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Top Cloud Security Risks in 2024

Technical Writer

Cloud computing is an integral part of every industry in 2024, from powering e-commerce platforms to managing data for small tech startups. As organizations enjoy the unparalleled flexibility, cloud scalability, and cost-efficiency offered by cloud services, they must also be aware of cloud security risks.

During the 1960s, on-premises data centers provided a sense of control and perceived security. However, cloud migration has exposed organizations to new vulnerabilities. Data breaches, insider threats, weak password protocols, and increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks have become persistent challenges that demand attention. Failure to address these security concerns can have far-reaching consequences, potentially compromising critical infrastructure, sensitive intellectual property, and the trust of customers and stakeholders. In this article, we discuss cloud security risks, how to mitigate them, and the best practices to follow for protecting your cloud environment.

Summary

  1. Cloud security attacks exploit unknown vulnerabilities in software or hardware, making them challenging to detect and mitigate until a security patch is developed and deployed.

  2. Implementing best practices like network segmentation, using virtual private networks (VPNs), strong access controls, regular cloud audits, and regularly backing up data with tested recovery plans can help organizations improve security in their cloud environments.

  3. DigitalOcean offers a range of security solutions and best practices to help protect cloud environments, such as integrated monitoring to detect misconfigurations, strong encryption standards, anti-DDoS measures, and a marketplace with various security tools you can deploy with a single click.

💡At DigitalOcean, we recognize the importance of security in your cloud business. Our security framework is constructed upon six solid foundations, and we align our practices with widely adopted security control standards such as SOC 2, SOC 3, and GDPR to ensure our customers experience the highest levels of data protection and compliance.

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7 top cloud security risks in 2024

Our recent Currents study reports that 31% of organizations are worried about vulnerabilities in hybrid work environments. Understanding and proactively addressing the security risks is important for organizations to maintain a strong cloud security posture and safeguard their data. Here are seven kinds of cloud security risks you should be aware of:

1. Zero-Day attacks

Zero-day attacks exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities in software or hardware for which no patch or fix exists. These attacks can occur without warning, leaving organizations vulnerable to exploitation until a security patch is developed and deployed. Zero-day vulnerabilities can be exploited by threat actors to gain unauthorized access to cloud systems, exfiltrate sensitive data, or disrupt critical services. Due to their unpredictable nature, zero-day attacks can bypass traditional security measures, making them particularly challenging to detect and mitigate.

For example, a developer working on a cloud-based e-commerce platform handles sensitive customer data, including payment information. Unknown to him, a zero-day vulnerability might be discovered in the third-party authentication service used by the application. Without a patch available, hackers might exploit this vulnerability to gain unauthorized access to user accounts and intercept payment transactions.

How to mitigate Zero-Day Attacks

  • Stay informed about emerging threats and zero-day vulnerabilities by subscribing to threat intelligence feeds and security advisories.

  • Incorporate advanced security tools such as intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) to detect and block suspicious network traffic indicative of zero-day attacks.

  • Implement stringent access controls and least privilege principles to restrict unauthorized access to critical systems and data and limit the potential impact of zero-day attacks.

2. Data breaches

“Data data everywhere, and so are breaches!” The global volume of data generated is anticipated to grow to over 180 zettabytes by the year 2025. In April 2024, more than 35 million people’s data was breached. These statistics prove that data breaches remain a critical concern as cyber attackers continuously refine their methods to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data stored in cloud environments. Weak access controls can expose valuable data to threat actors. Additionally, the interconnected nature of cloud services can amplify the impact of a breach, allowing attackers to move laterally across systems.

How to prevent data breaches

  • Implement strong access controls and regular audits to ensure only authorized users can access sensitive data.

  • Utilize encryption for data to protect data integrity.

  • Conduct regular security assessments and vulnerability scans.

DigitalOcean employs strong encryption standards for data at rest and in transit, helping to protect sensitive data. Our security teams conduct regular vulnerability assessments and implement strong access controls to prevent unauthorized data access.

3. Insider threats

An insider threat is a security risk that originates within an organization. It typically involves employees, contractors, or other trusted individuals who have access to the organization’s systems and data. These insiders can intentionally or unintentionally cause harm by leaking, stealing, or compromising sensitive information.

How to mitigate insider threats

  • Provide regular training to employees on security best practices and the importance of protecting sensitive data.

  • Monitor user activities closely and establish clear protocols for detecting and responding to suspicious behavior.

  • Use least privilege principles to limit access to critical systems and data.

4. Password security issues

Weak passwords and failures in implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) expose cloud accounts to hijacking attempts. These vulnerabilities can lead to unauthorized access to cloud services and sensitive data, compromising overall security.

How to tackle password security issues

  • Monitor login activity for unusual patterns, identify compromised accounts, and initiate steps to reset passwords or revoke access.

  • Enforce strong password policies requiring complex and unique passwords.

  • Implement multi-factor authentication across all cloud services to add an extra layer of security.

