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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.

Threat No. 5: Account hijacking

Phishing, fraud, and software exploits are still successful, and cloud services add a new dimension to the threat because attackers can eavesdrop on activities, manipulate transactions, and modify data. Attackers may also be able to use the cloud application to launch other attacks.

Common defense-in-depth protection strategies can contain the damage incurred by a breach. Organizations should prohibit the sharing of account credentials between users and services, as well as enable multifactor authentication schemes where available. Accounts, even service accounts, should be monitored so that every transaction can be traced to a human owner. The key is to protect account credentials from being stolen, the CSA says.

Threat No. 6: Malicious insiders

The insider threat has many faces: a current or former employee, a system administrator, a contractor, or a business partner. The malicious agenda ranges from data theft to revenge. In a cloud scenario, a hellbent insider can destroy whole infrastructures or manipulate data. Systems that depend solely on the cloud service provider for security, such as encryption, are at greatest risk.

The CSA recommends that organizations control the encryption process and keys, segregating duties and minimizing access given to users. Effective logging, monitoring, and auditing administrator activities are also critical.

As the CSA notes, it's easy to misconstrue a bungling attempt to perform a routine job as "malicious" insider activity. An example would be an administrator who accidentally copies a sensitive customer database to a publicly accessible server. Proper training and management to prevent such mistakes becomes more critical in the cloud, due to greater potential exposure.

Threat No. 7: The APT parasite

The CSA aptly calls advanced persistent threats (APTs) “parasitical” forms of attack. APTs infiltrate systems to establish a foothold, then stealthily exfiltrate data and intellectual property over an extended period of time.

APTs typically move laterally through the network and blend in with normal traffic, so they're difficult to detect. The major cloud providers apply advanced techniques to prevent APTs from infiltrating their infrastructure, but customers need to be as diligent in detecting APT compromises in cloud accounts as they would in on-premises systems.

Common points of entry include spear phishing, direct attacks, USB drives preloaded with malware, and compromised third-party networks. In particular, the CSA recommends training users to recognize phishing techniques.

Regularly reinforced awareness programs keep users alert and less likely to be tricked into letting an APT into the network -- and IT departments need to stay informed of the latest advanced attacks. Advanced security controls, process management, incident response plans, and IT staff training all lead to increased security budgets. Organizations should weigh these costs against the potential economic damage inflicted by successful APT attacks.

 

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