How Secure Is Cloud Computing? 

Cloud computing refers to the technology of providing software and hardware services over the Internet. Cloud providers manage large data centers that store, manage and process data, allowing users to easily scale their current infrastructure.

Lena Fuks
January 17, 2024

Many of the security threats faced by traditional data centers extend to cloud computing environments. In both cases, cybercriminals aim to exploit vulnerabilities in software and hardware. However, cloud computing introduces another factor, because attackers can exploit technology and processes managed by either the cloud provider or the cloud customer. The responsibility for addressing and mitigating these risks are shared between the two parties. Understanding this relationship is critical to securing the cloud.

This is part of a series of articles about cloud security.

In this article:

Top 7 Risks of Cloud Computing

1. Lack of Visibility 

Shifting operations, assets, and workloads to the cloud means transferring the responsibility of managing certain systems and policies to a contracted cloud service provider (CSP). As a result, organizations lose visibility into some network operations, services, and resource usage and cost. 

Organizations must obtain visibility into their cloud services to ensure security, privacy, and adherence to organizational and regulatory requirements. It typically involves using additional tools for cloud security configuration monitoring and logging and network-based monitoring. Organizations should set up protocols up front with the assistance of the CSP to alleviate these concerns and ensure transparency.    

2. Cloud Misconfigurations

Threat actors can exploit system and network misconfigurations as entry points that potentially allow them to move laterally across the network and access confidential resources. Misconfigurations can occur due to overlooked system areas or improper security settings.

3. Data Loss

Organizations leverage backups as a defensive tactic against data loss. Cloud storage is highly resilient because vendors set up redundant servers and storage across several geographic locations. However, cloud storage and Software as a Service (SaaS) providers are increasingly targeted by ransomware attacks that compromise customer data.

4. Accidental Data Exposure 

Organizations must protect data privacy and confidentiality to ensure compliance with various regulations, including GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. Data protection regulations impose strict penalties for failing to secure data. Organizations also need to protect their own data to maintain a competitive advantage.

Placing data in the cloud offers great benefits but creates major security challenges for organizations. Unfortunately, many organizations migrate to the cloud without prior knowledge as to how to ensure they are using it securely, putting sensitive data at risk of exposure.

5. Identity Theft

Phishing attacks often use cloud environments and applications to launch attacks. The widespread use of cloud-based email, like G-Suite and Microsoft 365, and document sharing services, like Google Drive and Dropbox, has made email attachments and links a standard. 

Many employees are used to emails asking them to confirm account credentials before accessing a particular website or document. It enables cybercriminals to trick employees into divulging cloud credentials, making accidental exposure of credentials a major concern for many organizations.

6. Insecure Integration and APIs

APIs enable businesses and individuals to sync data, customize the cloud service experience, and automate data workflows between cloud systems. However, APIs that fail to encrypt data, enforce proper access control, and sanitize inputs appropriately can cause cross-system vulnerabilities. Organizations can minimize this risk using industry standard APIs that utilize proper authentication and authorization protocols. 

7. Data Sovereignty

Cloud providers typically utilize several geographically distributed data centers to improve the performance and availability of cloud-based resources. It also helps CSPs ensure they can maintain service level agreements (SLAs) during business-disrupting events like natural disasters or power outages.

Organizations that store data in the cloud do not know where this data is stored within the CSP’s array of data centers. Since data protection regulations like GDPR limit where EU citizens’ data can be sent, organizations using a cloud platform with data centers outside the approved areas risk regulatory non-compliance. Organizations should also consider jurisdictions when governing data. Each jurisdiction has different laws regarding data.

Cloud Security Best Practices 

Understand Your Shared Responsibility Model

When you work with a cloud service provider to move your systems and data to the cloud, you have a partnership with the cloud provider, and you share responsibility for your security implementation. It is important to see which security actions still exist and which ones are currently handled by providers. 

