Cloud computing has exploded over the past few years as more and more organizations move major sectors of their operations there. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that migration now that the physical location of work matters less and less. Of course, cloud computing brings incredible benefits and growth opportunities. But it also brings security vulnerabilities that must not be ignored. In fact, security in that space is incredibly urgent for any organization migrating that way. The latest statistics show that 75 percent of organizations list foundational, customer-based misconfigurations and their resulting security dangers as one of their top worries, with 68 percent of those organizations acknowledging that they use two or more different cloud solutions. Using multiple and various platforms further complicate efforts to stop data breaches and patch up other security holes. Furthermore, Gartner research indicates that about 95 percent of cloud security breaches through 2022 will come from customer errors fueled by misconfigurations, myths, and misunderstandings.

For cloud computing to bring all of its potential benefits, your precious data assets need to be protected by the appropriate security settings and ongoing education and intelligence efforts meant to deflect a constant stream of new security threats. The first step is understanding just how big the problem is, and how it can impact your organization. It also takes some expert assistance to untangle what can be a very costly and painful knot of security missteps due to configuration errors and oversights.

The Problem: Gaping Security Holes

One of the most significant issues that organizations encounter in the cloud is just how complex it can be to set up policies and configure security settings correctly. This is especially true when the pace of ongoing development continues to rush forward rapidly. Different default settings and threats among platforms can change quickly. It requires significant dedicated resources to stay on top of changes and deflect threats. According to Forbes Councils Member Vladi Sandler, it can take, on average, 270 days for organizations to even notice they have a misconfiguration issue gumming up their security. That's 270 days during which hackers can slink through your systems and files, collecting proprietary and confidential data. That's a lot of time that can negatively impact your organization and your customers. The longer the breach goes undetected, and the more devices and accounts are connected to your systems, the more cringe-worthy and difficult it is to recover.

The fact that there has been a massive rush into the cloud over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated and exacerbated the scope of security-setting blunders that negatively impact organizational data safety. Many decision-makers jumped headfirst into cloud computing without adequately thinking through the critical data safety implications. Due to the decentralized nature of these computing environments, like infrastructure-as-a-service, the customers themselves need to understand how much of the responsibility they themselves bear for correctly working out the settings to protect identity management, encryption, credentials, and locking down storage and databases to keep them safe. As previously mentioned, education is key for all parties.

How Big of an Issue Is It?

It's scary big. TechRepublic reports that DivvyCloud statistics found 196 data breaches during 2018 and 2019, resulting from cloud misconfigurations. Those were just the breaches reported publicly. That added up to 33 billion exposed records. They estimate that those two years' worth of breaches that are publicly known cost a total of $5 trillion—with a "t." That was before the coronavirus-inspired rush into these new environments by so many more organizations over the past year.

What's even more unsettling is that hackers can actually take up residence within a company's unused cloud assets without anyone in the organization being the wiser about it. This is because decision-makers and security officials may not even know about these assets' existence in the first place. So, not only do these unused spaces waste money by just sitting there, hackers wiggle into those dormant spots and use them as secrete bases in your cloud to siphon off critical business intelligence and data throughout a company's known assets too. Knowing of these security holes is just the start of preventing or repairing the damage.

What to Beware of While Building and Planning

Whether you've already migrated to cloud computing or are making preparations to do so, it's so essential to get educated about all of your assets, all of the potential configuration issues, and safety protocols so that you can protect your data security at the highest levels. In other words: read all of the fine print! Learning about and taking action on these common settings blunders can help you strengthen the defenses around your organizational security during a time when constant threats and constant change are conspiring against it.

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Shore Up API Connections`

APIs are the connections that make so much of today's computing hum to keep us connected during all of our waking hours. Because APIs are gateways between apps, which often reside more and more in the cloud, they present a particular security challenge. APIs handle everything from monitoring and management to resource provisioning. Because these things are so foundational, any missteps here can cause severe damage if they're compromised. This is why API connections absolutely must be planned out carefully from the very beginning of your cloud adoption process. Identity and access management, encryption, network security, and workload protection are some of the most frequently attacked APIs out there, so pay particular attention to every detail and setting for your APIs to avoid security breaches.

Protect Storage Access

One of the biggest misunderstandings companies have, which can lead to security difficulties with your data buckets out there, is that term "authenticated users." It doesn't always mean what customers think it means. For example, if you're using the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform, which many companies use for cloud services, the actual identity of "authenticated users" might surprise you. Of course, the first thought when people hear "authenticated users" is that this term refers to vetted, authenticated people within just their company or clients who are authorized by an organization to use the application. But with AWS, "authenticated users" casts far too wide a net: it basically means anyone who uses AWS authentication, which could mean a whole lot of people outside of your organization. This foundational misunderstanding leads to some pretty egregious security gaps, simply because customers don't know about it. This slip up can leave your storage buckets wide open to all kinds of people you don't want to have access to your systems. So, be sure that you understand entirely and secure every storage asset you own out there, the right way, by understanding precisely what the definition of "authenticated users" is for your cloud computing service.

Eliminate Overly-Permissive Access to Virtual Machines, Hosts, and Containers

Another gross misunderstanding of cloud configurations often leads to the equivalent of companies hooking their critical data resources directly to the internet, sans firewall, filter, or security measures. This is because the lack of visibility to all of your resources often leaves virtual machines just sitting there, idle and open to attack. Your security team needs to identify and nail down all of the ports that connect to your hosts, containers, and virtual machines, just like you would do for any physical, on-site data resources.

