Misconfigured Cloud Applications Are Putting Your Data At Risk

As more and more organisations continue to move their systems and applications to the cloud in 2023, cybercriminals everywhere hear the sound of opportunity knocking. They know that as they hunt for vulnerable systems, this increases their chances of coming across a cloud application that has been left exposed inadvertently due to misconfiguration.

The result: an open door to valuable company data including client and employee personal information, financial data, supplier agreements, et cetera. 

With cloud misconfiguration still being considered one of the biggest threats to cloud security, if not the biggest, organisations need to revisit their cloud adoption strategies and ensure their sensitive information is properly protected by prioritising cloud security.

Time To Ditch The Default

So, how do these misconfigurations occur in the first place?

There are all kinds of reasons. Some of these cloud applications are being rolled out to serve the needs of a specific department or team. Therefore, the priority is more on the business issue it is trying to resolve than the need to integrate and interact with internal systems and endpoints securely. So, to speed up the adoption and solve the issue for that department or team, the application is rolled-out with default settings which may seem sufficient at that time.

However, default settings tend to be too open and could be easily exploited by attackers. For instance, leaving a system account with a default password.

Another issue is the inconsistent approach to configuring cloud applications. Changes are made on an ad-hoc basis and not necessarily replicated across all applications and systems. This makes it more complicated when trying to fix configuration issues, and can expose data stored in these systems to breaches.

The lesson here? IT should be brought in early, even before any new cloud application is selected, to ensure the application is tested and meets the requirements of the configuration checklist defined by the organisation. A centralised approach is also necessary to ensure changes to configurations are carried out consistently across all cloud systems and properly documented.

Cloud Security Is A Shared Responsibility

The tendency to opt for default settings is closely intertwined with another important factor that can cause security gaps in cloud services: a lack of awareness that security is a responsibility shared by many parties - including the customer themselves. 

When it comes to cloud applications, there’s no such thing as “security that is 100% handled by the vendor.”

The service provider that provides the infrastructure - think here of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud - is responsible for delivering a certain foundational level of security. On top of that service provider, the cloud vendor who delivers the specific application that the organisation is using, is responsible for another layer of security. But the final piece of the security puzzle is the customer.

Assuming that “it’s in the cloud, it must be protected”, it’s the wrong assumption. In fact, the customer needs to play a big part by determining which users get to access which data, what level of privileges should they have, and so on – the vendor can’t handle that aspect.

That’s why it’s critical for organisations to understand the Shared Responsibility Model, and for all key internal and external stakeholders to be clear about their roles and responsibilities.

Avoid The Gaps

Cloud adoption will only continue to gain momentum in the year ahead, which is all the more reason to ensure that cyber criminals aren’t provided with any low hanging fruit due to misconfigured cloud systems. Unfortunately, it is a matter of “when” and not “if” an organisation will be targeted by cyber criminals. So, preparation is key.

Auditing cloud applications and their configurations, as well as confirming that all parties are clear about their shared responsibilities can make a world of difference in ensuring that organisations are able to keep their sensitive data safe and out of the hands of bad actors.

Manuel Sanchez is an Information Security & Compliance Specialist at iManage

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