How your business can avoid the security risks of cloud computing19 Oct, 20235 min
In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, cloud computing has become a powerful tool empowering organisations to streamline operations, cut costs, and drive innovation. The numbers speak for themselves, with a staggering 94% of businesses leveraging various cloud services, from Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Yet, as businesses continue to migrate their operations to the cloud, they must be aware of the security risks of cloud computing.
Cloud computing, while a game-changer, brings its own set of vulnerabilities that can expose sensitive data, disrupt operations, and compromise the integrity of a business. These risks are not to be underestimated, as they encompass unauthorised access, a lack of visibility into third-party infrastructure, misconfiguration, API vulnerabilities, and the ever-looming loss of data.
In this guide, we will delve into the core security risks of cloud computing, shedding light on the threats that could undermine your business's digital journey. Equally important, we will provide actionable insights into five strategic approaches your business can adopt to safeguard against these security challenges to ensure you stay secure in the cloud.
We will explore the following:
- What are the security risks of cloud computing
- Unauthorised access
- Lack of Visibility
- API Vulnerabilities
- Data Loss
- 5 ways your business can prevent cloud security risks:
- Encrypt your data
- Implement a data backup plan to keep you secure in the cloud
- Manage user access controls
- Apply multi-factor authentication (MFA)
- Train your employees
What are the security risks of cloud computing?
Undoubtedly, cloud computing is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes that want to save time and money, improve efficiencies, innovate and much more. As we mentioned in our introduction, the popularity of cloud computing cannot be argued, with 94% of organisations utilising a form of cloud services from SaaS, IaaS and PaaS.
As much as cloud computing is a valuable asset to any company, implementing it into your business can introduce potential cyber threats. From unauthorised access, lack of visibility, misconfiguration, API vulnerabilities and data loss, the security risks of cloud computing cannot be ignored.
In this section, we’ll explore five of the most significant types of cloud computing risks your business needs to be aware of.
One significant risk of cloud computing revolves around knowing who has access to your cloud-based assets. Whereas onsite infrastructure is physically there for your IT team to oversee and look after, cloud-based deployments occur outside a network's perimeter. They are, therefore, accessible by anyone and everyone with access to the internet.
Whilst you'd hope your files and data stored in the cloud could only be accessed by your internal team and external customers, there is the potential for online hackers to commit cyber attacks on your business and gain unauthorised access to your cloud-based resources. Without sufficient cloud security, your business is more vulnerable to giving an attacker direct access to your data and credentials, opening you up to the threat of unauthorised access.
Lack of Visibility
Arguably, the biggest risk of cloud computing is that businesses sacrifice a degree of control and visibility over their data because it often falls into the hands of the third-party cloud service provider (CPS) they outsource. Of course, this risk is avoided by companies with the resources to have an in-house data centre. Still, for many companies wanting to move their workloads, operations and assets to the cloud, they have no natural choice but to seek the support of a CPS.
Although partnering with a CPS can be extremely useful to an organisation looking to shift to the cloud, the CPS will have its own infrastructure and networks to store your data on which you may not have access or complete visibility. As a result, if there is a breach of the CPS's network and your cloud-based data is exploited, you may not have the visibility to realise this has happened until the third-party vendor has informed you. By then, it could be too late.
Due to the shared responsibility of your data with the third party, you must ensure transparency and understand the cloud security protocols in place with the CPS before you partner with them. Failing to do so could result in a severe lack of visibility, leading to increased service usage and costs in the long run.
Another one of the more notable security risks of cloud computing is misconfiguration. When businesses transition to the cloud, they will begin sharing data across the open and accessible internet. Whilst the purpose of the cloud is to support various complexities of multi-cloud deployments, if an organisation's cloud security is inadequately configured, it becomes more vulnerable to data breaches.
As mentioned in our previous point, many companies will rely on third parties to support the storage of their cloud-based assets. However, as well as reducing your visibility, some third-party cloud security posture management (CSPM) strategies are insufficient in automating cloud security management across various cloud computing services.
