What are the Main Cloud Security Challenges?

Cloud adoption entails multiple cloud security challenges. Unravel the complexities of safeguarding data, privacy, and compliance in cloud environments.

Cloud adoption is beneficial, yet challenging. The key business benefits of using clouds include flexibility, accelerated provisioning, agility, business continuity, and cost efficiency. Along with multiple pros, cloud adoption has many challenges, some of which are related to cloud security and compliance. 

Google defines cloud security as a set of cybersecurity policies, best practices, controls, and technologies used to secure applications, data, and infrastructure in cloud environments. It relies on measures to provide storage and network protection against internal and external threats. 

Fortinet 2023 Cloud Security Report surveyed 752 cybersecurity professionals to reveal key barriers and challenges to cloud security. Along with intense cloud adoption, 95% of these professionals are extremely concerned about the security posture in public cloud environments. The key cloud security concerns are defined as follows:

  • misconfiguration (59%)  
  • sensitive data exfiltration (51%)
  • insecure interfaces/APIs (51%)
  • unauthorized access (49%)
  • the lack of qualified staff (37%) 
  • legal and regulatory compliance issues(30%)

Additionally, 43% of respondents believed that the risk of a security breach in the cloud is higher than in an on-prem environment; only 27% believe that this risk is lower.  

Let’s explore these cloud security challenges deeper. 

Cloud Misconfiguration. Who is Responsible for Securing Data?

Cloud misconfigurations refer to any non-secure configuration settings or vulnerabilities that make your cloud environment extremely vulnerable to security breaches, external hackers, ransomware, malware, insider threats, etc. Misconfigured cloud assets are the attackers’ common targets as they serve as a doorway to secret passwords, financial information, phone numbers, health records, and other sensitive, exploitable data. Threat actors may then leverage this data for phishing and other social engineering attacks.

The widely spread reasons for the cloud misconfiguration are:

    • failure to change default non-secure settings;
    • configuration drifts, where changes to various components are made without consistency across cloud assets;
    • the complexity of cloud-native platforms that demand deep expertise to find and fix misconfiguration;
    • misunderstanding of who is responsible for securing cloud assets.

The last one is the most common root cause of cloud misconfiguration. To minimize the risk of misconfigurations, one must understand and follow the cloud Shared Responsibility Model.

In short, this model means that the cloud provider — Amazon Web Service (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), etc. — is responsible for the cloud’s physical and network infrastructure (security of the cloud). Their customers — your organization — are responsible for the security of your data, applications, and other assets that belong to your organization (security in the cloud).

To dig deeper into this area and understand what’s customer’s responsibility in the cloud, read the blog post Your Part of Shared Responsibility in SaaS Cloud

Sensitive Data Exfiltration: Why is Cloud Environment Especially Vulnerable?

Data exfiltration is an incident when an authorized person extracts data from the secured systems where it belongs, and either shares it with unauthorized third parties or moves it to insecure systems. Data exfiltration can occur due to the actions of malicious or compromised actors, or accidentally.

The cloud environment is especially vulnerable to data exfiltration because of shared infrastructures, remote access, and the general complexity of the cloud environment. 

To reduce the risk of data exfiltration in the cloud, organizations must integrate security awareness and best practices into their culture. They must consistently evaluate the risks of every interaction with cloud networks, applications, data, and other users. 

Insecure Interfaces/APIs as the Common Sources of Security Concerns

An application programming interface (API) is a set of programming code that enables data transmission between one software product and another. In cloud environments, APIs streamline cloud computing processes. Despite their increased applicability, APIs are often sources of security concerns, especially if left unprotected. Adversaries can exploit insecure APIs to compromise or steal sensitive and private data.

What is the best defense against insecure cloud API? APIs should be properly designed and contain sufficient authentication, authorization, encryption, and activity monitoring. API keys must be protected and properly handled. 

Unauthorized Access: Who Can Access the Cloud?

As cloud environments become more complex, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to maintain a clear understanding of who has access to data and assets. Unfortunately, unauthorized access to the cloud is not uncommon. 49% of experts consider it one of the major data security challenges. Malicious insiders, external attackers, or even cloud service providers themselves can often access clouds without permission.

Unauthorized access to the cloud can have serious consequences for organizations. To protect against unauthorized access to the cloud, organizations should implement a layered security approach that includes access controls and data loss prevention practices, encryption, monitoring, employee training, etc. 

Lack of Qualified Security Staff

The cloud security challenges are not only about technology but also about people. The lack of cloud security professionals who understand the nuances of various cloud environments is a pressing concern. Each cloud platform (e.g., AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) has distinct features, services, and security protocols. Furthermore, there are multiple data- and industry-specific regulations (like HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS, etc.) that have their cloud security demands. Such complexity requires experts who can tailor organization security strategies to the specifics of each platform and regulation. To address this challenge, organizations should focus on targeted training programs that provide in-depth knowledge of specific cloud providers. Developing cross-cloud expertise within the team and staying updated on evolving security practices for each environment are vital for safeguarding data and applications effectively.

Compliance and Regulatory Challenges

Compliance challenges in cloud computing stem from the complexity of aligning cloud services with various regulatory requirements and industry standards. Compliance obligations, just as other obligations in the cloud, are shared among the cloud service provider and the organization (customer). The main challenge here is to ensure that both, the organization and the cloud service provider understand and exercise their part of the responsibility for data security and compliance. 

Cloud service providers are typically responsible for the physical security of their data centers and the security of their cloud management platforms. Customers are responsible for other security and compliance processes, such as the security of hosts and databases, the development of secure applications, systems monitoring, and many other compliance aspects.

Let’s take HIPAA compliance in Google Cloud as an example. While Google provides a secure and compliant infrastructure for the storage and processing of PHI, the customer is responsible for ensuring that the environment and applications that they build on top of Google Cloud are properly configured and secured according to HIPAA requirements. 

Do You Have Cloud Security Concerns?

Planet 9 can help you address cloud security challenges. Planet 9 team has experience in ensuring the security of cloud services, be it IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS. Our cloud security experts will assess your cloud management accounts and infrastructure and provide recommendations for addressing identified security and compliance gaps. Depending on the client’s internal resources, expertise, and availability, Planet 9 can perform all the remediation work, position the client to execute remediation on its own, or supplement the client’s team.

Secure your cloud-based data and assets and feel free to contact Planet 9 team with any cloud security challenges. We’ll be happy to assist!

Website: https://planet9security.com

Email:  info@planet9security.com

Phone:  888-437-3646

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