Cloud computing has opened up a world of opportunities for businesses, but it has also resulted in new cyber security threats. Some of these mirror the threats organizations have been combating on premises for years, while others are unique to the cloud. What are the top cloud security threats organizations face in 2018? Recently, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) released its “Treacherous 12” report to answer this question.

In order of severity, the biggest cloud security threats identified by the respondents were:

1. Data breaches — While data breaches are not unique to cloud computing, the cloud presents both the same avenues of attack faced on-premises, plus new vulnerabilities specific to cloud environments. The continuing epidemic of AWS breaches illustrates the ubiquity of this threat.

2. Weak identity, credential, and access management — Weak passwords, not using multifactor authentication, a lack of scalable identity access management systems, and a lack of ongoing automated rotation of passwords, cryptographic keys, and certificates open the door to breaches and cyber attacks.

3. Insecure APIs — Cloud providers expose a set of software user interfaces (UIs) or APIs for customers to manage and interact with cloud services. These APIs and UIs are generally the most exposed part of the system, and their security determines the security and availability of the cloud services. Adequate API and UI security is the first line of defense against hackers.

4. System and application vulnerabilities — While buggy software is not new, the advent of multitenancy in the cloud — where systems from different customers are placed close to each other and given access to shared memory and resources — paves a new avenue of attack for hackers.

5. Account hijacking — Again, this isn’t new or unique to the cloud, but stolen cloud credentials could allow hackers to wreak even more damage than on-premises credentials. Two-factor authentication and continuous monitoring can mitigate these types of cloud security threats.

6. Malicious insiders — While security experts disagree on the specific extent of this threat, the fact that it exists is not up for debate. Insider threats, malicious or otherwise, were recently named the top threat facing healthcare cyber security.

7. Advanced persistent threats (APTs) — APTs are parasitical cyberattacks that infiltrate systems to establish a foothold in the computing infrastructure, from which they smuggle data and intellectual property. Spear phishing, direct hacking, delivering attack code through USB devices, penetration through partner networks, and use of unsecured or third-party networks are common points of entry for APTs. APTs work stealthily and over extended periods of time, often adapting to the security measures intended to defend against them.

8. Data loss — Data can be permanently lost due to a malicious attack, a natural disaster such as a fire or earthquake, or even accidental deletion. Business continuity and disaster recovery best practices are key to preventing data loss.

9. Insufficient due diligence — Organizations that rush to adopt cloud technologies, choose a cloud service provider, or merge with or acquire another firm that uses cloud technologies without performing due diligence are risking a myriad of commercial, financial, technical, legal, and compliance problems.

10. Abuse and nefarious use of cloud services — Poorly secured cloud service deployments, free cloud service trials, and fraudulent account sign-ups via payment instrument fraud enable cyber criminals to engage in DDoS attacks, email spam and phishing campaigns; crypto mining; large-scale automated click fraud; brute-force compute attacks of stolen credential databases; and hosting of malicious or pirated content.

11. Denial of service (DoS) attacks — By forcing a cloud service to consume inordinate amounts of finite system resources, attackers can cause severe system slowdowns and prevent legitimate customers from accessing their services. In some cases, these attacks may be staged as a distraction to occupy security personnel while hackers attack another part of the system.

12. Shared technology vulnerabilities — Cloud service providers deliver scalable services through shared infrastructure, platforms, or applications. This can lead to shared technology vulnerabilities; a single vulnerability or misconfiguration can result in the provider’s entire cloud being compromised.

Protecting Against Cloud Security Threats

Some organizations think that migrating to the cloud means that the responsibility for cyber security shifts to the cloud provider. However, in most cases, the cloud provider is responsible for security of the cloud, meaning the underlying infrastructure; the cloud customer is responsible for security in the cloud, meaning the data and applications they choose to store and run there.

Further, while there are many similarities between cloud and on-premises security, there are also many differences. If your in-house security staff is not well-versed in cloud security threats, it’s imperative to seek help from a reputable cyber security vendor who is.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Peters is the CEO of Lazarus Alliance, Inc., the Proactive Cyber Security™ firm, and Continuum GRC. He has served as an independent information security consultant, executive, researcher, and author. He is an internationally recognized and awarded security expert with years of IT and business leadership experience and many previous executive leadership positions.

He has contributed significantly to curriculum development for graduate degree programs in information security, advanced technology, cyberspace law, and privacy, and to industry standard professional certifications. He has been featured in many publications and broadcast media outlets as the “Go-to Guy” for executive leadership, information security, cyberspace law, and governance.