Cloud Application Security: Top 10 Threats and How to Stop Them

Application security in the cloud differs from securing on-premises applications, and introduces new challenges, over and above traditional application security concerns.

What Is Cloud Application Security?

The goal of the application security is to prevent common threats like code injections, supply chain attacks and session hijacking, to ensure application uptime, protect users and stop data theft. Application security involves the implementation of several security measures and tools that protect applications during the entire development lifecycle, including design, testing, and deployment.

Application security in the cloud differs from securing on-premises applications, and introduces new challenges, over and above traditional application security concerns. 

Cloud environments are distributed and shared by nature, and the cloud provider is typically responsible for the security and maintenance of the underlying infrastructure. Teams developing and operating cloud native applications must address security challenges including secure access and authorization across multiple devices and users, misconfiguration of cloud resources, securing data in transit, and more.

In this article, you will learn:

Cloud App Security: Importance and Benefits 

Cloud app security is important because it helps protect sensitive data and applications from cyber threats that can lead to breaches, data loss, and other negative consequences. With more and more organizations moving their data and applications to the cloud, it is essential to ensure that these assets are secure.

The benefits of cloud app security include:

  • Increased protection: Cloud app security measures such as encryption, identity and access management (IAM), and network security can help protect against cyber threats and unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Compliance: Many industries and organizations are required to comply with various regulations and standards, such as HIPAA, SOC 2, and PCI DSS. Cloud app security can help organizations meet these requirements and avoid costly fines.
  • Improved performance: Cloud app security measures can help optimize the performance of cloud applications by reducing the risk of breaches, which can cause slowdowns or outages.
  • Cost savings: Implementing cloud app security measures can help reduce the risk of data breaches and other cyber incidents, which can save organizations significant costs in terms of lost revenue, reputational damage, and recovery expenses.
  • Better insights: Cloud app security solutions can provide organizations with visibility into their cloud environments, which can help them identify security risks and take proactive measures to mitigate them.

9 Cloud Application Security Threats

Here are some of the main threats facing cloud-based applications:

  1. Hypervisor vulnerabilities – cloud provider infrastructure could have vulnerabilities, which can be highly severe due to the central role of hypervisors in cloud systems. Cloud providers regularly scan hypervisor code, subject hypervisors to fuzz testing, and closely monitor hypervisor logs to prevent exploitation.
  2. Multi-tenant vulnerabilities – cloud infrastructure shares hardware and software resources between multiple “tenants”. Potential points of weakness in the network, and imperfect logical isolation between tenants, might allow attackers who compromise one tenant’s cloud environment to move laterally and gain access to other tenants.
  3. Cloud misconfiguration – configuration errors, oversights, or misconfiguration intentionally performed by malicious insiders can put cloud-based systems at risk. Applications, cloud resources such as compute instances or storage buckets, and supporting systems such as access controls, secrets management, network policies and data encryption, are all at risk of misconfiguration. 
  4. Exposure of secrets – applications, scripts, automated tools, and other machine identities often rely on privileged credentials called “secrets”, such as passwords, certificates, API keys, and SSH keys. Once secrets are exposed, attackers or unauthorized users can gain access to protected services and resources.
  5. Unsecured APIs – cloud environments provide APIs that enable extensive automation of infrastructure and application processes. Unsecured APIs represent a major risk, because they are typically exposed to public networks, and can allow attackers to shut down resources, turn off security measures like encryption, and grant access to unauthorized parties. 
  6. Software vulnerabilities – modern software applications can have thousands of components and dependencies, many of them open source. Software with untested components may contain severe vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers. Supply chains could also contain zero day vulnerabilities which are not yet known to security researchers and software vendors. 
  7. Bots and automated attacks – threat actors use bots and automated scanners to perform various malicious activities, from scanning for known vulnerabilities in exposed services, to cracking passwords, and launching massive attacks attempting to shut down entire systems. These automated attacks often target cloud services and web-facing applications. 
  8. Data sharing – cloud apps make it easy to share data using URLs. This functionality helps streamline enterprise collaboration, but it also exposes digital assets to greater risks, potentially allowing unauthorized or malicious users to access this data. 
  9. Denial of Service (DoS) attacks – this technology enables threat actors to overwhelm a website, cloud app, or an entire network with requests for service. As a result, the targeted app can slow down or shut down entirely. Attackers have been known to target not only individual apps but also public cloud services.

