Cloud Security Challenges And Best Practices

Sarah Marshall | 9 min read| Updated On - June 27, 2024

Cloud Security Challenges

It is estimated that around 60% of global corporate data is stored on the cloud,making cloud-based services a crucial component of modern IT environments. However, this increased reliance on cloud storage also brings with it a heightened risk of data breaches. According to the same source, 39% of businesses have already fallen victim to data breaches in their cloud environments

Cloud computing offers numerous benefits, including improved accessibility, flexibility, and scalability. These advantages enable organizations to streamline their operations and adapt to evolving business needs. However, cloud computing also presents several challenges, including an increased attack surface, misconfigurations, and the complexities of shared responsibility models. Traditional security controls and tools may not be sufficient to meet the unique security needs of cloud computing, requiring organizations to adopt new and innovative security strategies.

Cloud Security Challenges and Best Practices for Mitigation

Below are some of the most notable cloud security challenges, along with best practices for mitigating them:

1. Misconfigured Storage Containers

Cloud misconfigurations are a common issue. For example, exposed Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets have lead to a number of high profile data breaches. There are several reasons why misconfigurations occur. In some cases public access to a cloud bucket is allowed, leaving sensitive data exposed to unauthorized access. Additionally, many organizations fail to implement both at-rest and in-transit encryption, and fail to enable logging which can make it easier to monitor configuration changes.

Best Practices 

Regular monitoring of cloud configuration changes is crucial. It’s also important to ensure that external partners adhere to the same change management, release, and testing procedures used by internal developers. It is also advisable to conduct regular security awareness training with employees, contractors, and third-parties to ensure that they are aware of the reasons why misconfigurations occur.

2. Cyberattacks

Cloud-based environments attract a range of attacks, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, account hijacking, phishing, ransomware, and other malware attacks. These attacks can result in performance degradation, downtime, data loss, and more.

Best Practices 
To mitigate cloud cyberattacks, use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security, encrypt all sensitive data stored in the cloud, and monitor employees for suspicious activity. Backing up cloud data is also crucial, as well as segmenting cloud networks to limit the spread of malware. Using data loss prevention technologies, following the principle of least privilege, and implementing allowlists and blocklists can also help prevent cloud cyberattacks.

3. Limited visibility

Limited visibility of data storage and application usage across various cloud platforms can lead to a range of challenges, including shadow IT, misconfigurations, cyberattacks, and data loss. These challenges are exacerbated in multi-cloud environments, where security teams struggle to find tools that can effectively maintain visibility across multiple cloud service providers.

Best Practices 

Mandate and enforce a cloud security policy to ensure consistent security practices across the organization. Hold regular security awareness trainings to educate employees on cloud security best practices. Conduct regular cloud security assessments to identify and address vulnerabilities and perform continuous, real-time monitoring to detect and respond to potential threats quickly.

4. Insecure APIs

Insecure APIs can be a significant challenge in cloud computing, as APIs are some of the most exposed components of a cloud environment. The security of any cloud service relies heavily on how well these components are safeguarded, which is a joint responsibility of both customers and cloud service providers (CSPs). This means that CSPs must ensure strong API security, and their customers must be diligent in managing and monitoring their cloud APIs.

Best Practices 

Start by practicing good API hygiene, ensuring that APIs are designed with security in mind and are regularly updated and tested. Avoid API key reuse and use standard and open API frameworks to reduce the risk of vulnerabilities. Additionally, vet all CSPs and cloud applications thoroughly before using them, to ensure they meet the necessary security standards.

5. Identity Access Management (IAM)

Implementing Identity and Access Management (IAM) in the cloud is a complex task, especially when it comes to onboarding users without errors, integrating with multiple services, and maintaining and auditing identities. The first challenge is ensuring that each team member has the correct level of access to the right applications on day one, without introducing risk or slowing down employees. Role-based access controls and single sign-on (SSO) tools can help alleviate this issue. Another challenge is integrating with numerous cloud services, as organizations often use over 100 software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, which requires a comprehensive IAM platform that can handle multiple integrations. Additionally, maintaining and auditing identities is crucial, as changes in employee roles, offices, or work arrangements require adjustments to access permissions.

Best Practices

Automation can really help to streamline IAM, as it helps to alleviate common pain points such as outdated identities and improper access provisioning. By automating these processes, security teams can stay ahead of the problem and prevent it from spiraling out of control. Additionally, automation enables prompt removal of access privileges when an employee leaves, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. Additionally, behavioral analytics can be a valuable tool in identifying and mitigating potential security threats. It can help spot dormant accounts, remove access to unused applications and services, and identify unusual user behavior.

