Misconfigurations: A Hidden but Preventable Threat to Cloud Data

January 15, 2021
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3 min read

Working in the cloud has many advantages. But to handle your information safely, you should know how to defend against the common problem of misconfigurations leaving cloud data open to thieves. 

What are the Benefits of Cloud Computing?

Many groups are expanding their use of the cloud. In November 2019, Gartner announced its prediction that the worldwide public cloud service market would grow 17% to $266.4 billion by the end of 2020. It went on to forecast this market would continue to gain steam and reach $354.6 billion over the next couple of years.

Gartner’s estimates reflect the benefits of cloud computing. Those who migrate to the cloud can save money by not needing to purchase more equipment for supporting their ever-growing IT systems. In addition, it enables organizations to scale up their systems and grant workers remote access easily.

That said, Gartner’s suggestions collide with an important caveat for cloud data: misconfiguration events. Here, discover what cloud misconfigurations are and see why they count as a threat. We’ll also provide tips on how you can harden your security in the cloud.

What Does Misconfiguration Mean for Your Cloud Data?

Cloud misconfigurations come about when a user or team specifies settings that fail to provide adequate security for their cloud data. In the absence of strong security measures, attackers can leverage those misconfigurations in an effort to steal cloud data.

These types of security misconfigurations may take the form of organizations allowing unrestricted outbound access by accident. This enables all applications and servers to communicate with one another — even those that don’t require that privilege. Therefore, digital attackers can abuse that misconfiguration to view their target’s network and move laterally throughout the network once they’ve established a foothold and steal cloud data.

Similar threats result from open access to non-HTTP/HTTPS ports and open Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) access. In the former, malicious actors can use that access to conduct brute force attacks in an attempt to gain access to cloud data. As for the latter, they can use the ICMP Echo diagnostic tool to check out a target’s network or even launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack by flooding a server with pings.

Cloud Misconfigurations in Context

Misconfigurations in the cloud aren’t rare events. A survey from Fugue found that every organization they surveyed running within the cloud had seen a misconfiguration incident at some point in the past. Most (73%) admitted to having over 10 misconfiguration incidents a day, followed by more than 100 (36%) and more than 500 (10%). The remaining three percent had no idea what their misconfiguration rate was.

The truth is, misconfigurations are not always easy to detect. Indeed, McAfee learned in a separate survey that just 1% of internet-as-a-service misconfigurations are reported. This suggests that many cloud users could be leaking data without even knowing it.

And misconfigurations can produce hefty price tags. DivvyCloud found they were the primary cause of 198 separate cloud breaches between 2018 and 2019. Those incidents exposed more than 33 billion records and cost companies a combined loss of $5 trillion.

Defending Your Cloud Data Against Misconfigurations

To enhance cloud protection strategies, defend yourself against cloud misconfigurations. A critical part of this is having the right tools that apply security controls to cloud data in particular. First, consider creating a secure configuration management (SCM) program. With this, you can create secure baselines for cloud data and monitor for problems.

But, don’t stop there. To be truly protected, invest in network monitoring tools capable of scanning the network for suspicious activity. A strange event in the cloud environment could be evidence of a malicious actor using a misconfiguration to their advantage. Network monitoring tools with threat intelligence streams can also help keep cloud data safe.

David Bisson
Contributing Editor

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Trip...
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