The cloud is no longer a mysterious visage of data technology but rather a pillar of modern enterprise computing. As technologies advance to meet the insatiable need for improved communication, storage, and shareability – so too have the threats against it. Many companies still cling to legacy systems and aged networks to manage workflows – but the rapid advancement of cloud networks and improved integrability has many enterprises inching closer and closer to cloud migration.
1.Cloud Security System Misconfiguration
Properly establishing and configuring critical cloud security settings seems like it would be a no-brainer for companies that rely on cloud environments. With that being said, it’s number one on our list, as many organizations fall victim to cloud misconfigurations that lead to glitches, errors, or gaps in the system.
It’s like building a house. When the foundations have cracks, the building materials are cheap, or the contractors are inexperienced – the integrity of the construction is compromised and left exposed to potentially devastating effects in the future.
The same can be said for a cloud environment. When misconfigurations occur, the risk of ransomware, malware, and data breaches greatly increases. So, how does misconfiguration happen?
- Following an attempt to make data more shareable and accessible within an organization, there is confusion regarding who should have authorized access to data stores.
- Multi-cloud environments that have varied vendor security protocols can be difficult to navigate, leading to potential errors and misconfigurations.
- Poorly designed cloud platforms that lack robust security measures may also lead to misconfiguration issues.
- Dev teams lack familiarity with a “security by design” approach. Misconfigurations occur when there is a lack of security input during implementation, leaving cracks in the infrastructure.
2. Data Loss
It’s no surprise that data loss ranks as one of the highest cloud security concerns. In fact, just a few years ago, research found that 64% of respondents named data loss as their primary concern for cloud security. The cloud’s popularity comes from the amount of data it can store without the investment or difficulties associated with on-site infrastructure (or servers). Moreover, the cloud environment offers attractive shareability and accessibility functions, which can be a double-edged sword.
Hackers and nefarious parties may use the many benefits of cloud systems against an organization, finding cracks through human error or improper cybersecurity processes. According to a recent study, 55% of cloud data breaches are caused by human error. Unfortunately, this can lead to massive data loss that can be incredibly costly for an organization. Take, for example, the data breach at Equifax that affected nearly 150 million people. This data loss cost the company over $575M.
3. Lacking Threat Monitoring Expertise
Cyber-attacks are almost inevitable for many enterprise-level organizations. Having a reliable notification system in place is a critical piece of the cloud puzzle. Without it, your cloud security infrastructure won’t be alerted in time – leading to potentially catastrophic consequences. Just as cloud technology offers instant access and shareability, responding to threats needs to be met with an equally powerful and timely response. While cloud infrastructures offer improved observability, proper monitoring and threat response require niche expertise and an investment in knowledgeable pros.
4. Unsecured APIs
An Application Programming Interface (API) is the bridge that allows applications to communicate. In a cloud environment, APIs can have varied responsibilities. From defining features and functions of a service and managing security to ensuring access to different platforms, APIs have had a massively positive impact on cloud integration.
When left unprotected, APIs can be a potential doorway for cybercriminals – leaving a cloud network exposed to any number of potential data loss consequences.
5. Account Hijacking
The hijacking of accounts can have almost the same effect as insider threats, but this time by an outside party. When someone gains control of a cloud-based employee account, their credentials can be used to access restricted information, systems, and environments that can leave an organization vulnerable. One of the most prominent ways to achieve this is through phishing.
Multi-factor verification, strong password guidelines, and segregating access are just a few of the many ways a business can protect itself from account hijacking. A proactive approach is really the only defense, as it can be incredibly difficult to identify a compromised account within cloud infrastructure.
6. Visibility Issues
Depending on the cloud vendor or partner, visibility may be limited. Certain areas may be restricted, and access could prove difficult. Additionally, the geographic location of the physical premises could be far away or be an inconvenient place to travel to.
While robust security measures and “easy access” limitations are typically a good thing in terms of security, they do pose a challenge for organizations that may need visibility for business purposes.
7. Virtual Identities
No, this isn’t out of a science-fiction novel. Cyber threats have advanced beyond the human element and can now come in the form of AI-based instances. Bots can infiltrate and replace users, leaving a cloud environment vulnerable to entry if permission is granted.
Identifying non-person identities is becoming more and more prevalent, and having security measures in place to recognize, alert, and alleviate these threats is essential.
8. A Labyrinth of Tools
In an attempt to keep a cloud environment safe, organizations often oversaturate their system with tools and software. The cloud has many benefits, but perhaps its greatest asset is its ability to simplify data management. Building a congested maze of security systems and integrations can have an adverse effect, overcomplicating your operations and creating complexities that are too challenging to monitor, let alone maintain.
