To say that cloud security for cloud computing is gaining traction would be the understatement of our era. Whether in public clouds, private clouds, or hybrid scenarios – it seems like everyone is in the cloud. Healthcare providers, eCommerce, disaster recovery services, data storage . . . the types of cloud services available seem to cover every base. What would Darwin think about his “Survival of the Fittest” evolving from animal species to businesses who take advantage of the flexibility, elasticity, and cost-effectiveness of cloud computing?
But, there are dangers in the cloud computing jungle and cloud security measures must be put in place to eliminate and resolve them. According to the Cloud Security Alliance, three types of threats have worsened between 2010 and today.
- Data Breaches
- Data Loss
- Account or Service Traffic Hijacking
Let’s explore how proper cloud security can protect you from these top threats.
1. Data Breaches
The attack can originate from many sources:
- Malevolent hackers
- Fierce competitors
- Insiders: employees, subcontractor, vendors, etc.
Regardless of the origin, the attack must be stopped before it causes damage.
Of course, you must put in place cloud security measures like anti-virus, firewalls, strict password policies, and accurate logs. But hackers can be deviously conniving. In November 2012, researchers from the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin and RSA Corporation released a paper describing how a virtual machine could use side channel timing information to extract private cryptographic keys being used in other virtual machines on the same physical server. Whether your potential attackers are as sophisticated, there are ways to stop them from causing damage.
Encrypting your data, for example, is a security measure you MUST insist on. If you do it right, even if a breach does occur, your data will not be readable – and will therefore not be usable.
Encrypting data is relatively easy. Adhere to best practices like AES-256 and SHA-2. These techniques provide the best assurance that data has not been tampered with. SSL/TLS must always be enabled. IPsec communications should be allowed.
But once your data is encrypted, the cloud security challenge is to ensure the data cannot be decrypted. If your data is encrypted well, but the encryption keys are also accessible to attackers (stored in the same location or stored with a cloud provider, for example), the encryption does not matter.
The best practice here is to use split key management and homomorphic key encryption. The first splits your encryption key in parts. One part is handled by the cloud security application and one part is always handled only by you. BOTH parts are required to decrypt your data. This way, even if one part is used illicitly, your data cannot be breached. The second measure, homomorphic key encryption, is the only way to ensure that the key itself is encrypted, even while in use.
By using these two best practices, your cryptographic keys cannot be compromised.
2. Data Loss
Almost as terrifying as your data being accessed by outsiders (or insiders gone bad) is losing your data. Of course, losing data doesn’t allow anyone else to use it, but it also does not allow you to use it. Can your business perform without its data?
Data loss can occur as a result of virus or hacker attack, but it can also come from an accidental deletion by a cloud provider, a natural disaster like an earthquake, fire, flood, tornado…
Best practice here, of course, is backup. You could back up your data on physical devices outside of the cloud, but then you lose a lot of the benefits of using the cloud. Opting for an online backup and disaster recovery protocol is a great solution, but it opens another possible entry point for attackers (see the data breach section, above).
Solving this challenge does not have to be . . . well, challenging. The same best practices we dexcribed above apply here as well. Encrypt data before uploading or transferring it to a cloud backup or cloud disaster recovery platform. And always use split key management and homomorphic key encryption.
3. Account or Service Traffic Hijacking
Phishing, fraud, and exploitation of software vulnerabilities can cause your credentials to be stolen. With stolen credentials, attackers can often access critical areas of deployed cloud computing services, allowing them to compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of those services. In April 2010, Amazon experienced a Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) bug that allowed attackers to hijack credentials from the site. Even Amazon is a target!
How do you eliminate the risk of your credentials being stolen? Easy! Don’t trust anyone with them. Your encryption keys should always be under your own control. Do not allow your cloud provider to control your keys. Ever.
Another important factor to consider here is not avoiding such hijacking, but also mitigating the damages in case it occurs. A way to do this is to segment your encryption. Each encryption project can contain as much (or as little) data as required, across multiple disks, databases, file servers and object storage.
Conclusion: Top Threats and Top Solutions
Yes, there are threats to operating in the cloud (let’s face it: there are threats to operating any business), but with current technologies offering ways to thwart the top threats of data breaches, data loss, and hijacking, the benefits of cloud computing far outweigh the risks.
The time to institute strong cloud security and encryption is now – before an attack. Don’t think that it cannot (or will not) happen to you because you are too powerful or too big (or too small). It happened to Amazon. It happens to businesses every day. And these types of catastrophes have the ability to exhaust budgets, destroy reputations, and in some cases – eradicate a business.