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Tom Vazdar
Tom Vazdar

The Security Risks, Challenges, and Issues of Cloud Computing
Tom Vazdar
Tom Vazdar
July 01, 2023 · min read

In today’s digital landscape, few businesses can go without relying on cloud computing to build a rock-solid IT infrastructure. Boosted efficiency, reduced expenses, and increased scalability are just some of the reasons behind its increasing popularity.

In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, cloud computing refers to running software and services on the internet using data stored on outside sources. So, instead of owning and maintaining their infrastructure locally and physically, businesses access cloud-based services as needed.

And what is found in the cloud? Well, any crucial business data that you can imagine. Customer information, business applications, data backups, and the list can go on.

Given this data’s sensitivity, cloud computing security is of utmost importance.

Unfortunately, cloud computing isn’t the only aspect that keeps evolving. So do the risks, issues, and challenges threatening its security.

Let’s review the most significant security issues in cloud computing and discuss how to address them adequately.

Understanding Cloud Computing Security Risks

Cloud computing security risks refer to potential vulnerabilities in the system that malicious actors can exploit for their own benefit. Understanding these risks is crucial to selecting the right cloud computing services for your business or deciding if cloud computing is even the way to go.

Data Breaches

A data breach happens when unauthorized individuals access, steal, or publish sensitive information (names, addresses, credit card information). Since these incidents usually occur without the organization’s knowledge, the attackers have ample time to do severe damage.

What do we mean by damage?

Well, in this case, damage can refer to various scenarios. Think everything from using the stolen data for financial fraud to sabotaging the company’s stock price. It all depends on the type of stolen data.

Whatever the case, companies rarely put data breaches behind them without a severely damaged reputation, significant financial loss, or extensive legal consequences.

Data Loss

The business world revolves around data. That’s why attackers target it. And why companies fight so hard to preserve it.

As the name implies, data loss occurs when a company can no longer access its previously stored information.

Sure, malicious attacks are often behind data loss. But this is only one of the causes of this unfortunate event.

The cloud service provider can also accidentally delete your vital data. Physical catastrophes (fires, floods, earthquakes, tornados, explosions) can also have this effect, as can data corruption, software failure, and many other mishaps.

Account Hijacking

Using (or reusing) weak passwords as part of cloud-based infrastructure is basically an open invitation for account hijacking.

Again, the name is pretty self-explanatory – a malicious actor gains complete control over your online accounts. From there, the hijacker can access sensitive data, perform unauthorized actions, and compromise other associated accounts.

Insecure APIs

In cloud computing, communication service providers (CSPs) offer their customers numerous Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). These easy-to-use interfaces allow customers to manage their cloud-based services. But besides being easy to use, some of these APIs can be equally easy to exploit. For this reason, cybercriminals often prey on insecure APIs as their access points for infiltrating the company’s cloud environment.

Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks

Denial of service (DoS) attacks have one goal – to render your network or server inaccessible. They do so by overwhelming them with traffic until they malfunction or crash.

It’s clear that these attacks can cause severe damage to any business. Now imagine what they can do to companies that rely on those online resources to store business-critical data.

Insider Threats

Not all employees will have your company’s best interest at heart, not to mention ex-employees. If these individuals abuse their authorized access, they can wreak havoc on your networks, systems, and data.

Insider threats are more challenging to spot than external attacks. After all, these individuals know your business inside out, positioning them to cause serious damage while staying undetected.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

With advanced persistent threats (APTs), it’s all about the long game. The intruder will infiltrate your company’s cloud environment and fly under the radar for quite some time. Of course, they’ll use this time to steal sensitive data from your business’s every corner.

Challenges in Cloud Computing Security

Security challenges in cloud computing refer to hurdles your company might hit while implementing cloud computing security.

Shared Responsibility Model

A shared responsibility model is precisely what it sounds like. The responsibility for maintaining security falls on several individuals or entities. In cloud computing, these parties include the CSP and your business (as the CSP’s consumer). Even the slightest misunderstanding concerning the division of these responsibilities can have catastrophic consequences for cloud computing security.

