the cloud environments you use. Among other things, that usually involves proving that your cloud services are configured properly, that you have appropriate controls in place around any regulated data you store in the cloud, and demonstrating that you have insight into activity around that data. Naturally, classifying your data is an invaluable part of the process, so you know exactly what regulated data you have and where it resides. In addition, you need a way to accurately and promptly satisfy data subject access requests (DSARs) whenever customers exercise their data privacy rights under the GDPR, CCPA and other regulations.

How to strengthen security and compliance in the cloud

The Netwrix data security platform delivers the deep insight and centralized control you need to strengthen security in your public and private cloud environments. In particular, it enables you to:

  • Accurately classify sensitive information in the cloud and automatically reduce its exposure
  • Enforce least privilege by seeing through the tangled permissions structure of cloud-based systems and spotting broken inheritance
  • Know right away about changes to configuration and permissions that could compromise security
  • Detect even the most clever threat actors with user behavior analytics
  • Troubleshoot incidents quickly with Google-like search of audit data
  • Establish required security controls and prove compliance to auditors with far less effort and expense
  • Streamline the process of satisfying DSARs to avoid penalties
Product Evangelist at Netwrix Corporation, writer, and presenter. Ryan specializes in evangelizing cybersecurity and promoting the importance of visibility into IT changes and data access. As an author, Ryan focuses on IT security trends, surveys, and industry insights.