Cloud Security Risks and Solutions

Cloud computing is continually transforming the way companies store, use, and share data, workloads, and software. The volume of cloud utilization around the globe is increasing, leading to a greater mass of sensitive material that is potentially at risk.

The market for worldwide cloud computing is projected to grow to $191 billion in two years. There are many pros of cloud computing, which are driving more firms and individuals to the cloud. The benefits include low costs, improved employee productivity, and faster to market, among many more.

Regardless of the great advantages, saving a firm’s workloads to a cloud service that is publicly hosted exposes the organization to new data security risks which cause unease for some firms’ IT departments and clients.
With more and more data and software moving to the cloud, unique info-security challenges crop up. Here are the top cloud computing security risks that every firm faces.

Cloud Security Risks

1. Theft or loss of intellectual property
An outstanding 21% of data uploaded by companies to cloud-based file management services contain sensitive data. The analysis that was done by Skyhigh found that companies face the risk of having their intellectual property stolen.

The Ponemon Institute and Surveying 409 IT investigated the risk posed by BYOC (bring your own cloud). The analysis revealed that most of the interviewees had no idea of the threat posed by bringing their own cloud storage devices to their organization. Employees unwittingly help cyber-criminals access sensitive data stored in their cloud accounts.

Weak cloud security measures within an organization include storing data without encryption or failing to install multi-factor authentication to gain access to the service.

2. Compliance violations
Organizations can quickly go into a state of non-compliance, which puts them in the risk of serious repercussions. BYOC is one of the ways companies often violate one of the tenets and regulations instituted by the government or Industrial Corporation. Whether it is FERPA for confidential student documents or HIPAA for private patient records, most firms operate under a regulatory body.

A state of non-compliance with any of these bodies lands companies in a lot of trouble. To mitigate this risk, companies should always use authentication systems for all the sensitive data in the firm.
Even tech giants like Facebook have been victims of resource exploitation due to user error or misconfigurations. Keeping employees informed about the dangers and risks of data sharing is of at most importance.

3. Malware attacks
Cloud services can be a vector for data exfiltration. As technology improves, and protection systems evolve, cyber-criminals have also come up with new techniques to deliver malware targets. Attackers encode sensitive data onto video files and upload them to YouTube.

Skyhigh reports that cyber-criminals use private twitter accounts to deliver the malware. The malware then exhilarates sensitive data a few characters at a time. Some have also been known to use phishing attacks through file-sharing services to deliver the malware.

4. End-user control
When a firm is unaware of the risk posed by workers using cloud services, the employees could be sharing just about anything without raising eyebrows. Insider threats have become common in the modern market. For instance, if a salesman is about to resign from one firm to join a competitor firm, they could upload customer contacts to cloud storage services and access them later.
The example above is only one of the more common insider threats today. Many more risks are involved with exposing private data to public servers.

5. Contract breaches with clients and/or business partners
Contracts restrict how business partners or clients use data and also who has the authorization to access it. Employees put both the firm and themselves at risk of legal action when they move restricted data into their cloud accounts without permission from the relevant authorities.

Violation of business contracts through breaching confidentiality agreements is common. This is especially when the cloud service maintains the right to share all data uploaded with third parties.

6. Shared vulnerabilities
Cloud security is the responsibility of all concerned parties in a business agreement. From the service provider to the client and business partners, every stakeholder shares responsibility in securing data. Every client should be inclined to take precautionary measures to protect their sensitive data.

While the major providers have already taken steps to secure their side, the more delicate control measures are for the client to take care of. Dropbox, Microsoft, Box, and Google, among many others, have adopted standardized procedures to secure your data. These measures can only be successful when you have also taken steps to secure your sensitive data.

Key security protocols such as protection of user passwords and access restrictions are the client’s responsibility. According to an article named “Office 365 Security and Share Responsibility” by Skyfence, users should consider high measures of security as the most delicate part of securing their data is firmly in their hands.

7. Attacks to deny service to legitimate users
You are most likely well aware of cyber-attacks and how they can be used to hijack information and establish a foothold on the service provider’s platform. Denial of service attacks, unlike cyber-attacks, do not attempt to bypass your security protocol. Instead, they make your servers unavailable to illegitimate users.
However, in some cases, DoS is used as a smokescreen for a variety of other malicious activities. They can also be used to take down some security appliances like web application firewalls.