Learn more about cloud misconfiguration in our white papers:

Related content: read our guide to microservices security

What Cloud Application Security Options Are Available?

Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)

The downside of using cloud services is that you cannot gain access to all infrastructure layers. This means you do not have visibility or control over all of your assets. A CASB, which is a software component that enforces policies, helps solve this problem.

CASBs sit between the infrastructure of the cloud vendor and the cloud consumer, and enforce policies for access and data permissions. You can deploy CASBs in the cloud or on-premises or both, and enforce multiple types of policies. 

For example, you can enforce security policies such as authorization and authentication, encryption and tokenization, logging and credential mapping, as well as malware detection and prevention.

Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)

A majority of organizations make some use of the cloud, often combining on-premises and cloud resources. In addition, many organizations are trying to prevent vendor lock-in and minimize costs by leveraging more than one cloud offering, resulting in hybrid or multi-cloud environments.

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPPs) help organizations protect complex cloud environments by consistently securing and managing workloads across clouds. These tools centralize management and security policy definition, maintain visibility across environments, and often provide extended security controls. Common capabilities of CWPP systems include system integrity monitoring, vulnerability management, system hardening, and host-based segmentation. 

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

To effectively protect multi-cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) environments – especially cloud-hosted Kubernetes for containerized applications – organizations require consolidated visibility and the ability to enforce consistent security and compliance controls. CSPM solutions help organizations by scanning cloud configuration settings and access controls, and continuously monitoring these settings and controls for cloud security risks. 

A CSPM can log, detect, and report cloud issues, such as cloud service configurations, security settings, compliance, and cloud governance. Additionally, CSPM tools offer capabilities such as monitoring and analytics, inventory and asset classification, as well as cost management and resource organization.

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)

CIEM is a new category introduced by Gartner in the 2020 Cloud Security Hype Cycle. CIEM solutions enable implementation, enforcement and best practices for cloud provider Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools, which are becoming increasingly complex and dynamic. 

CIEM solutions provide organizations with identity and access governance controls—designed to reduce excessive cloud infrastructure entitlement and enforce least privilege access controls. They can also streamline controls for least-privileged access implemented across dynamic and distributed cloud environments.

Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP)

CNAPP technology is another new category introduced by Gartner. This category comprises an integrated toolset – incorporating CSPM, CWPP, and CIEM – to provide full data and control plane visibility. The goal here is to holistically protect cloud-native applications, including infrastructure components like virtual machines (VMs), serverless functions, and containers. CNAPPs introduce visibility into the complex ecosystem of clouds, reduce complexities, and prevent siloed enforcement.

Cloud Application Security Best Practices

Discover and Assess Cloud Apps

Every application or workload you run on the cloud increases the attack surface and represents a potential point of entry for attackers. It is critical to maintain an inventory of all cloud applications used by your organization. 

Once you have a list of cloud applications, assess them by identifying their security features and known vulnerabilities, comparing them to compliance requirements and your security policies, prioritizing and remediating issues. Follow the same process for new applications deployed in the cloud.

Implement and Benchmark a Cloud Security Framework

Cloud security frameworks provide best practices and practical tips designed to help organizations manage security risks in cloud environments. For example the Center for Internet Security (CIS) provides security benchmarks with detailed best practices for all major cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, and Alibaba Cloud.

Cloud Security Architecture

To ensure your infrastructure is secure, you can design a cloud security architecture that outlines security configurations, policies, and privileges. Ideally, you should create this design before migrating to the cloud, and it should encompass all aspects, including development, operations, deployment, and upgrades. 

Your cloud security architecture should address several critical aspects of the infrastructure, including identity and access management, data protection, monitoring and visibility, threat detection, cloud governance, compliance with relevant regulations, and security measures set in place for physical components of the infrastructure.

Apply Cloud Governance Policies

Apply consistent policies ensuring governance and security across all cloud assets: 

  • Define how cloud systems should be hardened, including virtual machines, containers and repositories
  • Define which users are allowed to access which applications and enforce these restrictions with identity and access management (IAM) services
  • Enforce the use of strong authentication
  • Monitor usage of and access to applications, detect and respond to violations of policies
The Cloud Native Experts
"The Cloud Native Experts" at Aqua Security specialize in cloud technology and cybersecurity. They focus on advancing cloud-native applications, offering insights into containers, Kubernetes, and cloud infrastructure. Their work revolves around enhancing security in cloud environments and developing solutions to new challenges.