Compliance With Regulations and Standards

Organizations must store their sensitive data according to specific regulations and standards. Some are industry-specific, like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) for guarding healthcare records. Others, like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), are more extensive. Achieving this compliance in cloud computing is more challenging since organizations typically don’t control all the layers of their infrastructure.

Data Privacy and Protection

Placing sensitive data in the cloud comes with significant exposure risks (as numerous data breaches in massive companies have demonstrated). Keeping this data private and protected is one of the biggest security challenges in cloud computing.

Lack of Visibility and Control

Once companies move their data to the cloud (located outside their corporate network), they lose some control over it. The same goes for their visibility into their network’s operations. Naturally, since companies can’t fully see or control their cloud-based resources, they sometimes fail to protect them successfully against attacks.

Vendor Lock-In and Interoperability

These security challenges in cloud computing arise when organizations want to move their assets from one CSP to another. This move is often deemed too expensive or complex, forcing the organization to stay put (vendor lock-in). Migrating data between providers can also cause different applications and systems to stop working together correctly, thus hindering their interoperability.

Security of Third-Party Services

Third-party services are often trouble, and cloud computing is no different. These services might have security vulnerabilities allowing unauthorized access to your cloud data and systems.

Issues in Cloud Computing Security

The following factors have proven as major security issues in cloud computing.

Insufficient Identity and Access Management

The larger your business, the harder it gets to establish clearly-defined roles and assign them specific permissions. However, Identity and Access Management (IAM) is vital in cloud computing. Without a comprehensive IAM strategy, a data breach is just waiting to happen.

Inadequate Encryption and Key Management

Encryption is undoubtedly one of the most effective measures for data protection. But only if it’s implemented properly. Using weak keys or failing to rotate, store, and protect them adequately is a one-way ticket to system vulnerabilities.

So, without solid encryption and coherent key management strategies, your cloud computing security can be compromised in no time.

Vulnerabilities in Virtualization Technology

Virtualization (running multiple virtual computers on the hardware elements of a single physical computer) is becoming increasingly popular. Consider the level of flexibility it allows (and at what cost!), and you’ll understand why.

However, like any other technology, virtualization is prone to vulnerabilities. And, as we’ve already established, system vulnerabilities and cloud computing security can’t go hand in hand.

Limited Incident Response Capabilities

Promptly responding to a cloud computing security incident is crucial to minimizing its potential impact on your business. Without a proper incident report strategy, attackers can run rampant within your cloud environment.

Security Concerns in Multi-Tenancy Environments

In a multi-tenancy environment, multiple accounts share the same cloud infrastructure. This means that an attack on one of those accounts (or tenants) can compromise the cloud computing security for all the rest. Keep in mind that this only applies if the CSP doesn’t properly separate the tenants.

Addressing Key Concerns in Cloud Computing Security

Before moving your data to cloud-based services, you must fully comprehend all the security threats that might await. This way, you can implement targeted cloud computing security measures and increase your chances of emerging victorious from a cyberattack.

Here’s how you can address some of the most significant cloud computing security concerns:

  • Implement strong authentication and access controls (introducing multifactor authentication, establishing resource access policies, monitoring user access rights).
  • Ensure data encryption and secure key management (using strong keys, rotating them regularly, and protecting them beyond CSP’s measures).
  • Regularly monitor and audit your cloud environments (combining CSP-provided monitoring information with your cloud-based and on-premises monitoring information for maximum security).
  • Develop a comprehensive incident response plan (relying on the NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] or the SANS [SysAdmin, Audit, Network, and Security] framework).
  • Collaborate with cloud service providers to successfully share security responsibilities (coordinating responses to threats and investigating potential threats).

Weathering the Storm in Cloud Computing

Due to the importance of the data they store, cloud-based systems are constantly exposed to security threats. Compare the sheer number of security risks to the number of challenges and issues in addressing them promptly, and you’ll understand why cloud computing security sometimes feels like an uphill battle.

Since these security threats are ever-evolving, staying vigilant, informed, and proactive is the only way to stay on top of your cloud computing security. Pursue education in this field, and you can achieve just that.

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