6. Account Hijacking Attacks

According to a recent study by Thales, 39% of businesses reported experiencing a data breach in the past year. Cloud account hijacking is a growing threat that can compromise an organization’s sensitive data and systems. This type of attack occurs when an attacker takes over an employee’s cloud account, granting them unauthorized access to critical resources. There are several ways in which this can happen, including phishing attacks, credential stuffing attacks, weak passwords, stolen credentials, improper coding, and accidental exposure or cloud misconfigurations.

Best Practices

One key step to prevent cloud account hijacking attacks is to use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of verification. It’s also essential to follow the principle of least privilege, granting users only the necessary access to perform their tasks. Additionally, organizations should disallow excessive access and segregate cloud environments whenever possible. Regular user access reviews should also be conducted to identify and mitigate potential security risks.

7. Insider Threats

Insiders, including current and former employees, contractors, and partners, can intentionally or unintentionally compromise sensitive information, leading to data breaches and other security incidents. The three categories of insider threats are:

  • Compromised insiders: Users who may be tricked into revealing their credentials or downloading malware.
  • Negligent insiders: Users who may inadvertently leak data
  • Malicious insiders: Users who intentionally steal data for nefarious purposes.

The rise of cloud computing has further amplified the risks associated with insider threats, as the cloud’s remote access and ease of sharing or exposing data can increase the likelihood of security incidents.

Best Practices

To mitigate insider threats in the cloud, organizations must conduct regular security awareness training to educate employees on the importance of cybersecurity and the risks associated with insider threats. Additionally, addressing cloud misconfigurations, following the principle of least privilege, and segregating cloud environments whenever possible can help prevent security breaches. Regular access reviews and real-time employee monitoring are also essential to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data, and when they do, the security team will be notified.

8. Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the unauthorized use of IT-related hardware or software by departments or individuals within an organization, without the knowledge or consent of the IT security team. According to research firm Gartner, 41% of employees used technology outside of IT’s knowledge in 2022. This trend is expected to continue, with 75% of employees using unauthorized technology by 2027. Another study by Capterra found that 57% of small and midsize businesses have experienced significant “shadow IT” projects that were not approved by their IT departments.

Best Practices

To mitigate the threat of cloud shadow IT, organizations should conduct regular security awareness training sessions to educate employees about the risks associated with shadow IT and the importance of adhering to official IT policies. Additionally, implementing monitoring tools can help detect and track cloud shadow IT apps. A comprehensive shadow IT policy should be created and enforced, and a cloud access security broker can be used to detect, monitor, and manage cloud shadow IT. Additionally, implementing allowlists and blocklists can help control which cloud services are approved and accessible, ensuring a safer and more secure computing environment.

9. Cybersecurity Skills Shortage

The IT industry has long been plagued by a skills shortage and staffing issues, particularly in the field of cybersecurity. The gap is particularly pronounced in cloud expertise, and even more so when it comes to cloud security, which requires a specific set of skills. The demand for cybersecurity talent continues to grow, and employers often have unrealistic expectations. To make matters worse, employees are not keeping their skills up to date, and burnout is increasing, leading to a significant loss of cybersecurity experts from the profession.

Best Practices

To address the skills gap and staffing shortages, one approach is to upskill existing workers, and provide training and certifications for cloud security. This can help alleviate staff stress and burnout, and support existing security teams to prevent talent drain. Additionally, employers should automate tasks where possible to free up talent for more complex and strategic work.

10. Compliance

Achieving compliance with internal, government, and industry regulations has become increasingly challenging since the widespread adoption of cloud computing. Compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR requires a shared responsibility between customers and cloud service providers (CSPs). Noncompliance can result in severe consequences, including legal action, fines, business disruptions, data loss, and data breaches.

Best Practices

To effectively ensure compliance in cloud computing, follow the principle of least privilege, use multi-factor authentication (MFA), and implement strong access controls. Regularly performing compliance audits and following cloud security frameworks is also recommended. Additionally, mandating and enforcing a cloud security policy and regularly updating and patching systems are vital steps to maintain compliance. It’s also worth noting that real-time auditing solutions provide various compliance tools, such as auto-generated reports that can be configured to support a multitude of regulations, including HIPAA, PCI-DSS, GDPR, CCPA, and more.

If you’d like to see how the Lepide Data Security Platform can help to secure sensitive data in the cloud, schedule a demo with one of our engineers or start your free trial today.

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