Actively Scale-up Validations

Security in the cloud, just as security with on-site resources, is a constant battle that requires dedicated personnel and automated systems that scan all the gateways from moment to moment. It's not a once-and-done sort of thing. Hackers are always trying new things and finding new cracks in the armor. An expert needs to be responsible for checking and verifying permissions, services, and settings all the time. They need to be particularly vigilant whenever the environment changes, which is almost a constant these days. Establish a system that includes rigorous, ongoing audits of all settings to catch and prevent as many weak spots as possible. Actively search for and scan idle resources and reconfigure or remove them to shut down other little holes hackers would love to exploit.

It Costs too Much to Ignore Cloud Misconfigurations

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Of course, extra security measures to protect your assets cost time, energy, and money, but the damage hackers can do when they squeeze in through those settings errors is so much worse. Data breaches have cost organizations trillions of dollars, finished off entire companies, damaged reputations, caused massive class-action lawsuits, and compromised millions of people's security. These catastrophes are avoidable when stakeholders take appropriate action. Onboarding a team and assets to configure and reconfigure cloud resources on a regular basis correctly will cost less overall than continuously paying for mismanaged, compromised, damaged resources that could destroy everything you've worked so hard to build. Let's take a look at just a few telling numbers:

  • Glassdoor reports that hiring extra DevOps to guard your cloud assets and keep your systems safe and secure could cost a smidgen over $99,600 a year.
  • Atlassian reports that downtime caused by technical difficulties like security issues can cost up to $300,000 per hour on average, depending on business size. Even though the case should be clear right there, don't forget the additional financial leakage of hackers getting into your data and stealing assets. Don't forget legal and damage control costs. The numbers can be staggering.

In short, preventing cloud misconfigurations that can lead to massive security failures should be a top priority for everyone in the organization.

How to Prevent A Catastrophe

Organizations have to proactively search through all of their cloud assets to identify and shut down vulnerabilities. One of the first and most important steps is to just know where all of your assets are in the first place and make sure you know the status of each of those services. Again, read the fine print, scan frequently, know what resources are out there, what data lives there, and who has access to those buckets.

Track Down the Forgotten Services

As previously stated, unused, unknown cloud resources are a prime vulnerability. If you aren't aware of a resource that you own, you're probably not looking for issues there, which is like flying through an asteroid field with your eyes closed. You also can't put assets to work if you don't know they're there as well! You, the client, are often (as per service agreement with the cloud provider) the one responsible for knowing about your resources and being able to lock them down, not the service provider. Task a security expert with the responsibilities of tracing, tracking, and securing every resource that belongs to your organization. Learn about configuration options for locking down storage buckets, scan them regularly for breaches and make sure to use the strongest user authentication protocols possible to protect that data, updating those protocols regularly to minimize risks.

Create and Manage Policies and Templates

One way to overcome persistent security missteps is to start with very strong base configurations in the first place. Apply these ultra-robust base settings to all of your resources. Using vigorous default security protocols can help protect additional instances of cloud apps or new infrastructure pieces as they are added. Following these strict policies will prevent a host of security holes, and they can be reconfigured whenever necessary to be even stronger. The point is to start strong in the first place. This means having your security experts develop policies and templates, with a good understanding of your user agreement responsibilities for security, from the very beginning.

Automate Security Checks

Put your DevSecOps to work implementing extensive and agile automation to deploy security policies. Also, have someone manage the regular monitoring of those automated security checks to watch for any inconsistencies as apps change. Intelligent automation can help you discover and patch up security gaps faster and more efficiently.

Put Your Provider's Tools to Work for You

Many companies haven't looked deeply into their service provider's policies, so they don't always understand what their security responsibilities are with regard to configuring their own settings. Furthermore, not reading the fine print leads many companies to miss out on the security tools already provided by the CSP in the first place! These tools may come as part of the package, and you should use them! The NSA actually warns companies that they need to understand all of these rules and tools so they know who is responsible for what aspects of their security. Infrastructure-as-a-service cloud providers usually put the onus for security on the client (check your service agreement deeply), but software-as-a-service providers may take on more of the security and configuration responsibilities themselves. It's important to know what you actually signed up for.

Adopt an Active, Constant Testing and Retesting Schedule

Test, test, and retest all of your settings. They are continually changing, so you can't assume that a security test three days ago is going to catch everything that has happened since then. Put automation to work with testing code that starts from development and goes through post-deployment, and continues on an ongoing basis. And don't forget human intelligence - together, your DevSecOps and automation resources can catch more problems and shut them down.

Don't Leave Your Cloud Security to Chance

You can't overcome obstacles you're not fully aware of, so it's essential for businesses to actively seek out and test for cloud misconfigurations on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by-hour basis. Bad actors are out there, and they will find vulnerabilities, which can leave you gasping for millions of dollars. Catastrophe can be avoided, however! Cloud computing can still be an important, agile, and productive part of your overall business strategy, as long as you adopt stringent measures to ensure regular scanning, testing, and protection of your resources.

Invest in a policy-based cloud configuration assessment plan that uncovers weaknesses and assesses their impact on your infrastructure security. Yes, mistakes are always a risk, but you can manage them with the right expertise, security policies, and automation tools. Every employee must also be trained on their role in protecting cybersecurity. Helping them understand why strict, strong password protocols are necessary can help them avoid lazy security practices.

As with any successful venture, collaboration is key in building a cloud infrastructure that provides strong security configuration. Bring together development, security teams, and IT from the beginning of infrastructure adoption or as soon as possible (if you haven't already done so). Identify vulnerabilities and squash them with the right rules, tools, and testing processes. With the right tools and teams in place, you can get the most out of your assets, and you can keep your data safe at the same time.

Are you worried about cloud misconfigurations putting your data in danger? We can help. Get in touch with us today,and our experts can help you get your assets to safety quickly and efficiently so you can keep your organization head of the game.

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