Due to this lack of awareness of how to keep your data secure in the cloud, there is a risk of misconfigurations or a complete oversight in cloud security, exposing your data to cyber-attacks.
For context, an Application Programming Interface (API) involves the communication of two software without the need to understand how they’re integrated. Companies commonly use APIs to automate workflows, sync data, and manage their user experience. When businesses manage their APIs internally or utilise a CSP to oversee their APIs in relation to the cloud, they again run the risk of cyber security threats.
As APIs can be accessed over the internet, they are unsurprisingly vulnerable to being exploited by hackers. These exploitations can result in cross-system attacks, from unauthorised access, denial of service attacks and misconfiguration to access cloud-based assets.
API vulnerabilities can be increased if a business has a lack of visibility over the APIs that a third party manages or internally they have improper encryption in place, access controls are not enforced, and inputs are insufficiently sanitised when it comes to their cloud-based API.
The last but certainly not the least of the security risks of cloud computing we’ll cover in this guide is data loss. According to Consoltech, 70% of small-sized companies go out of business within a year due to data loss, with the average global data breach cost equating to $4.35 million, as reported by Statista.
Data losses occur when a business or its third-party CSP provider has insufficient cloud security measures in place, resulting in a breach implemented by hackers. Like the other cloud security risks we’ve covered in this section, data losses often happen without the business knowing anything about them and can cause detrimental harm to a company.
Whether your data has been stored on the cloud internally or via a CPS, your organisation will ultimately be responsible for any financial and reputational damages resulting from a data breach. When a data breach occurs, cybercriminals can access any data you have stored on the cloud, from company finances, customer data and other private information. If this cloud-based data falls into the wrong hands, it could permanently halt your company's progression.
However, there are solutions to prevent these cloud computing threats from occurring within your business, allowing you to stay secure in the cloud, which we will explore in our next section.
5 ways your business can prevent cloud security risks
Now that we’ve covered the most significant security risks of cloud computing, you’re probably wondering how your business can protect itself from these cyber threats and remain secure in the cloud. From encrypting your data, implementing a data backup plan, managing user access controls, applying multi-factor authentication and training your employees, in this section, we’ll explore the 5 ways your business can prevent cloud security risks.
1. Encrypt your data
Our first step to preventing cloud security risks from causing financial and reputational damage to your business revolves around encrypting your data. Encryption is the process of taking sensitive information or data and converting it into a code that unauthorised personnel cannot read or access. This is done by using a mathematical algorithm to randomly compile the data into a code, with the only way to access the data is with the correct decryption key.
When it comes to encrypting data in the cloud, there are two main approaches: symmetric and asymmetric.
This type of encryption is the simpler yet arguably more efficient of the two methods and involves using identical keys to encrypt and decrypt the data. As symmetric encryption means both the sender and the recipient of the encrypted data must have the same key, it is therefore essential this key is only known by the people who should have access to the data.
The other type of encryption uses two keys, one for encryption and one for decryption, commonly known as private and public keys. The private key is kept to the sole knowledge of the owner and is used to decrypt the data, whereas the public key is shared with the individuals who have been granted specific access and is used to encrypt the data.
Data encryption gives your business an added layer of cyber security, keeping your assets secure in the cloud and only accessible to the people you’ve given authority to access it. Encrypting your data is a major deterrent to cyber criminals as it significantly hinders their ability to gain unauthorised access.
If your company utilises the services of a cloud service provider, ensure you understand how they manage your data and encrypt it yourself before handing over a portion of the responsibility to them to give you a level of control over your data.
Additionally, when encrypting your data to prevent the cloud security risks mentioned in this guide, be sure to encrypt your keys with an additional key or secure password that is again only accessible by particular IT team members. Finally, never store your encryption keys in the same place as your data. Failing to do so could make your keys vulnerable to being lost or modified or the other security risks of cloud computing we’ve discussed in this guide.
