Securing Cloud Applications

The shared, remote, invisible and 24/7 nature of cloud computing, coupled with the explosion of mobile devices, introduced a rash of new security breaches that threaten the gains made by adopting cloud technology.

Cloud services, by their very nature, enable employees to bypass organizationwide security policies and allow attackers to exploit new threat vectors to access corporate information. Cloud services can be commandeered to support malicious activities, such as using cloud resources to launch targeted APT-based attacks, send spam and phishing emails and host malicious content.

These aren’t the only concerns plaguing cloud users. The “2016 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Report” named four major trends taking hold across industries:

  1. A focus on high-value targets;
  2. Increased sophistication of attack techniques;
  3. Breaches without borders; and
  4. A need for security basics.

New Techniques and a New Focus

One recent example showcased all of these trends. In late 2014, security researchers identified a cloud-based attack framework used to launch highly targeted attacks aiming to gain access to devices owned by oil, finance and military executives, embassy personnel and government officials. Blue Coat called it The Inception Framework.

According to the researchers, attacks began by focusing on targets primarily in Russia before spreading worldwide. It proved to be masterful in identity masking and diversionary tactics. It also included malware targeting the major mobile device platforms, including Android and iOS. The preferred delivery method is phishing emails containing Trojanized documents.

Command-and-control traffic was performed indirectly via a Swedish cloud service, which hid the identity of the attacker and bypassed many detection mechanisms.

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What Can Organizations Do?

Enterprises must protect themselves from these burgeoning, sophisticated threats. Four simple steps can help organizations remain secure, especially with regard to their cloud applications and services.

1. Discover Rogue Web Usage and Analyze the Threat

Security teams need the right tools to gain visibility and understand the risk of employees’ use of cloud applications, both sanctioned and unknown. They also need insight into mobile usage. This alerts them when users with sensitive content are accessing cloud apps directly, outside of the view of perimeter security tools.

It’s key to have an early warning system in place to identify and understand emerging risks of cloud applications. The goal is to reduce the time from the emergence of a threat to the point at which you can act on it.

2. Get Access Under Control

Organizations must prioritize identity and access management. User permissions should be tied to job roles, and they need to be rescinded or re-evaluated when that user gets promoted or moves on. When left unmanaged, weak passwords and authentication combined with lax user permissions can result in data breaches.

Federated single sign-on (SSO) applications are a great alternative to getting your arms around cloud application access.

3. Decide Whether to Prevent All Attacks or Detect and Respond

With the increase in potential threat vectors posed by cloud and mobile users, enterprises should consider whether their focus needs to shift from finding otherwise unknown malware to monitoring and detecting all security breaches.

By gathering and analyzing a broader set of cloud activity, behavioral analytics can make a seemingly unrelated set of events into coherent trends and predictions. Activities that pose the greatest harm to an organization are then found and acted on quickly.

4. Good Old-Fashioned Diligence

Leveraging cloud applications creates a new array of risks. Organizations must survey these risks and evaluate possible actions when migrating to the cloud or starting from scratch.

Operational, financial and architectural issues are key whenever cloud services are being consumed. Investigation and adoption of cloud compliance models such as Cloud Security Alliance’s Cloud Controls Matrix offer a quick way to get your program off the ground.

Uncover the “mobile blind spot” to make cloud application access more secure

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