All cloud providers use a shared security responsibility model. Exact responsibilities vary between providers, but might include:

  • Segmentation and isolation of CPU, storage and memory between tenants
  • Protect hardware through software, hardware, and physical security controls
  • Rapid failover and high availability
  • Built-in backup, restore, and disaster recovery solutions

As a cloud customer, typically your responsibility is securing data and workloads. Make sure the shared responsibility model for your cloud provider is clear to you, and that you are doing your part to secure your workloads.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

The shared responsibility model (public cloud infrastructure model) requires that workloads, users, applications, and sensitive data all be protected by the cloud customer. CSPM tools help uncover security weaknesses and remediate them. CSPM helps you discover bugs and misconfigurations, understand security and policy violations through threat detection, and fix and patch issues before cyberattacks can occur.

CSPM solutions work automatically to continuously identify misconfigurations that can lead to data leaks and breaches. Automated detection of misconfigurations enables organizations to regularly make necessary fixes. It provides visibility into public cloud infrastructure, an environment usually abstracted to cloud customers. Using CSPM, organizations can finally locate cloud misconfigurations and apply fixes on time.

Set Up Backup and Recovery Solutions

Although many cloud services guarantee high availability and durability, these features do not protect you from data loss or unwanted changes. To ensure that your data is always recoverable, you should implement a backup and recovery solution. Backup solutions can protect against ransomware infections, accidental or malicious data deletion.

To keep your data accessible and recoverable, consider the following strategies:

  • Use incremental backups to conserve storage resources and limit the impact on system performance during backups. 
  • Implement the 3-2-1 rule by placing three backup copies in at least two locations, one of them physically distant from where real-time data is stored.
  • Infrequently used data, such as compliance data, should be archived to separate, lower cost storage.

Secure Your User Endpoints

Another element of cloud security best practices is securing user endpoints. Most users access the Cloud Service through a web browser. Therefore, it is important to deploy advanced client-side security to keep users’ browsers up-to-date and protect them from attacks.

You should also consider implementing an endpoint security solution to protect end-user devices. Users are increasingly accessing cloud services through non-company-owned devices, requiring a strategy that can accommodate non-managed endpoint devices.

Minimize the Amount of Data in Your Environment

Reducing the amount of data in your environment is a proven way to increase security while narrowing compliance with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. As data security regulations become more critical, organizations can reduce costs by improving security while narrowing compliance. Data discovery technologies can help organizations reduce the risk and compliance footprint by identifying sensitive data, removing it if not necessary for the organization, and ensuring it is appropriately secured.

Related content: Read our guide to cloud security solutions 

Cloud Native Security with Aqua

The Aqua Cloud Native Security Platform empowers you to unleash the full potential of your cloud native transformation and accelerate innovation with the confidence that your cloud native applications are secured from start to finish, at any scale.

Aqua’s platform provides prevention, detection, and response automation across the entire application lifecycle to secure the build, secure cloud infrastructure and secure running workloads across VMs, containers, and serverless functions wherever they are deployed, on any cloud.

Secure the cloud native build – shift left security to nip threats and vulnerabilities in the bud, empowering DevOps to detect issues early and fix them fast. Aqua scans artifacts for vulnerabilities, malware, secrets and other risks during development and staging. It allows you to set flexible, dynamic policies to control deployment into your runtime environments.

Secure cloud native infrastructure – Automate compliance and security posture of your public cloud IaaS and Kubernetes infrastructure according to best practices. Aqua checks your cloud services, Infrastructure-as-Code templates, and Kubernetes setup against best practices and standards, to ensure the infrastructure you run your applications on is securely configured and in compliance. 

Secure cloud native workloads – protect VM, container and serverless workloads using granular controls that provide real-time detection and granular response, only blocking the specific processes that violate police. Aqua leverages modern micro-services concepts to enforce immutability of your applications in runtime, establishing zero-trust networking, and detecting and stopping suspicious activities, including zero-day attacks.

Secure hybrid cloud infrastructure – apply cloud native security over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud deployments, with persistent controls that follow your workloads wherever they run.

Lena Fuks
Lena Fuks is a Product Marketing Manager at Aqua. With a background in public relations for technology companies, Lena now writes blogs, whitepapers, and articles to help people understand the value of Aqua. She is passionate about simplifying complex things and engaging with audiences through storytelling. In her free time, Lena enjoys working out and watching beautiful Mediterranean sunsets.