How to Address Cloud Misconfiguration-Caused Breaches

While eliminating misconfigurations may be nigh impossible, we can limit them and the potential damage they may cause.

Sam Bocetta

March 8, 2022

5 Min Read
How to Address Cloud Misconfiguration-Caused Breaches
(Source: Pixabay)

When preparing large-scale hacks and exploits, bad actors often rely upon human error, naivety, and carelessness - more than they do their own skill and cunning. The truth is that most companies have all the right security tools and resources to address most vulnerabilities in their security.

However, we’ve found that the unpredictable human element is the most difficult to manage. For instance, user misconfigurations remain the greatest threat to cloud security. However, there are ways you can deal with this threat. This guide will show you how to remediate and potentially mitigate cloud misconfiguration-based breaches as efficiently as possible.  

Understanding Cloud Misconfigurations

According to Neil MacDonald (analyst and vice president of Gartner): “Nearly all successful attacks on cloud services result from customer misconfiguration, mismanagement, and mistakes.” While it may sound accusatory, it’s accurate. There are not very many instances of breaches caused by vendor negligence. 

A cloud misconfiguration describes any improper implementation of cloud services that may undermine performance, security, or general reliability. Malicious actors can use these vulnerabilities to exploit misconfigured infrastructure and use it to leverage and launch multi-company cyberattacks.

Causes and examples of misconfigurations include:

  • Inexperienced users

  • Erroneous storage access settings

  • Lack of proper validation of credentials

  • Lax access restriction to workloads

  • Disabled logging and monitoring

Providing Ample Training and Education for Users

According to the AWS shared responsibility model, compliance and security are not the sole responsibility of the vendor or cloud security provider. Essentially, the customer plays a role as important as the provider’s in protecting their data and other digital assets. However, the AWS model of share responsibility is only one example. Typically, most cloud vendors subscribe to their own protocols and ethos regarding shared responsibility.

Thus, customers must be well-trained and security conscious. Again, unlike website vulnerabilities, most (if not all) breaches in cloud security are caused by errors on the client/customer side.

We’ve seen how mobile workforce infrastructure migration has increased network security risks for companies. Users/workers must be informed of the latest protocols and practices.

This process may mean altering their habits and having a basic understanding of how to operate cloud, network, and/or website monitoring tools. This knowledge will help them validate configurations. Furthermore, it will allow them to detect any faults or breaches that may result from misconfigurations.

Storage Access Misconfiguration

Leaving access to cloud objects used for data storage (such as S3) and exposing them to external actors is one of the most common mistakes. Alarming, some companies have been observed to leave some of these objects open to the public.

Cybercriminals will actively scan for exposed S3 buckets or public GitHub repositories to find company secrets and credentials. Thus, ensuring that your passwords, API Keys, and admin credentials are secure and encrypted has become increasingly crucial.

Address Any Monitoring Blind Spots

Cloud is essentially the foundation of remote work. Whether you’re accessing software-as-a-service products for programming or accounting, the benefits have been well documented. However, As companies and people integrate more cloud-provided services into their software stack, their security and configuration requirements change. There are a lot more moving parts to track.

Thus, it’s important to ensure that monitoring and logging are turned on and applied to the correct security group configuration. It would help if you kept a track record of when changes to your cloud settings were made and by whom. It will allow you to address any mistakes and refine your training for workers.

Upgrading Your Security

Another reason these misconfigurations occur is that companies fail to move from outdated security models and lack unified cloud visibility. Rapid changes to security and infrastructure may also leave users even more susceptible to making. For instance, multi-cloud environments may increase the likelihood of cloud misconfigurations occurring. 

Cloud adoption is still relatively new. As such, finding security resources or programs that can keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of modern cloud services is challenging. Most traditional on-premise security controls have been translated to the cloud infrastructure.

However, they can be insufficient because certain aspects of on-premises physical security simply don’t apply to cloud service security. For instance, gaining visibility across all accounts and all regions can be more difficult.

This is especially true if you have a large environment with multiple security tools for risk and compliance in different regions or departments. We suggest implementing a security service that combines artificial intelligence with network and file analysis. This solution should also provide you with dynamic logging and monitoring.

Limiting Misconfigurations

While eliminating misconfigurations may be nigh impossible (especially for large corporations with complex cloud assets), we can limit them and the potential damage they may cause. Nevertheless, ingraining a culture of security in your company is key. You can start by implementing a zero-trust environment where only the right actors can access your important cloud assets and their configuration data.

Many cloud service providers have built-in tools to address misconfigurations. They include features for logging, monitoring, access restriction, etc. Essentially, you can address some of the most common misconfiguration mistakes and prevent breaches by simply choosing a secure cloud vendor.  

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About the Author(s)

Sam Bocetta

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography.

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