As businesses increasingly shift their digital infrastructure to the cloud, the conversation around cloud security becomes an important focus point.
According to the 2023 Thales Cloud Security Study, 39% of the almost 3,000 IT and security professionals reported data breaches in their cloud environments over the previous year. This statistic illustrated that securing cloud infrastructures isn’t a task to be deferred or taken lightly – it’s a business-critical mandate.
This article takes you on a comprehensive tour of cloud security – from understanding the types of threats to which cloud systems are subjected to actionable measures for fortifying your cloud infrastructure to DevOps’s pivotal role in elevating your cloud security strategy.
Security in a cloud environment
One of the strongest arguments favoring cloud-based systems over on-premise solutions is the level of security.
Cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud invest heavily in state-of-the-art security protocols that are more robust than most companies could ever achieve independently. These providers have dedicated security teams that protect the infrastructure, run regular audits, and implement the latest security technologies. This translates into built-in security benefits for their customers, which are more effective and cheaper than what could be implemented by an in-house IT department.
Additionally, cloud providers offer a wide range of security services and features, such as advanced firewalls, data encryption, and intrusion detection systems. This allows businesses to customize their security settings to suit their specific needs, all without the overhead of managing and maintaining physical hardware.
Types of cybersecurity threats
Understanding the cybersecurity threats you may encounter is crucial for crafting an effective defense strategy. Below are some of the most common types of security threats in digital systems:
Brute Force Attack
This type of threat involves an attacker attempting to gain unauthorized access by guessing credentials such as passwords or encryption keys through systematic trial and error. Unlike other attacks, brute force relies on sheer computing power and persistence rather than exploiting system vulnerabilities. Common methods include dictionary attacks, executed by testing a list of likely passwords, and exhaustive key search, which tries all possible values. Hence, if a system accepts an infinite number of failed attempts to log in, it is a misconfiguration issue. Imagine what would happen if you had 10,000 attempts to guess a four-digit PIN number?
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DDoS attacks aim to overload a network or service with overwhelming traffic, rendering it slow or entirely inaccessible. The attack usually involves multiple systems working together to flood the target. Remember that your system can be “DDoSed” by an accident. This usually happens if an online shop starts a sale and is flooded by customers. Even the most sophisticated cloud-based systems need some time to scale up and be able to accept the increased load. Such incidents can occur even with the internal systems, e.g., when 10,000 employees would want to read a freshly published internal article.
Insider security threats come from individuals within the organization, such as employees, contractors, or other agents who have information concerning the organization’s security practices, as well as access to its data and computer systems. The risk here is that these insiders have the potential to misuse their privileges to steal data or intentionally sabotage the system. Such an attack can also occur unintentionally. For example, it’s not uncommon for the attacker to leave a USB stick on a parking lot, hoping an employee finds it. An untrained individual would be curious to know what is inside the stick, and by plugging it in, they would install malicious software on their computer and the network. Also, such a threat may occur when an unskilled employee gets too much access and misuses it (even accidentally). It is important to perform access audits and give as little access and privileges as possible.
Malicious software, or malware, is any program or file intended to harm a computer or network. Types of malware include viruses, worms (essentially, computer viruses that can self-replicate across a network without human action), Trojan Horses (malware that disguises itself as a legitimate program), and ransomware. Once inside the system, they can do anything from stealing data, logging keystrokes, and corrupting files.
It is a good practice to restrict software that can be installed on an organization's computer. Moreover, up-to-date and high-quality anti-virus protection can come in handy.
This type of attack involves an unauthorized entity secretly intercepting and possibly altering the communication between two parties. Man-in-the-middle attacks can occur in various forms, including session hijacking, email eavesdropping, or HTTPS spoofing.
In a phishing attack, the attacker masquerades as a trustworthy entity to trick users into sharing sensitive data such as passwords or credit card numbers. This often happens through deceptive emails that appear to be from reputable sources. Moreover, such emails try to force immediate action by saying, “Please do it now! I really need it!”. Since such attacks do not occur every day (and employees might not be prepared for them) a good practice involves training by sending fake phishing emails by the organization’s IT Security department. This will show people what such attacks look like and how to protect against them. Also, an anti-phishing policy should be in place in an organization.
SQL Injection is a type of attack that targets databases through flawed web applications. The attacker inserts malicious SQL code into input fields, which then get executed, potentially giving the attacker full access to the database. This can lead to unauthorized viewing, modification, or deletion of sensitive data. A good practice includes creating a “SQL Injection Attack Cheat Sheet” which will help detect potential threats. Also, implementing tests that will validate if the systems are resistant against such threats should be a must.
Understanding these types of threats helps you recognize the enemy and enables you to build more robust security measures to protect your cloud-based systems.
How to ensure security in cloud environments?
From encryption to firewalls, compliance standards, and internal company policies, we delve into essential practices that collectively form a robust defense against unauthorized access and potential threats.
Encryption transforms input data into unreadable text, which only the encryption key can decode. This is a robust barrier against unauthorized attempts to access the information and is an essential practice for securing sensitive data. It’s important to employ robust encryption algorithms and manage your encryption keys with utmost care to maximize effectiveness. Modern encrypting standards such as AES-256 and/or RSA-4096 should be used to provide a high level of security. Keep in mind that unbreakable encryption does not exist.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA enhances security protocols by demanding multiple forms of identity verification before granting access. Instead of solely relying on a password, this process necessitates at least one additional verification step – such as access confirmation on another device, security codes, or biometric data – creating a more robust security environment.
Firewalls act as gatekeepers for your network, scrutinizing incoming and outgoing traffic based on a set of predefined rules. Adequately configuring these rules helps keep out unauthorized users while enabling secure data transmission. This layer of control is crucial for isolating and protecting cloud-based systems.
Being compliant with data privacy standards like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) might be mandatory, depending on your business’ location and industry. However, even if you’re not obliged to follow them, it still might be a good idea, as these standards are internationally recognized references for data privacy and security best practices.
Using highly sophisticated and well-encrypted software to store passwords will help you keep your data safe. In the modern world, many systems require strong passwords that are humanly impossible to remember. Moreover, passwords’ rotation, being a good practice itself, might lead to passwords’ degeneration. Imagine if you have 3 different systems where you are required to change the passwords once every month and you do not have a password manager. Sooner than later, you will be updating them to something similar, easy to remember for you and easy to break for somebody else. Just a reminder, the two most common passwords over the internet include “123456” and “admin”.
Internal Company Policies
Last but not least, your internal company policies can be one of the most potent tools in your security arsenal. These policies should outline the dos and don’ts for employees regarding data handling, access levels, and use of cloud services. Regular training and audits can ensure everyone in the organization understands and adheres to these policies, thereby minimizing the human error factor, which is often a significant security risk.
By taking these measures, you can create a robust security environment for your cloud systems.
How DevOps helps to protect cloud systems
DevOps isn’t just about speeding up your software delivery cycle; it’s also a significant player in fortifying your cloud security posture. Here’s how:
Incorporating DevOps into your cloud security strategy is not an option; it’s a necessity. It provides the continuous improvement model that security practices need in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving threat landscape.
Cloud security checklist
Navigating the labyrinth of cloud security can be daunting, but it’s a challenge that businesses can’t afford to sidestep. From understanding the myriad of cybersecurity threats to implementing best practices, mastering cloud security is an ongoing endeavor. But remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Leveraging DevOps can be your ace in the hole, transforming security from a bottleneck into a streamlined, integral part of your business operations. Adopt a security-first mindset, employ DevOps, and make your cloud fortress impenetrable.
By following this checklist, business owners can enhance the security of their cloud systems and better protect their digital assets.