Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity

Organizations of all sizes are increasingly reliant on cloud computing. This increased usage makes cloud computing platforms a target for cyber-attacks.

In decades past, large organizations would manage a mainframe computer on-site. More recently, the scalability and cost-effectiveness of cloud computing services has made it practical to utilize cloud computing.

Cybersecurity in cloud computing environments is a multi-faceted endeavor, involving best practices in user access and privileges, hardware and software security, virtualization, firewalls, and other processes used to protect data and infrastructure.

What is Cloud Security?

Cloud security, also known as cloud computing security, is a subset of cybersecurity, devoted to securing cloud computing systems. Cloud security encompasses the policies, hardware and software, best practices, techniques, procedures, and processes used to maintain the integrity and security of cloud data, infrastructure, applications, and systems.

The security measures in place protect data privacy, uphold regulatory compliance, provide governance, oversee data retention, and control authentication and access to data. The steps used to secure data and infrastructure may vary between organizations, serving to filter malicious traffic and limit access to authorized users. Responsibility and security efforts are divided between the platform provider and end users. The most robust cloud security solutions utilize processes, automated protection, and education of the end users and infrastructure administrators.

Challenges of Cloud Computing Cybersecurity

A 2019 report by Coalfire and Cybersecurity Insiders showed that 93% of organizations saw cybersecurity as a major concern. Some areas of prime security importance mentioned by orgs were data leakage (64%), monitoring new vulnerabilities (43%), unauthorized access (42%), platform misconfiguration (40%), regulatory compliance (39%), data privacy (33%), and defending against malware (25%).

With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), the cloud provider takes on more of the responsibility for security, though the client organization must still follow best practices for security.

When a client organization is using Software as a Service (SaaS) they must have a plan for restricting user access to only authorized users. The end users still bear some responsibility for following procedures for data protection.

Growing Need for Cybersecurity Specialists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth for Information Security Analysts will grow 31% from 2019 to 2029, which is very rapid growth. Information technology and computer specialist jobs are projected to grow 11% as a whole over the same time period, which is also much faster than average.

The acceleration of cloud computing adoption is fueling demand for cybersecurity specialists to monitor and manage internal and external threats in organizations, both large and small.

What are some best practices for cloud security? How do organizations keep data secure and private as they scale?

Cloud Security Best Practices

User Access and the Principle of Least Privilege

The principle of least privilege ensures that users in an organization only have access to the information they need to complete their tasks at hand. This is especially important as a company expands, and more people are brought into to access data and get work done. The security administrator sets access limits to make sure the right people have access to the appropriate data. For example, your accounting department probably does not need access to your codebase. Some platforms may also allow temporary access to users who are not long-term employees. This type of user management protect data while allowing all members of a team to complete necessary tasks.

Password Managers and Strong Passwords

Weak passwords are one of the main ways an account can be compromised by an unauthorized user. Passwords that are used on multiple sites can be breached and dumped into a password repository. Easy passwords that have no complexity and are easy to guess can be cracked quickly through automated tools.

Password managers eliminate the need to remember passwords for all your services, using a single strong password to manage the logins for all other services. These passwords are encrypted and people walking by your device cannot read them. It is important to choose a strong password for the primary password.

Encryption

Data encryption in cloud computing environments ensures that transmitted data is secure. This scrambled data is only readable if you have an encryption key. Many cloud services will let you manage your own encryption keys. When used in conjunction with other security measures, encryption helps keep organization data secure.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) / Two Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) keeps company data secure by using dual login. Some common two-factor authentication (2FA) methods are one-time codes sent to an approved device, security questions, secondary device approval, or other methods.

By limiting data access to authorized users, an account may be not logged into with only a compromised password or credential. A secondary authentication method must be used to complete the account login or data access.

SSH Keys

Secure Socket Shell (SSH) keys keep server connections secure by using private and public key pairs. Connections are not possible without both keys – which are long, random character strings. The cloud security administrator oversees who has access to connections and manages keys to different data. When keys expire, and they are no longer needed by a team member, they may be removed. Organizations should have policies for key creation, access, and management to protect data and satisfy data regulation.

