Ensuring cloud security is vital in protecting critical systems and data in virtual environments. Because anyone can access the cloud over the internet, protecting it differs from the way we secure on-premise data centers. In practice, the cloud-based IT systems are more exposed compared to in-house systems where IT teams have more and easier physical control and access.
Usually, the nonexistence or weak authentication to the cloud systems makes them more vulnerable and easy targets for cybercriminals. However, this does not have to be so, and you can improve security by avoiding the following mistakes.
Practices that compromise cloud security
Below are some of the practices that increase security risks in cloud environments. The list is not conclusive but includes some of the major components.
Insufficient or lack of proper authentication
Lack of- or weak authentication mechanism for the cloud systems makes it possible for cybercriminals to impersonate legitimate users. This allows unauthorized access to the system by malicious actors who can now proceed with their criminal activities such as spreading malware, ransomware, stealing sensitive business or private data, blocking critical services, etc.
Sharing of access credentials
While using a single account to access cloud resources looks like a good idea, it has several security risks. Sometimes, the account may have elevated privileges that allow users to perform administrative tasks. With multiple users using the same account to login in, you cannot track who accessed which resource and what they did. Internal malicious users can also take advantage of this and compromise the systems or share the credential with people outside the organization.
Using hardcoded accounts
Use of hardcoded, embedded or unknown accounts by vendors increases the attack surface on your cloud systems. While it eases account management, it has several security risks and is a bad practice. Usually, the plain text account credentials are embedded into the source code. This practice allows administrators to use the hardcoded account across many similar systems, appliances, applications or devices. These are usually found in network routers and switches, IoT devices, medical devices, local and cloud-based applications, printers, DevOps tools, etc.
Although it eases the user account management and especially when there are many devices it is in itself a big security risk. Since the passwords are in plain text and not encrypted, it is very easy to hack. Also, most of these like the routers have default usernames and passwords that usually public. Some of the notable high profile attacks due to hardcoded credentials include the Mirai Attack and Uber Breach.
Using bad key management practices that compromise cloud security
Storing the keys for cloud APIs and the administration of the various virtual components in insecure places such as on desktop computers or scripts is risky and should be avoided at all costs.
Practices that improve cloud security
To address the issues mentioned above, here are the remedies or practices they will reduce the risks enhance cloud security.
Add a strong authentication mechanism
In addition to the passwords, one of the best and effective practices is to add a multiple factor authentication. In most cases the two-factor authentication is sufficient. This requires that a user, in addition to providing a password, also supplies another authorization code sent to a physical device such as a mobile phone which they own. This prevents the probability of someone with just a password from gaining access.
Create individual user accounts and passwords
Avoid using a shared account and ensure that users access the cloud using their unique personal accounts and credentials. This will require a centralized or unified account management system, but it eliminates a wide range of security risks and blame games.
Avoid using hardcoded credentials
Avoid systems and vendors who insist on using hardcoded credentials. The best option is to stop using the defaults and add a secure account that criminals cannot compromise and force all vendors to stop using the hardcoded credentials. Perform regular updates to ensure that the appliances, applications, devices, and systems are running the latest updates and always patched to reduce the security vulnerabilities.
You may also need to use third-party privileged password management software to discover all hardcoded credentials and force associated applications to request the use of passwords from a centralized password safe system. Such a credential management tool will usually enforce password best practices such as rotation, length, and uniqueness.
Enforce the least privilege principle
Avoid running applications with privileged accounts such as an administrator or superuser. This entails enforcing granting users the minimal level of rights that allow them to perform their duties or roles without any restrictions. The users will only have the rights they require but not anything more that they may misuse or never use.
Securing cloud environments requires protecting the systems, accounts, and privileges in addition to using security best practices. It may differ from one organization to the other but you can ensure its security by using practices that reduce the exposure and attack surface.