With an increasing reliance on Cloud Computing, more data and processes are Migrating to the Cloud. Although this is rightly perceived as a step in the right direction, it carries vulnerabilities. To protect the best interests of any organization and its stakeholders, it is imperative to understand the potential risks and address them.

In the lightning fast arena of Cloud Services, organizations do not afford the luxury of “reacting” to a security threat or breach. The only way to go about is being preemptive and awake to an imminent threat.

This post will highlight the major threats to any Cloud Computing Service and also suggest remedies for both the Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) and their end users.

Key Cloud Computing Vulnerabilities and Threats

Virtualized Workforce

Ease of Access

The very thing that makes Cloud Computing so fascinating is its very Achilles Heel / weakness. Today’s cloud solutions allow users to access their data or applications from multiple platforms such as smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop.

Once can’t vouch for the perfect security measures in place for each of the above platforms. It is also common for some of the above cited platforms to be simultaneously in the use of multiple individuals. Anyone who accesses the device can potentially access the cloud network as well.

Cloud Security Challenges

Unauthorized Access

This weakness itself arises partly from the ease of access we enjoy with cloud solutions. The unauthorized access to a cloud network can originate from two main sources. Either the device which is used to access the cloud has been misused, without the consent of the lawful owner.

In certain cases, an unauthorized person obtains the login credentials of a user and gains access to the data and applications residing on the cloud. Both scenarios can leave the user’s data highly vulnerable to any misuse.

Virtualized Software and Applications

Data Breach

Cloud Service Providers are a magnet for cyber criminals. The obvious exception is security analysts who deliberately poke the cloud’s security protocols and identify loopholes. When an unintended security breach occurs, rest assured that it is bad news.

Although each attacker may have different motives, they are certainly not good in any way. Some attackers prefer to pluck the data from the cloud and use it as a bargaining chip. It should come as no surprise that ransom ware incidents are constantly on the rise.

In Ransomware Attacks, the perpetrator will demand a certain sum of money in exchange for returning the stolen data. This puts the victim at a serious disadvantage as the attacker is in a position to call the shots.

The most ironic part of any ransom ware attack is that even if you pay the attacker the agreed sum of money and get back your data, you are never certain that the perpetrator has destroyed your data permanently.

In other cases, once an attacker gains access to your data on the cloud, it will be permanently destroyed. Imagine the catastrophic consequences of such a scenario for an e-commerce website where the whole database of its customers may be destroyed in an instance.

Abstract Infrastructure

Inside Job

Although rare, but this vulnerability can never be ruled out altogether. Interestingly, this threat originates from the “legitimate” users of the cloud service. The most common example can be of the employees entrusted with maintaining the key databases of a business on the cloud.

An employee performing this role, for whatever reasons, would simply wipe the data clean or damage it in such a way that the integrity of the database is severely compromised. We certainly won’t debate the underlying causes of this extreme step, it will have devastating consequences for the entity.

Centralized Data Centers

Security of Cloud Service Provider

Cloud Service Providers are growing in number with every passing day. This by no means implies that each is up to the mark in terms of service quality and cyber security. Secondly, it is common for struggling organizations to go for the most economical CSP due to obvious financial constraints.

With this mindset of cutting corners, it is quite possible that the critical aspect of cyber security may also go on the back burner of the CSP and ultimately, the cost of this would be borne by the company availing the cloud infrastructure.

Remedies for Cloud Computing Vulnerabilities

  • We can’t change the way users will log into the cloud because this is what makes it so great in the first place.
  • So, what needs to be beefed up is the security of the very devices that are used to gain access to the cloud.
  • This is a two pronged approach in which firstly, we will need to educate the user about the importance of incorporating security features in their devices.
  • Secondly, each user of the cloud should ensure that the devices that are used to access the cloud do not fall into the hands of mischievous users in the first place.
  • Cloud companies will have to incorporate multi-layered authentication protocols for their users. The standard combination of a unique ID and Password are no more relevant.
  • Access related authentication for each user should be done via dynamic or unique parameters. A few examples of this model are One Time Passwords (OTPs), Random Number Generators and Finger Print Sensors.
  • Data Breach risks, although shared, largely fall in the domain of the Cloud Service Provider (CSP). They have both the means and requisite expertise to incorporate data security protocols.
  • However, this objective can never be achieved without bringing the cloud users fully on-board. Users should not only be sensitized to cyber vulnerabilities, they should also participate in the exercise by adhering to the recommended procedures / protocols.
  • The role of regulators in this regard also needs to be highlighted. As the number of CSPs increases, so does the need for regulation of this industry.
  • Basic standards of cyber security should be defined by regulatory bodies and a rating system for each CSP’s security should be introduced.
  • This will make it much easier for organizations availing Cloud Solutions to identify a CSP that meets the minimum security standards.
  • Effects of any data breach can be mitigated by maintaining recent backups of the critical data at multiple locations, other than the CSP itself.
  • In order to thwart the risk of an “inside job”, each organization must maintain detailed event logs of each user / employee that accesses the cloud in general and data in particular.
  • These event logs should be constantly monitored to highlight any unusual behavior over the cloud network and “nip the evil in the bud”.
  • Even if an inside job is executed with some degree of success, these event logs will serve as an irrefutable evidence against the culprit.
  • Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) should be monitored by regulators to maintain bare minimum standards of cyber security so that the long-term interests of all stakeholders are protected.

Conclusion

The vulnerabilities and threats on the internet in general and Cloud Computing Services in particular are an inescapable reality. Neither the CSPs, nor the organizations or users availing the cloud can shy away from their share of responsibility.

If any slackness is shown on the part of either stakeholder, it can have devastating consequences for the CSP, user and the industry as a whole. The role of cyber security in this vast ocean of Cloud Computing is that of an anchor.

Regardless of whether we represent a CSP or an end user, we have to realize our share of responsibility and fulfill it to the best of our abilities. The menace of cyber-crime is too overwhelming for either party to cope with in isolation.