Introduction to Public Cloud Security
The public cloud is a cloud computing model that enables resources—such as applications, data storage, and virtual machines—to be accessed remotely and on demand. While largely a benefit, it also leaves organizations open to public cloud security risks, particularly when they allow users to access on-demand services from various locations using different devices.
Public cloud security challenges come about as organizations rely on third-party organizations to provide the infrastructure they need for hosting and deploying business-critical resources. Although providers also offer services and tools that allow businesses to more easily manage their applications, organizations need to be aware of public cloud security best practices to help them overcome public cloud security issues.
Key Elements of a Secure Public Cloud
The public cloud employs a multi-tenant approach, which means resources from public cloud providers are shared by multiple customers. In this way, providers can make significant levels of resources available remotely via the cloud while keeping services cost-effective. There are three models or key elements of a secure public cloud approach:
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): In a SaaS model, the public cloud vendor hosts software in the cloud to be accessed via the internet by users, typically through web browsers. In this way, users do not have to install software on their devices, removing the need for costly hardware and maintenance costs for organizations.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): With the PaaS model, organizations source their entire cloud infrastructure and software platforms from a vendor. This includes public cloud elements like data, networks, servers, middleware, operating systems, and virtualization. PaaS enables organizations to focus on software development without worrying about building and maintaining their core infrastructure.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): IaaS allows organizations to source solutions like servers, storage, and virtualization from a provider, but they are responsible for controlling and maintaining them.
5 Security Risks Associated With the Public Cloud
Public cloud usage continues to increase, as more and more people work from remote locations and organizations realize its cost-cutting benefits. However, as usage grows, so do the public cloud security risks, such as:
The amount of data stored on the public cloud is ever-increasing, making it a more appealing and lucrative target for hackers. Public cloud providers invest heavily in cybersecurity to protect their customers. However, as cyber criminals deploy more sophisticated hacking techniques, data breaches still happen. Plus, many businesses fail to realize that they are responsible for protecting data stored in the cloud, whether it is their own data or their customers'.
Failing to protect data appropriately can lead to costly data breaches that can, in turn, result in fines, legal action, and even criminal charges against an organization. Data breaches also cause expensive reputational damage and can lead to businesses failing to comply with increasingly stringent data privacy regulations.
Protecting public cloud data is reliant on deploying robust authentication methods and processes, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA). For example, the widely publicized data breach of health insurance firm Anthem could have been prevented had the organization deployed MFA.
Lack of Encryption
Many organizations fail to encrypt data in the cloud, which runs the risk of it being intercepted, snooped on, or stolen by cyber criminals. Encryption converts data or messages into ciphertext, ensuring only people with an encryption key can decipher or unlock the code and access the original information.
Encrypting data makes it unreadable to anyone that is not authorized to access it. Therefore, even if an attacker can access a system, they will not be able to read encrypted data, making it useless to them. Encryption ensures data remains confidential and confirms the integrity of cloud-based data.
One of the most significant public cloud security concerns is insider threat, which is a security attack caused by people who work for an organization or have access to a company’s networks and systems.
An insider attack can be initiated by current or former employees, system administrators, business partners, and contractors. The motivation behind an insider attack is typically financial. They can also be a result of an employee seeking revenge on an organization or to steal intellectual property (IP). Additionally, insider threats can be caused by human error and gaps in public cloud security, such as an IT professional failing to revoke user access when an employee leaves an organization or their job role changes.
User Identity Theft
The public cloud increases the risk of threats like identity fraud and phishing attacks. Without adequate security, attackers can eavesdrop and snoop on, modify, and steal data with relative ease.
Cyber criminals are increasingly using sensitive data to commit identity theft, which involves taking personal information and using it for their benefit. Identity theft includes the use of various attack vectors—such as credit card theft, data breaches, malware, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks—to steal personal data. Cyber criminals typically target high-value data, such as social security numbers, and use it to buy products, open new accounts, and perform broader criminal activity by impersonating another individual.
10 Ways to Overcome Public Cloud Security Risks
Organizations can prevent these public cloud security challenges by implementing processes and policies that keep their data and users safe. Here are 10 ways to stay cloud-safe in the face of numerous public cloud security risks:
1. Use Strong Passwords
Avoid using weak passwords and recycling login credentials across multiple accounts. Hackers use tactics to crack passwords and purchase lists of commonly used passwords to help them gain unauthorized access to online accounts. That means even passwords that contain at least eight characters and combine numbers, letters, and special symbols are not robust enough against software that can help attackers crack codes.
As such, restrict attackers’ ability to infiltrate sensitive accounts by using a strong and unique password for every online account. Password managers also help users securely store their login credentials. They also remove the need for users to remember every password for every account.
2. Deploy Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
Relying on passwords alone is no longer enough for public cloud security. Instead, users need to add an extra layer of protection to their accounts by deploying MFA. Upon entering their username and password for an account, users will be prompted to verify their identity. This can be through a code on a mobile phone authentication app, entering a one-time password (OTP), or scanning their fingerprint.
MFA makes it more difficult for attackers to gain access to applications and systems and prevents them from using stolen passwords to access user accounts.
3. Use an Advanced Firewall
Organizations can protect themselves against various public cloud security issues using advanced firewalls, such as next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and web application firewalls (WAFs). An NGFW identifies and blocks advanced threats, such as malware and application-layer attack vectors. It also provides upgrades in line with the evolving security threat landscape to ensure enterprises are always protected against the latest cyberattacks.
Meanwhile, WAFs prevent cloud apps from exploits and can be modified with specific rules, such as only allowing traffic from certain Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.
4. Encrypt Data
Encryption is crucial for protecting cloud-based data, especially sensitive data that is stored on or transferred to and from the cloud. Encrypting data ensures that information cannot be intercepted or stolen while at rest in data storage applications or in motion between on-premises systems and the cloud.
5. Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
VPNs help users access the internet securely and anonymously, which removes the risk of their browsing activity and data being spied on or stolen by hackers. VPNs use encryption to hide information like the user’s location and browsing device. VPNs are increasingly becoming a necessity, especially as workers access corporate systems from public or home Wi-Fi networks, which are often inherently insecure.
6. Manage Access Control
Understanding who has access to what data is essential for overcoming public cloud security risks. Organizations need to implement access controls that manage their risk and ensure users only have access to the networks, resources, and systems they need to do their job effectively.
7 . Constantly Monitor Traffic
The best way to prevent cloud-based threats is to constantly monitor the activity on corporate networks. Monitoring tools enable organizations to inspect traffic from the web and attempts to access their networks and resources. They can then block malicious or suspicious traffic.
8. Automate Security Defenses
Attackers are increasingly using automation to discover and exploit vulnerabilities. Organizations need to abide by the same principle to stay ahead of cyber criminals by automating their security defenses. This includes automating anomaly reports generation and vulnerability remediation.
9. Educate Employees
An organization’s employees are its first line of defense against public cloud security issues. Companies must ensure their employees understand the risks of accessing public cloud services and teach them public cloud security best practices to minimize their risk level. Everyone in the company must be aware of the constant threat and the need to access public cloud services securely.
Organizations need to run regular public cloud security training sessions that remind employees of their responsibilities and update them on the latest public cloud security risks. They should also carry out sporadic security tests to ensure awareness of the risk, such as sending simulated phishing emails to employees.
10. Have a Response Plan
Suffering a data breach or security event of some sort is almost an inevitability for most organizations. It is therefore critical to be prepared for the worst and have a plan in place for how to react to and mitigate the threat.