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10 Top Cloud Security Risks and Challenges

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The greatest misconception about cloud security risks is that they’ll never happen to you. Regardless of the size of your company or the industry you’re in, you must be aware of the many security risks of using the cloud and how they can affect your operations.

While the growth of cloud technologies has been a net benefit for businesses and their customers, every cloud-based asset you adopt also represents a new threat vector that enterprising hackers can exploit.

On top of malicious cloud security risks, you also risk compliance issues, business continuity concerns, and accidental security risks. For instance, imagine what would happen if an employee accidentally deleted an important dataset of regulated information. Not only would you face a business disaster, but you might incur some serious regulatory fines in the process. 

To help you mitigate the security risks of cloud computing, we’ve outlined ten of the most prominent concerns and challenges you need to know about as you take steps to make your business more secure.

1. Cloud Compliance

In the realm of cloud security, compliance isn’t merely about ticking off boxes on your checklist.

Different sectors come with distinct sets of regulations for a reason. Whether that’s HIPAA rules or the GDPR guidelines that businesses in the European Union adhere to, each framework has specific provisions meant to keep your data and customers safe.

These regulations address a variety of important data management issues, such as maintaining consumer data confidentiality, preserving the integrity of the information you collect, and governing its availability and accessibility.

To illustrate the shared responsibility model, consider an analogy of leasing a building: In a residential setting, the tenant is typically responsible for the general upkeep of the interior, trash disposal, and any damage caused by guests.

The property owner, on the other hand, is responsible for maintaining the exterior and any building-wide systems, such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. In many cases, the owner may also be required to maintain the smoke detectors, door locks, security cameras, and alarms in order to be compliant with legislation or insurance.

If the tenant doesn’t honor their duties, they risk eviction. If the property owner doesn’t hold up their end of the agreement, they could face fines or business disruptions. The same basic premise applies to shared responsibility in cloud security.  

2. Shadow IT

While the term “shadow IT” may sound sneaky and malicious, it isn’t inherently bad. However, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous to your organization.

Shadow IT refers to any app, project, or digital endeavor your team embarks on without the formal approval of the IT department. Think of these plugins or other unauthorized tools as secret passageways that hackers can exploit.

Something as unassuming as downloading a third-party app or using unapproved API keys/authorization tokens can put your business at risk. While the employee may not mean the organization any harm, they are unwittingly creating a weakness that hackers could exploit. Your IT team can easily mitigate this risk — assuming they know about it.

The good news is this is a relatively easy fix. Clear security policies and employee education can help protect your business from shadow IT. 

3. Identity and Access Management

Hypothetically, you could stop cloud security risks by building an impenetrable wall around your digital infrastructure. There’s just one problem: your staff needs to access your cloud data and computing resources. In some instances, even customers may need access to your SaaS data; many SaaS applications have built-in automation functionalities that require access to your cloud resources. 

As you can imagine, access management is a monumental task. Some of the hurdles you’ll encounter during access management include updating non-compliant passwords, determining who needs high-risk permission access, and identifying over-permissioned accounts (accounts that can access too much). 

You must also ensure that you don’t have too many accounts with API access, as this can compromise the integrity of your cloud resources. Finally, you’ll need to be wary of integration accounts without IP restrictions, as these accounts could potentially access your network or SaaS applications from an unsecured IP.  

To solve these problems and others, you need a comprehensive identity and access management strategy that outlines what files and systems each role can interact with. 

4. Poor Understanding of the Shared Responsibility Model

Many organizations fail to include SaaS security in their cybersecurity program for one simple reason: they believe the SaaS provider will handle it. However, under the shared responsibility model, businesses are addressing data security risks within SaaS assets, even though the cloud applications are maintained by the SaaS provider. 

Therefore, the first step to better cloud security is realizing that it is your responsibility. Once you acknowledge this, you can invest in resources, technology, and training to bolster your cloud security posture. 

5. Cyberattacks

The digital realm is rife with potential threats. From distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to malicious ransomware that holds your data hostage, cyberattacks are always an anxiety-producing possibility. 

Zero-day exploits are particularly concerning cyberattacks that are just as clever (and dangerous) as they sound. During a zero-day exploit, hackers target vulnerabilities that software vendors haven’t even learned of yet. While software vendors constantly search for weaknesses and create patches, hackers sometimes beat them to it.

You must be perpetually prepared to respond to digital attacks. After all, while you can stop many cyberattacks, you can’t ward them all off. Instead, you should prepare for the inevitability that an attack will eventually be successful and have a plan in place for what you’ll do when it does. Focusing on threat response and recovery, business continuity planning, and employee training will help you minimize business disruption and downtime. 