8. Insecure APIs
API or Application Programming Interfaces offer users the opportunity to customize their cloud service experience. APIs can, however, be a threat to cloud security due to their very nature. Apart from giving firms the ability to customize the features on their cloud service provider, they also provide access, authenticate, and effect encryption.
As APIs evolve to provide better service to users, they also increase their security risk on the data client’s store. APIs provide programmers with the tools to integrate their programs with job-critical applications. YouTube is one of the sites with an API that allows users to embed YouTube videos into their apps or websites.
Despite of this great opportunity that the technology presents the user, it also increases the level of vulnerability to their data. Cyber-criminals have more opportunities to take advantage of thanks to these vulnerabilities

9. Loss of data
Data stored on cloud servers can be lost through a natural disaster, malicious attacks, or a data wipe by the service provider. Losing sensitive data is devastating to firms, especially if they have no recovery plan. Google is an example of the big tech firms that have suffered permanent data loss after being struck by lightning four times in its power supply lines.

Amazon was another firm that lost its essential customer data back in 2011.
An essential step in securing data is carefully reviewing the terms of service of your provider and their back up procedures. The backup protocol could relate to physical access, storage locations, and natural disasters.

10. Diminished customer trust
It is inevitable for customers to feel unsafe after data breach concerns at your firm. There have been massive security breaches that resulted in the theft of millions of customer credit and debit card numbers from data storage facilities.

The breaches reduce customer trust in the security of their data. A breach in an organization’s data will inevitably lead to a loss of customers, which ultimately impacts the firm’s revenue.

11. Increased customer agitation
A growing number of cloud service critics are keen to see which service providers have weak security protocols and encourage customers to avoid them. Most of these critics are popular around the internet and could lead to a poor impression of your firm in a few posts.
If your customers suspect that their data is not safe in your hands, they not only move to competitor firms but also damage your firm’s reputation.

12. Revenue losses
Customers of a store will avoid buying from the store in the wake of news of data breach in the organization. A well known company as Target estimated a data breach in its platform to cost around $128 million. The CEO of the company resigned, and the company’s directors remain under oversight by cyber security companies.

Managing Cloud Security

To effectively mitigate the security risks brought by unmanaged cloud usage, firms need to understand the data that is being uploaded to cloud servers and who is uploading the data. The cloud storage and sharing services are here to stay, and firms must be able to balance the risks posed by using the service.
The following steps will aid business decision-makers and enterprise IT managers to analyze cloud security of company data;

1. Ensure governance and compliance is effective
A majority of companies have already established privacy and compliance policies to protect their assets. In addition to these rules, they should also create a framework of governance that establishes authority and a chain of responsibility in the organization.

A well-defined set of policies clearly describes the responsibilities and roles of each employee. It should also define how they interact and pass information.

2. Auditing and business procedures
Every system in an organization requires a regular audit. In fact, it is of utmost importance that firms keep their IT systems in check in case of malware and phishing attacks.
An IT system audit must also check the compliance of IT system vendors and data in the cloud servers. These are the three crucial areas that need to be frequently audited by cloud service customers:
i. Security in the cloud service facility,
ii. Access to the audit trail, and
iii. the internal control environment of the cloud service provider.

3. Manage identities, people and roles
Employees from the cloud service provider will inevitably have access to your firm’s applications and data. The employees at your organization that carry out operations on the provider’s system will also have access to this data.

A firm must ensure that the cloud service provider has sufficient policies to govern who has access to sensitive data and software. The cloud service provider must give the customer the privilege to manage and assign authorization for the users. They must also ensure their system is secure enough to handle different types of attacks on client data.

4. Enforcing privacy policies
Privacy and protection of personal and sensitive information are crucial to any organization’s success. Personal data held by an organization could face bugs or security negligence. If a provider is not offering adequate security measures, the firm should consider seeking a different cloud service provider or not uploading sensitive information on the cloud.

5. Assess security vulnerabilities for cloud applications
Organizations have different types of data that they store in the cloud. Different considerations should be made according to the kind of data the firm intends to secure. Cloud application security poses diverse challenges to both the provider and the firm. Depending on the deployment model of the cloud service provider e.g., IaaS, SaaS, or PaaS, there are different considerations for both parties.

6. Cloud networks security
Audits of the cloud networks should be able to establish malicious traffic that can be detected and blocked. However, the cloud service providers have no way of knowing which network traffic its users plan to send or receive. Organizations must then work together with their service providers to establish safety measures.

7. Evaluating physical infrastructure and security controls
The security of the physical infrastructure of an IT system determines its vulnerability at the onset of a malicious attack. The provider must assure its users that appropriate measures are in place. Facilities and infrastructure should be stored in secure locations and backed up to protect against external threats.

It is becoming more critical to maintain privacy and security with more data and software being migrated to the cloud. The IT groups must consider the cloud security risks and implement solutions to ensure the security of client data stored and processed in the cloud.