Data Backups

In the event of a compromise, or disaster recovery event, it is useful to have a backup of your data or applications so the previous save point can be restored. There are usually two ways to do this, using an external solution, or with a custom built in-house solution.

Many companies offer Backups as a Service (BaaS) where there are cloud backups of data that can be restored relatively easily. These also must be tested regularly to make sure they can be restored in the case of an emergency.

Vulnerability Scanning and Risk Assessment

An important part of cloud security is testing for potential vulnerabilities and trying to find security weaknesses. By seeking out possible exploits, and fixing these weaknesses, it hardens the security.

Misconfigured cloud computing environments are one cause of exploits. The infrastructure should be audited on a regular basis for user access, network connections, and vulnerabilities.

Once you have hardened images of the cloud environment, consider automated scanning for any changes. Sometimes changes can be introduced during deployment or updating. If something has changed, revert to the properly hardened image of the cloud environment.

Now that we have examined best practices for cloud security, what are the most common cyber security threats to cloud environments?

Most Prominent Cloud Security Threats

Data Breaches

One of the most common security threats are data breaches, causing data leaks or losses. This occurs when an environment is misconfigured or improperly hardened, and cybercriminals are able to mount an attack that breaches the security. They may be able to gain access through a weakness in the environment, improperly written code, brute force attacks, or social engineering.

When unauthorized users are able to access organization data, they can steal or copy data, and this may cause different problems for the organization. Companies that collect data from users in the European Union are subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A data breach may also cause trust in the company to erode with customers. The organizations intellectual property may also be compromised.

Phishing and Social Engineering

Many cyber-attacks are caused not by technologically automated attacks, but by human ingenuity. Phishing schemes are when fraudulent emails are sent pretending to be reputable companies. When the victim clicks on the links in the email, their data, passwords, or device may be compromised. These emails often appear indiscernible from the companies they are pretending to be.

Social engineering relies on human trickery to reveal information. It may be someone on the phone pretending to be from a legitimate service, but they are looking for information that can help them crack a user account.

The cybersecurity team in an organization must be proactive about coordinating training staff to recognize and avoid these types of attacks.

Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS)

A distributed denial of service attack uses a botnet to overwhelm a network, tying up bandwidth, crashing servers, and crippling business processes running on the network. These can be used to take down websites during strategic times (like an organization using an unscrupulous third-party to crash a competing e-commerce site during Black Friday). This is an extreme example, but these are tactics that some cyber-attacks employ.

If a cyber-attacker uses DDoS to take down a site, or bog down processes, the customers of the victim organization do not know what is going on. They only see the site failing. These can also slow down normal work within an organization. DDoS attacks can have long lasting effects on a site and an organization.

Malicious Insiders

Some people inside an organization may be rouge agents, disgruntled employees, or people selling trade secrets. Monitoring for suspicious activity and restricting access and privileges to authorized workers is another important layer of cybersecurity.

Malware and Malicious Code

Some cyber-attacks install malicious code, Trojan horses, keyloggers, or other viruses in an organizations network. The goal is usually to go completely undetected for as long as possible. These my cause data leaks, steal information, intercept transactions, record passwords being typed in, or other nefarious acts.

Scanning the infrastructure regularly for malware and using anti-virus measures to quarantine and remove malicious code is a critical cloud security task.

Starting a Career in Cybersecurity

If starting a career in cloud administration and cybersecurity sounds interesting to you, MTI College has an Associate’s degree program in AWS Cloud Administration. In this this program, you will learn about cloud computing (Amazon AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner), networks (CompTIA Network+), and foundational cybersecurity (CompTIA Security+).

To learn more about this exciting cloud computing program, contact our Admissions team, or call (916) 339-1500 today.

Want to learn more about MTI’s programs?

Our admissions team will help you find the perfect program to meet your goals. Financial aid is available to those who qualify.

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