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In the coming years, 59% of organizations plan to focus on cloud migration. By 2024, worldwide spending on cloud IT infrastructure will top $105.6 billion. Even the U.S. government has made cloud adoption a key tenet of its IT modernization goals with its “Cloud Smart” strategy. Clearly, both organizations and governments see the value of the cloud.
Nonetheless, organizations that adopt cloud technologies without knowing its inherent vulnerabilities face numerous technical, financial, compliance and legal risks. To get the maximum benefit (and ROI) from your cloud investment, understand these vulnerabilities, and then take steps to discover and fix them.
In this two-part article, we cover these aspects in detail. Read on to know more about the first aspect: common vulnerable areas in cloud infrastructure.
As the number of cloud-native applications and services increases, the cloud infrastructure is becoming increasingly complex and creating security vulnerabilities that expose your critical systems and data to bad actors.
For effective cloud vulnerability management, it’s essential to first understand the key vulnerability areas.
Most cloud service providers (CSP) work with a “shared responsibility model” for security, meaning that they’re only responsible for the security of the cloud. You are solely responsible for security in the cloud. The best way to understand your key vulnerability areas is with this shared responsibility model.
So if you’re using Platform as a Service (PaaS), the security of your applications, middleware and data is your responsibility. With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), you’re also responsible for securing your network and operating system.
Let’s start by looking at vulnerabilities in the top layer: data access.
Data is vitally important for modern organizations to operate, compete, grow and thrive. But the same data can also be their biggest vulnerability. When data – or to be more specific, data access – is not properly controlled, an intruder could find a way to manipulate or steal it. This could affect everything from the company’s business continuity and innovation capability, to competitiveness and even regulatory compliance.
Data vulnerabilities almost always crop up due to weak access management and control.
Strong access management ensures that users are allowed to perform only those tasks and access only those resources that they’re authorized to perform and access. This is especially important in the cloud, because users access your resources and data from any potentially insecure location or device.
Weak access management in the cloud leaves you vulnerable to credential theft, which enables bad actors to access – and potentially compromise – your sensitive assets, resources and data. Data access vulnerabilities can also arise when you leave your cloud resources open to the public, or when you don’t evoke access for individuals who no longer need it (e.g. ex-employees).
An application vulnerability refers to a flaw or weakness that could be exploited by a bad actor to compromise its security, and facilitate other/further cybercrimes against the application and its resources, creators or users.
With PaaS or IaaS, you’re probably writing application code – which tends to include vulnerabilities.In fact, code vulnerabilities have become so common that in 2020, 60% of codebases contained high-risk vulnerabilities, up from 49% in 2019. Equally alarming, 84% codebases contained vulnerable open source components (libraries, frameworks, code snippets, etc.), up from 75% in 2019. Vulnerabilities include SQL injection errors, cross-site scripting (XSS), buffer overflows, broken authentication, and sensitive file disclosure. Hackers exploit them because they present easy attack paths, and they can attack regardless of where the application is deployed – on a serverless platform, on a virtual machine, or on PaaS.
To strengthen application-layer security, understand and leverage the built-in protections offered by your framework. Next, identify and address high-risk vulnerabilities on priority.
With SaaS, your CSP is responsible for application security. However, there may still be some security-relevant configuration items that they may not take care of. Consider a web email system. Have you set up malware scanning? An anti-spam filter? Two-factor or multi-factor authentication? If not, you need to take action right-away.
Middleware acts as the “mediator” between network services and applications, allowing them to communicate and share data. But it is this same desirable feature that also gives rise to possible security vulnerabilities and opens the door to hackers. One big risk from middleware arises when it supports sensitive applications, or resides where sensitive data is processed or stored.
Your application code probably uses some middleware or platform components like application servers, databases, message queues, etc. Middleware vulnerabilities are as serious as open source vulnerabilities because they’re equally attractive to attackers who can easily exploit the same vulnerability to attack multiple applications simultaneously.
Protect yourself by regularly testing for and applying middleware updates, whether it’s running inside deployed containers or on virtual machines. This is vital if you’re running these components yourself. If your CSP provides these components, they will manage patching. However, the updates may not be pushed out automatically, so you should still test and deploy the updates yourself.
Also examine your middleware configuration. Does a web server allow users to view the password file? Can anyone manage the database? Does a Java application server reveal passwords when a bug is discovered? Review the configuration settings, and identify and implement the “correct” values or “benchmarks”. Manually check them regularly (“health checks”) to ensure there are no configuration drifts.
Today’s operating systems are highly complex and include many different functionalities. This complexity means it’s virtually impossible to create 100% error-free software. These errors create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals to launch malware, worms, viruses, and other kinds of malicious attacks. They may try to gain access to an asset the OS is installed on, and even attempt to partially or completely knock down business systems.
Understanding, managing and mitigating operating system vulnerabilities is vital with IaaS. Address them with regular patches and updates. Do this even if the CSP automatically updates all virtual machine images and hypervisors, and provides an up-to-date system when deploying. Also perform benchmarking when deploying the OS instance, and review it regularly.
Another crucial step: review the components in your running OS instance. They may contain bugs or configuration errors, creating vulnerabilities that increase your risk of cyber attacks and data breaches. Do you need all these components? If not, remove (“harden”) them.
Open or unresolved issues on the organization’s network (hardware, software or process) expose it to possible intrusion by malicious actors. Such vulnerabilities are constantly evolving, and creating newer pathways for attackers to breach the network. If left unchecked, they can open the door to more advanced attacks, and even lead to a total network shutdown that prevents authorized users from accessing it altogether.
Vulnerability management at the network layer is your responsibility with IaaS. This involves:
To manage the components (firewalls, routers, etc.), apply patch management and configuration management.
To manage and control communications, you can:
Without robust vulnerability management, attackers can access your systems and data through different layers of your application stack. In this article, we have discussed these layers to show you where you might be vulnerable. Understand these layers and identify your biggest risks to protect yourself.
In Part 2, we will cover the various vulnerability management tools you can deploy. Stay tuned.
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