2. Implement a data backup plan to keep you secure in the cloud
Implementing a data backup plan is one of the best ways to prevent cloud security risks from harming your organisation. Data backups involve copying any data you wish to recover in the event of your data being breached, corrupted, deleted or lost. This data is copied from the source and moved via a private or public network to be stored on a cloud server.
There are various data backup solutions available to backup hardware, software and, of course, cloud-based assets. If a business has the resources, its IT team can implement a cloud-based backup in-house. However, if external support is needed, a third-party CPS can offer backup-as-a-service (BaaS) to provide an additional copy of your data to keep you further secure in the cloud.
As well as there being various solutions for data backups, there are also many different types of data backups. Here are three of the most common:
A full backup is the most complete type of backup and involves copying all of the data and sending it to the backup destination.
The differential backup is the middle ground between a full and incremental backup and involves copying the data that has been created or changed since the previous full or incremental backup.
An incremental backup is the process of copying data that has only been changed since the previous full, differential or incremental backup.
According to Acronis, 86% of businesses backup their data daily, weekly or monthly - whilst 97% of companies conduct a data backup once a year. Depending on your preferences, budget, and the amount of data you want to protect will determine how often you wish to backup your data on the cloud.
Regardless, implementing a data backup plan can give you peace of mind that you have a copy of your data that can be called upon if your business encounters a cyber attack or cloud-related error that leaves your data vulnerable.
3. Manage user access controls
Another way your business can prevent cloud security risks is by managing user access controls. Of course, ensuring your data is secure in the cloud, encrypted, and backed up is important. However, ensuring you know who can access your cloud-based data is just as essential.
Within your organisation, it’s not always the case that everyone within your team needs access to all the data you have stored in the cloud. One way to manage user access controls is by implementing an identity and access management (IAM) strategy.
An IAM is a framework of technologies and policies that help companies identify and manage the access controls of their users and devices. IAM systems fall under the umbrella of data management and cyber security, often allowing for role-based access control. This means businesses can enable employees to access specific data based on their job titles.
Managing user access controls not only ensures that the people you want to authorise access to particular data can access it, but it also ensures that other employees don’t accidentally gain access to specific data and unintentionally edit or delete it. Additionally, implementing user access controls can prevent cloud computing security risks like hacking.
For example, suppose a hacker steals an employee’s credentials, but this employee doesn't have access to the data the hacker is after. In that case, the hacker will likely be deterred from exploiting your organisation.
Additionally, if all your employees have access to all your data, then the chances of a member of your team falling victim to a phishing email that leaves your cloud-based data open to hackers increase. Whereas segregating access controls between the members of your team who need to access specific data for their role or are trained in how to avoid compromising your data gives you an added layer of protection.
Some regulators may also require your business to demonstrate that you implement access controls, which can be established through an effective compliance recruitment strategy by hiring a qualified IT or cyber security professional or outsourcing a cloud services provider.
4. Apply multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Following our previous point, your business can also prevent cloud security risks by applying multi-factor authentication (MFA). Today, hackers are more sophisticated than ever and have various methods of gaining access to your business credentials and cloud-based data. Therefore, protecting your data from the security risks of cloud computing cannot be solely done through the traditional means of having strong usernames and passwords.
MFA is a cost-effective way of protecting your users and your company's cloud-based applications and data from hackers and is used by more than 55% of businesses. But what is multi-factor authentication?
Also known as two-step or two-factor authentication, MFA is a security measure requiring users to provide two or more pieces of evidence to verify their identity when logging into an account. As well as typing out a password, MFA requires users to identify themselves through one or a combination of the following:
Entering a personal identification number (PIN)
Answering a personal question - What is your mother's maiden name?
Entering a code provided by the cloud via a text message or an email
Biometrics, such as fingerprint or face recognition
What’s beneficial about MFA is that even if a hacker correctly guesses your password, they will struggle and ultimately be put off from getting through the next gated stage of accessing a PIN, secured code or knowing the answer to your personal question.
