In today’s digital-first landscape, more and more organizations move their workloads to the cloud. However, many do not realize that cloud environments come with a certain set of unique security threats.
In this article, you will learn about top cloud application security threats, categorized into three main sources of threats: Attack, misconfiguration and third-party integration. You will also learn four best practices you can use to secure your cloud operations.
Top Cloud Application Security Threats
Cloud applications include vulnerabilities that on-premises applications do not. For example, built-in internet connectivity can make these applications more easily accessible to both users and attackers.
Additionally, differences in control and infrastructure create different requirements for security. Before you can secure your applications, it helps to know the various vulnerabilities you face.
|Source of threat||Type of threat|
|Attack||Data breaches—Cloud-based data is more easily accessible to attackers due to Internet connectivity.Hacked interfaces and insecure APIs—Cloud apps rely heavily on web interfaces and APIs. If these components are compromised, attackers can gain access to data and systems. Malware infections—Unvalidated file uploads can enable attackers to infect systems with malware.|
|Misconfiguration or lack of security||Gaps in compliance—Lack of understanding, visibility and auditing can lead to compliance issues and improperly secured data. Weak identity management or authentication—Permissions that are too lax can be abused by both legitimate users and attackers. This can result in inappropriate access, modification or deletion of data.Data loss—Not implementing backups, failovers or properly restricting permissions can lead to loss. This can happen through intentional or accidental deletion and hardware failure.|
|Third-party integrations||Insufficient due diligence—Involves not verifying what security controls or settings are in place in external services or components. For example, including open source components with vulnerabilities.Contractual breaches—Any of the above vulnerabilities can also occur through a vendor. If providers do not properly secure their own infrastructure and applications, your data may be exposed through their vulnerabilities.|
Cloud Application Security Best Practices
When deploying applications in the cloud, there are several best practices you can implement to ensure that your data and users stay safe. These practices can help whether you are developing and deploying your own applications or adopting outside applications.
1. Audit and Optimize Configurations
Once your applications and infrastructure are configured, it can be tempting to just rely on the idea that configurations are correct. This is a huge mistake. Firstly, you may have configuration errors that you are unaware of. Secondly, as applications are updated, workflows are modified, and users shift, configurations may change.
Periodically auditing your configurations can help you ensure that no unexpected changes have occurred and that expected changes are secure. It can also help you identify configurations that were less secure from the start or that are providing suboptimal performance.
You can perform these audits with a variety of tools and processes, including automated scanners, penetration testing and manual audits. All major cloud services offer some level of configuration analysis service that you can use. Additionally, there are third-party services, such as cloud security access brokers (CASB), that can help you verify configurations are correct.
A final point of consideration is protection of cloud endpoints. Cloud deployments can have thousands of endpoints, including compute instances, databases, serverless functions and analytics services. Each of these increases the attack surface and is a potential entry point for an attacker. Breaches will happen, so consider using a technology like endpoint detection and response (EDR), which can be deployed on cloud endpoints, immediately alert security teams in case the endpoint is breached and provide advanced capabilities for containing the threat.
2. Don’t Ignore Due Diligence
Due diligence is a process in which you carefully examine the contents and operations of an application or component to determine if it is suitable to invest in. Software composition analysis (SCA) is a security solution that provides visibility into software components and vulnerabilities or legal risks they contain.
Performing technical due diligence is vital to ensure that the applications you are using are secure and that you are fully aware of any vulnerabilities that may exist. This is true for cloud services that function as software as a service (SaaS), for development components and for self-contained applications.
When performing due diligence for components that you are integrating into your applications, be sure to test the components as you would your own code. Make sure that development quality meets your standards, that no bugs are found and that the component does what you think.
For any component or application, you should also verify what quality processes are performed, how often patches are released and what security measures are in place.
In particular, be mindful of what permissions or access are needed to integrate the component or service. If a project or service requires blanket permissions, seems unprofessionally made or has poor documentation, it may be better to look for an alternative.
3. Cloud Phishing and Securing Your Credentials
Many security breaches are created by compromised credentials. Users may intentionally share credentials with others, save credential information to public devices or use weak passwords that are easily cracked. Credential phishing is also a significant risk.
Many users are easily directed to false web portals through malicious scripts or email scams without noticing. These users provide their credentials and may never notice that something is fishy. Once a bad actor has these credentials, they can access your applications, application data and, potentially, your larger systems.
To protect yourself against this, you can implement endpoint protections that can detect suspicious credential use. For example, alerting when logins are coming from different geographic locations than expected or when sign-ons occur from multiple IPs at a time.
You should also take efforts to implement secure password and login policies. If you can, set timeouts for sessions and require users to change their passwords periodically. If you can’t (because you’re using someone else’s service, for instance), implement internal policies that define password complexity and length of use.
4. Keep Your Services Up-to-Date
Make sure that you are not leaving vulnerabilities exposed due to lack of updates or patching. This is especially important when known vulnerabilities exist that you haven’t addressed. In these cases, attackers know exactly what vulnerabilities may exist and how to exploit them. The only thing stopping them is the remediation steps you take.
For some applications, this may require just accepting updates and patches as these items are pushed to you. For others, staying up-to-date requires seeking out patches or creating patches on your own. You should make sure that you are periodically checking to ensure that versions are the most recent either manually or with automated tools.
You should also monitor vulnerability feeds, databases and software projects to ensure that you are aware of vulnerability announcements as soon as possible. This way, even if a zero-day fix isn’t immediately available, you can begin taking corrective action.
Cloud security threats are typically categorized according to source and type. Attack threats include data breaches, hacker interfaces, insecure APIs and malware infections. Misconfiguration threats include gaps in compliance, weak access management and data loss. Third-party integration threats are typically a result of insufficient due diligence.
You can prevent many of these threats by implementing four key cloud application security best practices. Performing due diligence can help you keep track of components. Enforcing strong password policies can help you protect against cloud phishing schemes. Updating cloud systems on a regular basis can prevent zero-day exploitation. Finally, you should continually audit and optimize configurations to prevent misconfiguration threats.
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