Top 5 Threats & Vulnerabilities in Cloud Computing

Amit Sheps
June 20, 2024

Recent years have seen a major increase in the amount of sensitive data organizations store in the cloud. Three-quarters of businesses say that 40 percent or more of their cloud data is sensitive, according to Thales. Meanwhile, IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2024 reports that data theft and leaks are the most common consequences of cyberattacks as of 2024.

Put these trends together, and the takeaway is clear: Cloud environments are prime targets for attackers. By extension, defending against vulnerabilities in cloud computing is one of the most important steps organizations can take today to protect their data.

With that reality in mind, this article explains what the most common types of cloud computing vulnerabilities are, as well as how to protect against them.

In this article:

The top 5 cloud computing security vulnerabilities

Cloud computing vulnerabilities come in many forms. Most of them are not unique to the cloud – they could exist on-prem as well – but many are more prevalent in the cloud due to factors like the complexity of cloud services (which makes it easy to make a configuration mistake) and the design of cloud workloads (which make heavy use of resources like APIs, which often come under attack).

Here’s a look at the most common cloud computing vulnerabilities to watch out for.

#1. Misconfigurations

A full 80 percent of security exposures result from misconfigurations – meaning flaws in the way infrastructure, services, or applications are configured.

It’s not difficult to understand why misconfigurations are such a common type of cloud vulnerability. A modern enterprise cloud environment could be home to hundreds of apps managed by hundreds of individuals. With so many resources and users to manage, it’s trivially easy to make a mistake such as giving the wrong user access to a sensitive cloud resource – or forgetting to revoke a user’s access when his or her role changes and the access is no longer necessary.

Attackers can take advantage of misconfigurations by breaking into user accounts with excess permissions and using them to steal data. And in some cases, misconfigurations (such as an object storage bucket that an engineer accidentally configures to be readable by anyone on the Internet) can expose data by making it accessible anonymously, without requiring attackers to compromise accounts at all.

#2. Access credential theft

Even when cloud services are properly configured, stolen access credentials can become a way for attackers to compromise resources. This type of attack – which accounted for nearly one-third of all cyberattacks in 2023, according to IBM’s Threat Intelligence Index – typically results from a practice known as credential harvesting, in which threat actors steal legitimate passwords, and then use them to break into accounts.

#3. Phishing

Phishing is the first step in more than 90 percent of cyberattacks. And while phishing is not a threat that is unique to the cloud, it can be a great way for threat actors to user accounts as a way of accessing sensitive cloud resources.

For example, imagine a threat actor who, posing as IT support staff, sends an email to a sales representative that includes a password reset link. If the salesperson clicks the link, they are redirected to a malicious site that asks for their original password. If they enter it, the attacker would be able to log into any cloud-based sales systems that the salesperson can access.

#4. API attacks

Attacks that target vulnerabilities in APIs have surged in frequency, and this is likely due to the increasing use of APIs in recent years to connect cloud-based applications. Today, a single application may expose multiple services through APIs. If attackers can find a weakness in one of those APIs – such as failure by the API to validate client identities properly – they can abuse it to exfiltrate sensitive data or, in extreme cases, take control of applications.

In addition, APIs have become a common target for threat actors seeking to launch Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks. This type of API attack typically involves overwhelming an application with a flood of illegitimate API requests. If the app tries to process the requests, and no rate-limiting controls are in place, it may crash, disrupting any business operations that depend on it.

#5. Shadow IT

One of the great benefits of the cloud is that users can easily launch virtual machines, databases, storage resources, and more with just a few clicks or commands.

However, this convenience can become a security risk in the event that users create unauthorized cloud resources. Such resources can become what is known as shadow IT, meaning IT resources that should not exist. Shadow IT poses a security risk because unauthorized resources are often not properly secured or monitored, making them an easy target that threat actors can exploit to break into a cloud environment.

How to mitigate cloud computing threats and vulnerabilities

Because there are so many different types of cloud security threats and vulnerabilities, there is no simple way to protect against all of them. Instead, organizations must deploy a comprehensive set of defenses that maximizes their chance of detecting and remediating cloud security risks of all types. This includes capabilities such as:

  • Scanning cloud security configurations to detect risky settings.
  • Monitoring for unusual behavior in cloud environments that could tip organizations off to an intrusion attempt or breach.
  • Protecting apps in runtime environments against threats such as code injection and API attacks.
  • Monitoring for unauthorized shadow IT resources that may expose cloud environments to attack.

CNAPP – Aqua Runtime protection, CSPM, IAM

Delivering these capabilities is where solutions like Aqua’s Cloud Native Security Platform come in. As a holistic Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP), Aqua provides Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) to detect risks like cloud security misconfigurations, Identity and Access Management (IAM) security to protect against insecure access control settings, and runtime security to identify threats in live environments.

With this comprehensive suite of defenses, businesses can mitigate the top cloud security threats they face today, as well as new risks that may emerge in the future.

Amit Sheps
Amit is the Director of Technical Product Marketing at Aqua. With an illustrious career spanning renowned companies such as CyberX (acquired by Microsoft) and F5, he has played an instrumental role in fortifying manufacturing floors and telecom networks. Focused on product management and marketing, Amit's expertise lies in the art of transforming applications into cloud-native powerhouses. Amit is an avid runner who relishes the tranquility of early morning runs. You may very well spot him traversing the urban landscape, reveling in the quietude of the city streets before the world awakes.