Overall, implementing MFA into your business is a highly regarded strategy for preventing cloud security risks by cloud security professionals and should be something you ensure is part of the solution provided by a CSP if you were to go down that route.
5. Train your employees
Our final way your business can prevent cloud security risks is by training your employees. Believe it or not, your internal team can pose the biggest risk of cloud computing through no fault of their own. Insider threats, which we’ve covered in our Why is cyber security important for your business? guide, affects over 34% of companies, with incidents having risen by 47% since 2021. Additionally, 66% of companies consider insider attacks increasingly likely to affect their operations.
To avoid unintentional insider threats from occurring, you should provide training to your current and new hires in security awareness and best practices. Doing so will ensure they understand how to recognise a potential attack, be it through phishing, malware or denial-of-service and how to avoid or respond to them if they occur.
When educating your staff on how to respond to an attack, implement a process for reporting suspicious online activity that your IT department and cyber security specialists can resolve.
You can make this training quarterly, every six months or annually, whatever works and is feasible for you. Additionally, you could make this training part of your onboarding process for all new hires, regardless of their department and role within your business, whether technical or non-technical.
Ensuring everyone in your business knows the do’s and don’ts regarding the security risks of cloud computing will put your mind at ease while instilling confidence in your employees, allowing them to work in an environment where they feel secure when utilising your IT infrastructure and cloud-based data.
As part of your internal training, your cyber security specialists could conduct random unannounced security tests on your employees to see how they would respond to a mock scenario. This could be done by sending a simulated phishing email across the business and assessing how everyone reacts.
Protecting Your Business in Cybersecurity Spaces
While cloud computing offers numerous advantages for businesses, it also presents significant security risks that must be addressed to safeguard your valuable cloud-based data and applications. Unauthorised access, lack of visibility, misconfiguration, API vulnerabilities, and data loss are all potential threats that can disrupt your business and damage its reputation.
To summarise, in order to mitigate these risks, your business can take these proactive steps:
Encrypt your data: Implement robust encryption measures to protect your sensitive data from unauthorised access. Utilise both symmetric and asymmetric encryption techniques to add layers of security.
Implement a data backup plan: Develop a comprehensive data backup strategy to ensure the availability and integrity of your data. Regularly back up your data to secure cloud servers to safeguard against data loss.
Manage user access controls: Implement an Identity and Access Management (IAM) system to control who can access your cloud-based data. You could manage access based on job roles and responsibilities to prevent unauthorised personnel from compromising your data.
Apply multi-factor authentication (MFA): Strengthen your authentication process by requiring users to identify themselves via multiple forms of identity verification, such as passwords, PINs, or biometrics. MFA adds an extra layer of security against credential-based attacks.
Train your employees: Recognise that your employees can inadvertently pose security risks and regularly educate your staff on security awareness and best practices. Conduct simulated security tests to evaluate their responses to potential threats and ensure a proactive security culture.
By implementing these measures, your business can significantly reduce the risks associated with cloud computing. Protecting your data and ensuring you remain secure in the cloud environment is a continuous process that requires vigilance and commitment, but the benefits of a safer and more efficient cloud operation are well worth the effort. Stay proactive, stay secure, and continue to adapt to the evolving landscape of cloud security to ensure the long-term success of your business.
Find out more about the advantages of cloud computing by checking out our guide on How the benefits of cloud security can protect your business.
Get in touch with a cyber security recruiter today!
Now that you've grasped the significance of the security risks of cloud computing and the ways you can prevent these risks from occurring in your business, it might be the right time to explore strategic solutions that can bolster your IT security efforts and enhance your brand's durability.
Our cyber security recruitment specialists are here to help connect you to industry experts who can keep your business operations secure in the cloud whilst allowing you to harness the benefits of cloud computing. Get in touch with a member of our team and discover how we can take your organisation to new heights.