Just remember that simply educating your team is not enough. You need to stress test them with regular training exercises and attack simulations so they know what to do when hackers strike. 

There’s no single solution for preventing cyberattacks. Rather, you must pair a multifaceted suite of technologies with proven best practices and — most importantly of all — a well-trained staff. The companies that win at cloud security are the ones that continuously work to improve their posture and equip their people to respond and recover from cyberattacks that target cloud assets. 

6. Insider Threats

Threats don’t always come in the form of an opportunistic hacker looking for ill-gotten gains. Sometimes, the culprit is someone within your organization. A disgruntled former worker, a staff member who’s struggling with financial issues, or even someone who makes an honest mistake can cause as much havoc as a skilled hacker. 

How? Simple — these individuals are already inside your firewalls and beyond your external monitoring solutions.

Once again, diligence plays a key role in mitigating insider threats. Mandating employee training and watching for unusual changes in staff behavior will help you stop insider threats in their tracks.

7. Poor Incident Response and Recovery

Few things are as alarming as the prospect of a data breach. It’s the digital equivalent of a bank heist. Whether hackers make off with intellectual property, financial records, or customer data, a breach can severely tarnish your reputation and have massive financial ramifications.

While it’s essential to focus on preventing and containing breaches, you should also be mindful of what happens if a breach should occur. In other words, how will you pick up the pieces and start fresh?

The best solution is a comprehensive data backup and recovery strategy that allows you to recoup lost or corrupted information and smoothly resume operations. 

8. Misconfiguration

Setting up cloud environments is complicated, to say the least. One wrong move or overlooked setting can spell absolute disaster. It’s similar to assembling a complex physical product, like an electric vehicle — every piece must be precisely installed and tuned appropriately.

Misconfigurations are particularly problematic in complex platforms like Salesforce and ServiceNow

Salesforce Experience Cloud, for example, integrates closely with Salesforce’s core CRM functionality and can expose sensitive data if not configured correctly. Inherent configuration challenges arise from the multiple layers of permissions and visibility settings. And when they’re not managed effectively, they may grant unintended access to unauthenticated users.

In ServiceNow, ServiceNow Widgets — which are modular and reusable components of the platform’s user interface — also come with their own set of configuration risks. If you don’t secure widgets correctly, they can become weak links that expose sensitive service management data. 

Redundancy is your greatest ally here. Check and recheck your configurations before going live. Periodically review your cloud assets' configurations to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently exposed yourself to a security threat.

9. Human Error

No matter how advanced your cloud computing environment becomes, human error remains a persistent threat. A mistyped command, misunderstood policy, or misconfigured setting can create a critical weakness in your digital security framework. The key is to have systems that account for and mitigate this fallibility.

Furthermore, you must provide your team with extensive cybersecurity training. Start with the basics, like identifying suspicious emails, and scale the scope of your training based on the needs of each team.

Naturally, your IT team needs more in-depth training than line-level staff. With that in mind, make sure each group receives timely, relevant, and easy-to-digest training. 

10. External Sharing of Data

Cloud technologies are designed to make data sharing easy. Many cloud technologies, including SaaS solutions, empower your organization to send and receive data with ease, thereby promoting better collaboration and communication with vendors, customers, and trade partners.

While easy data sharing is an asset, it also represents a serious cloud security challenge. The use of link-based sharing is particularly concerning, as it makes it harder to control access to the resource in question. 

Once again, employee training and education hold the key to mitigating this risk. A knowledgeable, well-trained staff will use caution when sharing cloud data and links. In addition to training your staff, you should also provide clear guidelines regarding when, how, and with whom data can be shared. 

Secure Your SaaS Data From a Variety of Threats 

When it comes to mitigating the security risks of cloud computing, there are several options available, including:

  • Cloud access security broker (CASB) 
  • Backup and recovery solutions
  • Antivirus software
  • SaaS security posture management (SSPM)

SSPMs monitor cloud applications that you deploy in a public cloud environment, keeping a close eye on the compliance and security posture of standard and customized cloud apps. Top SSPMs also offer cloud integration functionality and DevOps tools.

SSPMs like Own Secure integrate with cloud-based applications like Salesforce to provide control and visibility. Own Secure provides visibility into your app settings, generating a security score and notifying your team of any high-risk misconfigurations.

Strengthen Your Security Posture with Own

Don’t fall victim to human error, data breaches, data loss, or any other security risks associated with the cloud. Book a demo of Own today and start protecting your valuable cloud data.

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