9. External Data Sharing
We’ve mentioned it before on this list, but one of the primary benefits of cloud computing is the ability to share, collaborate, and access files. It’s all about simplifying the process for improved operational functionality.
The problem with easy shareability and accessibility throughout multiple systems is that security becomes challenging, especially if a resource is compromised in any given way. Additionally, there is a veil with many public cloud providers that prevents organizations from verifying if data crosses an established perimeter. Whether through protocols and guidelines or security tools that limit certain data sharing, organizations need to limit their cloud exposure by minimizing flaws in the cloud infrastructure.
10. Shadow Data
A fairly new contender in the cloud data security challenge arena is shadow data. During migration or implementation, especially at an enterprise level, some data gets lost in translation. Whether it is business data that’s backed up, copied, or stored in an ungoverned location – this shadow data gets overlooked and forgotten.
Why? Well, the rapid adoption of cloud infrastructure means that companies are housing more and more data and losing track of some along the way. These pose not only compliance risks but also security concerns, as there’s no telling how valuable the shadow data could be.
11. Access Control Point Security Concerns
Remote working models and reduced infrastructure loads have led to the rise in cloud infrastructures. These environments operate outside of an organization’s physical locations and are subject to their own standards of security.
Access control points are the security measures in place that prevent potential intruders or unauthorized personnel from entering the location. These may include:
- Physical Access Control Point: A physical location, such as a building, gate, mantrap, turnstile, or door, that restricts or monitors those who enter. Security measures such as key cards, PIN codes, or biometric scanners may be used to control access.
- Access Control List: A set of rules or configurations that regulate what users can access a network or resource within a network infrastructure.
As many enterprises migrate and their infrastructure takes on a more composite nature, additional entry points open. These hybrid cloud models have even more access control points to consider. Choosing a cloud vendor lacking in any given access control point department can lead to potential security concerns.
12. Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
While human error and insider threats are far more likely to negatively impact a company’s cloud environment, the proverbial “big bad wolf” does indeed exist. Organized threat groups such as Cozy Bear or Gadolinium are infamous for their attack scenarios on the cloud.
It’s no wonder why these sophisticated organizations utilize the cloud. It provides them with the same scale and accessibility as the company itself. APTs have been around for a long time and have participated in a seemingly never-ending game of cat and mouse – as cloud security teams work to combat their progress.
13. Third-Party Software
Last but certainly not least, third-party access can be a major cloud security challenge. In 2022, hackers used stolen credentials to access Uber systems that were hosted in AWS. They were able to use this entry point to compromise the sensitive data of 77,000 Uber employees.
Third-party access to applications, infrastructure, and code is not uncommon in cloud environments – but it can be used as an access point to a much broader pool of information. Attackers can use this data for phishing attacks to reach deeper and deeper into an organization’s data pool.
Weighing the Security Challenges of Public and Private Clouds
While our list of the top 13 cloud data security challenges can apply to public, private, and even hybrid clouds – we thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some niche concerns.
Public Cloud Security Issues
- Some industries or governing bodies with strict regulatory requirements may have concerns regarding data privacy and compliance in a public cloud system. This may limit client acquisition or growth opportunities in certain markets.
- It’s not uncommon for public clouds to be somewhat veiled regarding their data privacy processes.
- Certain types of data might be prohibited from public cloud storage.
- Vendor lock-in may limit necessary security integrations.
Private Cloud Security Issues
- One of the biggest issues with the private cloud, believe it or not, is overconfidence. We liken this to the Titanic, where just because an issue is obvious, that doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic. Email or internet access can still leave an organization vulnerable to malware or ransomware.
- A lack of expertise to build or monitor a private cloud can also leave a company vulnerable. One can leverage all of the advanced tools in the world, but without the right experience and professionals on board to maintain and manage the cloud environment, it will fall short.
How Can You Solve These Data Security Challenges?
Well, the answer isn’t so simple. There’s no magic button or one-size-fits-all solution that will mitigate every cloud data security concern. Enterprises looking to safeguard their data from potential security threats should take the following steps:
- Perform regular security checks
- Maintain up-to-date security configurations and security by design approach
- Implement password guidelines
- Bring about strong authentication standards and procedures
- Utilize multi-factor authentication
- Continuously monitor, reevaluate, and update software and OS
- Evaluate potential third-party vulnerabilities
- Increase employees awareness through regular security training
Lastly, organizations can adopt a cloud security posture management (CSPM) system to establish responsibilities, set policies, and properly construct infrastructure. All in all, a CSPM allows a company to proactively and reactively address risk issues within a cloud configuration or security environment.