  • Choose cloud providers that provide password management solutions. For example, DigitalOcean Marketplace offers a variety of password management tools, such as the 1Password SCIM Bridge for MFA integration, HashiCorp Vault for secure credential storage and management, and the open-source Bitwarden password manager, Crossid password authentication techniques, all of which can be easily deployed with single-click within cloud environments to bolster password security and streamline password management across an organization.

5. Misconfigured cloud services

Misconfiguration of cloud services is a common issue that can lead to security vulnerabilities. Incorrectly set up cloud resources and poor configuration management can create entry points for cyber attackers, increasing the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access.

For instance, a cloud administrator might inadvertently grant overly permissive access permissions to a storage bucket, allowing anyone on the internet to view or modify sensitive data stored within it. This misconfiguration could stem from a misunderstanding of the cloud provider’s access control settings or simply oversight during the setup process. As a result, confidential information could be exposed to unauthorized users, leading to potential data breaches and compliance violations.

How to correct misconfigured cloud services

  • Use automated tools and continuous monitoring to detect and remediate misconfigurations.

  • Follow cloud security best practices and guidelines for secure configuration management.

Conduct regular cloud audits to ensure compliance with security policies.

DigitalOcean offers an integrated monitoring solution designed to handle misconfigured cloud services. You can easily enable monitoring via the control panel or API, track cloud metrics, and set up alerts without complex configurations. Real-time summary dashboards provide up-to-the-minute visualizations of application performance, aiding in quickly identifying issues. The alerting mechanism allows you to define thresholds for various metrics and receive notifications via Slack or email when these thresholds are crossed, or critical issues arise.

Through the DigitalOcean marketplace, you can also use the Kloudle add-on, a cloud security posture management tool for DigitalOcean. It identifies all assets configured in your DigitalOcean account and analyzes them for correct security configurations.

6. Denial of Service (DoS) attack

Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can overwhelm cloud infrastructure, rendering cloud services unavailable to legitimate users. Such attacks can disrupt business operations and lead to significant financial and reputational damage.

For example, a DDoS attack may involve many compromised devices, such as computers or IoT devices, flooding a target server or network with overwhelming traffic. This flood of traffic consumes the available bandwidth, CPU, or memory resources, making the targeted cloud services inaccessible to legitimate users.

How to defend DoS or DDoS attacks

  • Implement anti-DDoS measures using scalable infrastructure.

  • Perform traffic analysis and anomaly detection systems to identify and respond to potential DoS attacks swiftly. <$>[info]DigitalOcean offers anti-DDoS solutions to help protect your cloud infrastructure from volumetric attacks. Load Balancers distribute traffic and CDNs, ensuring high availability and minimizing the impact of DoS attacks.

Additionally, rate limiting and traffic filtering techniques safeguard cloud applications. DigitalOcean continuously monitors network traffic to detect and mitigate potential DoS threats in real-time. <$>

7. API Insecurity

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) integrate and operate within cloud environments, but they also present significant security risks if not properly managed. API insecurity can arise from improper authentication, authorization issues, inadequate input validation, and insufficient logging and monitoring, leading to potential unauthorized access to cloud services and sensitive data.

For instance, if an API lacks proper authentication mechanisms, threat actors can exploit this vulnerability to access backend systems, manipulate data, or disrupt services. Poorly designed APIs can also expose sensitive endpoints, and attackers can perform malicious activities.

How to handle API insecurity

  • Ensure that all APIs require strong authentication methods, such as Open authorization (OAuth) or API keys, and enforce proper authorization to limit access based on user roles and permissions.

  • Perform regular API security assessments, including penetration testing and vulnerability scans, to identify and fix security weaknesses.

  • Validate and sanitize all inputs to prevent common attacks such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).

5 best practices for protecting your cloud environment

Solving cloud security challenges requires a collaborative approach between organizations and cloud service providers. In the shared responsibility model, cloud providers secure the underlying infrastructure while customers are accountable for safeguarding their data, applications, and user access within the cloud services they leverage. There are various practices that every organization should follow to secure their data on the cloud:

1. Enforce network segmentation

Network segmentation involves dividing a network into smaller, isolated segments to improve security and performance. Each segment can have its own security controls and policies, limiting access to sensitive resources and reducing the attack surface. By creating separate segments, organizations can better control and restrict traffic flow between different network parts, preventing unauthorized access and containing potential security breaches.

For example, in a corporate network, you can create separate segments for different departments, such as finance, human resources, and IT. Each segment will have its own access controls, ensuring that employees can only access resources relevant to their roles. If a breach occurs in one segment, it won’t necessarily affect the others, limiting the impact.

2. Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

VPNs create secure, encrypted internet traffic tunnels, protecting data as it travels between a user’s device and the destination network. They hide users’ IP addresses and ensure that data transmitted over public networks remains confidential and secure. VPNs are commonly used to provide secure remote access to corporate networks and cloud services.

