Lack of Visibility and Poor Access Management are Major Contributors to Cloud Data Breaches

More companies are now completing their digital transformations and are taking advantage of the flexibility, scalability, and cost savings provided by public cloud environments, but securing public clouds can be a major challenge.

One of the main factors that has stopped companies from taking advantage of the public cloud has been security. Security teams often feel protecting an on-premise data center is much easier than protecting data in public clouds, although many are now being won over and understand that public clouds can be protected just as easily.

Public cloud providers now offer a range of security tools that can help companies secure their cloud environments. While these offerings can certainly make cloud security more straightforward, organizations must still ensure that their cloud services are configured correctly, identities and access rights are correctly managed, and they have full visibility into all of their cloud workloads.

Cloud security vendor Ermetic recently commissioned IDC to conduct a survey of CISOs to explore the challenges associated with cloud security and see how well organizations were faring at securing their public clouds. More than 300 CISOs and IT decision makers took part in the survey.

79% of respondents said they had experienced a cloud data breach in the past 18 months, and 43% of respondents said they had experienced 10 or more cloud data breaches during that time, strongly suggesting they are finding securing their public cloud environments something of a challenge.

When asked about the biggest security risks, 67% said they were concerned about security misconfigurations, 64% said a lack of visibility into access settings and activities was a key factor contributing to cloud data breaches, and 61% said access management and permission errors were a major breach risk.

The complexity of public cloud environments makes security challenging. The flexibility of the cloud means it is easy to quickly provision more resources on demand, but what often happens is cloud deployments become a maze of interconnected machines, users, applications, services, and containers. If organizations do not have complete visibility into their public cloud environments, it is difficult to ensure appropriate permissions are and the principle of least privilege is correctly applied.

Setting and managing access policies is a major challenge. Access policies need to be adjusted frequently, yet 80% of respondents said they could not effectively manage excessive data access for IaaS and PaaS. Excessive permissions are frequently abused by cybercriminals, who use them for a range of malicious activities such as data theft, data deletion, and delivering malware or ransomware.

“Some of the most high-profile cybersecurity incidents in recent years were the direct result of customers failing to properly configure their cloud environments, or granting excessive or inappropriate access permissions to cloud services, rather than a failure of the cloud provider in fulfilling its responsibilities,” explained Ermetic.

When asked about the main cloud security priorities, 78% of respondents said compliance monitoring, 75% said authorization and permission management, and 73% said security configuration management (73%). One of the biggest concerns was detection of excessive permissions, which was rated important or very important by 71% of respondents; however, only 20% of respondents said they were able to identify situations when employees had been given excessive permissions.

“An overworked security or IT admin may fail to identify and remove such permissions and create a significant vulnerability that may only be detected after the fact. Furthermore, early detection doesn’t necessarily guarantee prevention; more than 13% of respondents that detected excessive permissions reported that they were unable to mitigate the risks before data was exposed,” explained Ermetic in the report.

The survey confirmed that excessive permissions are a major problem in healthcare. 31.25% of healthcare organizations said they had identified a situation where employees had been given excessive permissions.

There have been many cases where security misconfigurations have lead to the exposure of sensitive data, with misconfigured Elasticsearch instances and AWS S3 buckets a common reason for data breaches, but it is also important to ensure that identities and permissions are properly managed.

Ensuring users, applications, and services can access only the cloud data and cloud resources that are necessary for their legitimate purposes was cited as the biggest cloud data protection challenge by respondents to the survey.

“Even though most of the companies surveyed are already using IAM, data loss prevention, data classification and privileged account management products, more than half claimed these were not adequate for protecting cloud environments,” said Ermetic CEO Shai Morag. “In fact, two thirds cited cloud native capabilities for authorization and permission management, and security configuration as either a high or an essential priority.”

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.