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The dirty dozen: 12 cloud security threats

Fahmida Y. Rashid | March 14, 2016
Introducing the 'Treacherous 12,' the top security threats organizations face when using cloud services.

Many developers make the mistake of embedding credentials and cryptographic keys in source code and leaving them in public-facing repositories such as GitHub. Keys need to be appropriately protected, and a well-secured public key infrastructure is necessary, the CSA said. They also need to be rotated periodically to make it harder for attackers to use keys they’ve obtained without authorization.

Organizations planning to federate identity with a cloud provider need to understand the security measures the provider uses to protect the identity platform. Centralizing identity into a single repository has its risks. Organizations need to weigh the trade-off of the convenience of centralizing identity against the risk of having that repository become an extremely high-value target for attackers.

Threat No. 3: Hacked interfaces and APIs

Practically every cloud service and application now offers APIs. IT teams use interfaces and APIs to manage and interact with cloud services, including those that offer cloud provisioning, management, orchestration, and monitoring.

The security and availability of cloud services -- from authentication and access control to encryption and activity monitoring -- depend on the security of the API. Risk increases with third parties that rely on APIs and build on these interfaces, as organizations may need to expose more services and credentials, the CSA warned. Weak interfaces and APIs expose organizations to security issues related to confidentiality, integrity, availability, and accountability.

APIs and interfaces tend to be the most exposed part of a system because they're usually accessible from the open Internet. The CSA recommends adequate controls as the “first line of defense and detection.” Threat modeling applications and systems, including data flows and architecture/design, become important parts of the development lifecycle. The CSA also recommends security-focused code reviews and rigorous penetration testing.

Threat No. 4: Exploited system vulnerabilities

System vulnerabilities, or exploitable bugs in programs, are not new, but they've become a bigger problem with the advent of multitenancy in cloud computing. Organizations share memory, databases, and other resources in close proximity to one another, creating new attack surfaces.

Fortunately, attacks on system vulnerabilities can be mitigated with “basic IT processes,” says the CSA. Best practices include regular vulnerability scanning, prompt patch management, and quick follow-up on reported system threats.

According to the CSA, the costs of mitigating system vulnerabilities “are relatively small compared to other IT expenditures.” The expense of putting IT processes in place to discover and repair vulnerabilities is small compared to the potential damage. Regulated industries need to patch as quickly as possible, preferably as part of an automated and recurring process, recommends the CSA. Change control processes that address emergency patching ensure that remediation activities are properly documented and reviewed by technical teams.


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