We’re now fully in the cloud computing era of life.

We use cloud or cloud services to facilitate every interaction in our lives, entrenching a reliance on cloud computing in our societal fabric on a minute-by-minute basis, as we use our phones for directions, send emails, or even scroll through Instagram.

An increased reliance on cloud computing, especially in the business sector, means an increased possibility for hackers, scammers, phishers, and any other number of bad actors to gain access to the most valuable thing in your organization: your data.

With that in mind, let’s take a deep look at network security in the age of cloud computing: how it’s evolved, what you need to pay attention to, and what to look out for in the near future as cloud computing becomes more complex.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is the delivery of various computing services, such as storage, software, databases, and networking, over the internet. Instead of buying and maintaining physical servers or data centers, users can rent these services based on their needs, often paying only for what they use. There are three main types of cloud services:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Renting IT infrastructure like servers and storage. You lease the ability to use remote servers, basically.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Provides tools and services for developers to build and deploy applications.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Using software applications over the internet without needing to install them on individual devices.

This approach offers flexibility, cost savings, and the ability to scale services up or down easily. In essence, cloud computing simplifies IT management, reduces costs, and allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing needs by reducing financial commitments by scaling services up or down as needed.

While this digital evolution has definitely had its benefits for both businesses and individuals, the shift to the cloud has necessitated a rethinking of traditional security paradigms. No longer can IT departments solely rely on localized networks and firewalls. With data, applications, and infrastructure now provided over the internet, there’s an increased risk of data exposure during transmission.

Cloud ≠ Complete Security

A prevalent misconception in the digital realm is that migrating to the cloud is synonymous with guaranteed security. After all, if you’re paying for a service, shouldn’t your provider be in control of handling your security as well?

While cloud providers do offer a suite of robust security features, the onus of securing data, especially at the network level, remains a shared responsibility between both provider and client. As we pointed out in our recent blog, 98% of cyber attacks involve social engineering – which means your employees are often the ones responsible for a breach.

Furthermore, most cloud providers are not security providers. Managed service security providers are the ones who specialize in cloud-based security services, not cloud providers like Amazon or Microsoft.

Hacking Threats and Cloud Computing

One constant in technology (and in life) is that as tech evolves and grows more complex, so do the bad actors who look for exploits in those systems.

As we grow more reliant on increasingly complex cloud computing to efficiently meet our computing needs, so too will bad actors find new and better ways to hack into your IT and take your data ransom.

For example, one increasingly common hack we’re seeing in cloud computing is session hijacking. In this type of attack, hackers exploit a valid computer session to gain unauthorized access to cloud server resources. A classic instance of this involves the theft of the authentication cookie used during a valid session.

Once they have the data necessary to gain access to your internal IT, it’s over. The carjacker has your keys and they are now the ones driving the vehicle that is your business.

Here’s some of the most common attacks in cloud computing environments. As always, it’s critical that you not only gain an understanding of these types of attacks but that you (or someone you’ve hired) stay up to date with cloud computing trends to truly keep your business safe.

  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: Intercepting and potentially altering communication between two parties without their knowledge. Usually used to gain data for further attacks, like a phishing attack.
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS): Overwhelming a system, network, or service with traffic, causing it to become slow or unavailable. DDoS attacks are some of the most basic – and infamous – types of cyberattacks.
  • Phishing: Deceptive attempts, often via email, to obtain sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy entity. Usually, another attack is used first to gain the necessary sensitive data to perpetrate a phishing attack.
  • Malware Injection: Uploading malicious software into the cloud to compromise data or services. This is rarely done on your side of things, but it can be done internally, so pay attention!
  • API Vulnerabilities: Exploiting weak or poorly secured Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that are used to interact with cloud services.
  • Side-Channel Attacks: Gaining information from the physical implementation of a system rather than weaknesses in the implemented algorithm itself.
  • Account Hijacking: Unauthorized access to cloud accounts, often due to stolen credentials or weak passwords.
  • Shared Technology Vulnerabilities: In a multi-tenant cloud environment, one user’s vulnerabilities can affect others. This is the tradeoff of cloud services – it opens you up to more vulnerabilities.

How To Protect Your Company’s Cloud

In order to truly lock down your company’s cloud computing footprint, it’s best to start comprehensively. As always, taking stock of your company’s digital footprint, and understanding all of the potential points of failure is the key first step, followed by the creation and execution of a comprehensive plan for your company.

  1. Break down your company’s cloud-based IT exposure. Split it up into as small of units as possible. At the very least, separate your cloud usage into IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, so you can work from there to make more actionable changes.
  2. Create a detailed and comprehensive plan for each segment of your cloud-based IT. How will you protect your company’s cloud over time? Develop a detailed protocol for your organization to follow.
  3. Put your plan into place. Follow your plan to a T and ensure your employees are staying to the task with constant training and quarterly checks.

Now that you have the basic idea, here’s how you can generally tighten your three key areas of enterprise-level cloud computing.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

  • Network Segmentation: Segmenting the network reduces potential attack vectors, ensuring that even if one segment is compromised, others remain secure. You can think of this as information siloing.
  • Monitoring: 24/7 real-time monitoring can save you literal millions. Incorporate Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) for real-time threat detection and mitigation, because every minute costs businesses roughly $6,000 – and up to $1 million per hour!
  • Firewalls: An obvious one, but a still important one. It’s a bit different for your cloud as you deploy virtual web application firewalls for malware protection and virtual network-based firewalls for perimeter protection.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

  • IP Restrictions: Limit access based on IP addresses to ensure only authorized entities can access resources. Whenever you lose an employee or a contractor, make sure you strip their permissions.
  • Logging: Maintain a comprehensive record of all activities, aiding in audits and threat detection. Everything counts and everything can help you recover data.
  • API Gateways: Control access to applications, ensuring that only authorized requests are processed. This can be achieved by IT monitoring and support.
  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB): A pivotal tool that manages and enforces security policies on-site. It basically acts as a middleman between your company and the cloud, ensuring quarantine in the case of a breach on either end.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

In SaaS, both software and data reside in the cloud, accessible via a browser, so there’s not really much you can do on your end to ensure maximum security besides the obvious ones.

Security is often provided by the Cloud Service Provider (CSP) and includes measures similar to PaaS. Additionally, a cloudVPN or VPN as a Service (VPNaaS) can be implemented to encrypt communications, ensuring secure access to cloud server applications. Again, this is usually obtained through your SaaS provider.

Multi-Cloud Deployments: Navigating Complex Waters

As tech evolves, so does our adoption of that tech – and a deeper understanding of best practices. Nowadays, you’re seeing a number of organizations switch to multi-cloud deployments as a way to create additional layers of security and redundancy.

However, balancing the additional security potential of multi-cloud deployment against the increased complexity of this arrangement is critical. Here’s some key areas to consider.

  • Vendor-Specific Security Protocols: Each cloud provider, be it AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud, has its own set of security protocols and tools. For instance, while AWS offers Amazon Inspector for automated security assessment, Azure provides Azure Security Center for unified security management. Navigating these tools and ensuring that they interoperate seamlessly is a challenge, but can also be a massive boon to your security if you double-dip.
  • Data Transfer Costs: Transferring data between cloud platforms can incur costs. For example, AWS charges for data transfer “out” from S3 to the internet or to other regions. Businesses need to be aware of these costs and factor them into their security strategies, especially when backups or redundant systems are hosted on different platforms.
  • Latency Issues: Using multiple cloud platforms can introduce latency, especially if data needs to be frequently transferred between them. For a real-time application, this can be problematic. Solutions like AWS Direct Connect or Azure ExpressRoute can help reduce network latency by establishing a dedicated network connection from the business to the cloud platform, but if you’re using multi-cloud, this is essentially useless.

When it comes to cloud computing, it’s important to understand not only the incredible benefit they can offer your business but also the costs of implementing it – especially when it comes to the potential threat of a data breach.

When configuring your business’ cloud computing blueprint, always make sure you have security in mind. When in doubt, call in an expert in cybersecurity who you can partner with to understand your business and its needs – and advocate for you when dealing with a vendor whose sole goal is to sell you the most product they can.

Additional Reading

Network Security in a Cloud Era – Cybersecurity Magazine
What is network security in the cloud computing era? – TechRadar
How to Attain Network Security in the Cloud & Beyond? – dinCloud
Cyber Security in a Cloud Computing Era – LinkedIn