For instance, employees who work remotely can use a VPN to connect securely to the corporate network. The VPN encrypts their internet traffic, preventing eavesdroppers and attackers from intercepting sensitive data. This ensures employees’ connections to the company’s resources remain secure, even when using public Wi-Fi.

Note: Network segmentation and VPNs serve different but complementary purposes in enhancing network security. Network segmentation protects internal resources by isolating segments, while VPNs secure data transmission over public networks.

With DigitalOcean Marketplace add-ons, you can easily integrate with tools like WarpSpeed VPN/ OpenVPN Access Server/ Pi-hole VPN / UH VPN /UTunnel VPN/ SPR to securely access your cloud infrastructure.

3. Implement strong access controls

Strong access controls protect sensitive data and ensure that only authorized users can access specific cloud resources. This practice involves defining and enforcing strict firewall policies regarding who can access what within your cloud environment. Effective access controls reduce the risk of unauthorized access, data breaches, and insider threats by granting permissions based on the principle of least privilege.

For cloud applications, you can use identity and access management (IAM) tools to create detailed user profiles and assign roles with specific permissions. For instance, a financial analyst may only need read-only access to certain financial data, while an IT administrator might require broader access to manage cloud resources. By tailoring access controls to the needs of each role, you minimize the risk of unauthorized actions and data exposure.

4. Conduct regular cloud audits

Regular cloud audits involve systematically reviewing and assessing your cloud environment to ensure cloud compliance with security policies, performance standards, and regulatory requirements. These audits help identify vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and areas for improvement, ensuring that cloud resources are managed securely and efficiently.

Within your cloud infrastructure, you can perform an audit to evaluate the effectiveness of your IAM policies, data backup procedures, and vendor management practices. During the audit, you might discover that certain users have excessive permissions or that some data backups are not occurring as scheduled. Addressing these issues strengthens your overall security posture and ensures adherence to best practices.

5. Regularly backup data and test recovery plans

Regularly backing up data and testing recovery plans ensures data security and business continuity in your cloud environment. This practice involves creating consistent backups of critical data and regularly verifying that these backups can be successfully restored. Testing recovery plans ensures your organization can quickly recover from data loss incidents, such as breaches, hardware failures, or ransomware attacks.

For example, you can schedule automated backups of all essential databases and files in cloud infrastructure to a secure, geographically redundant location. You should regularly test these backups by restoring them to ensure data integrity and that your recovery processes work as expected. For instance, if a ransomware attack encrypts your data, a tested recovery plan allows you to restore your system to a pre-attack state, minimizing downtime and data loss.

DigitalOcean backups offer a reliable and automated solution to help protect your data. With daily, incremental backups, you can safeguard your Droplets (Linux virtual machines) and critical workloads daily, reducing downtime and effortlessly addressing compliance needs. Configurable backup windows allow you to choose the most convenient times for your backups, while the retention of seven daily copies enhances your data protection strategy. With Snapshooter, you can easily set up your backups in a few clicks.

Experience DigitalOcean’s secure cloud products

At DigitalOcean, we understand the need for a secure foundation for building and deploying applications. We maintain strong product and platform security and adhere to comprehensive security best practices to help ensure your data stays secure in the cloud. Our security commitment spans infrastructure, networking, servers, storage, and virtualization, ensuring a multi-layered defense strategy.

  • Infrastructure security: Our infrastructure security maintains physical data center security, secure networking components, and strong virtualization infrastructure. DigitalOcean’s infrastructure undergoes continuous monitoring 24/7/365, third-party audits, and targeted testing annually. Each data center colocation provider upholds industry-recognized certifications, and our networks are MANRS-certified to ensure the highest level of security.

  • Networking: DigitalOcean networks are meticulously maintained with current baselines for all machines and network device hardware. We update configurations annually, disable unnecessary ports and protocols, and use industry-standard transport protocols like Transport Layer Security (TLS). Our defense-in-depth strategy includes secure segmentation of network environments through Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) segmentation, Access Control List (ACL) restrictions, encrypted communications, and synchronized servers using Network Time Protocol (NTP) Pool Project servers.

  • Servers: Our data centers implement stringent physical access controls using biometric systems, proximity cards, and personal identification number (PIN) readers. We follow security measures to protect servers, monitor infrastructure performance, manage server loads, and use cloud orchestration tools to handle real-time issues. We also ensure the secure destruction of physical assets and maintain comprehensive logical access policies.

  • Virtualization: Virtualization is key to our cloud hosting, providing flexibility and scalability. DigitalOcean employs stringent security measures to ensure logical separation between customer environments. Initial permissions and changes to logical access roles are carefully managed and approved. Customer data is isolated and encrypted in transit and at rest, utilizing standards-based protocols to help safeguard information.

  • Storage: DigitalOcean’s storage solutions are encrypted at rest and protected by the same physical security measures as our servers. We track all assets with serial numbers and use encryption standards like FileVault for MacOS, BitLocker for Windows operating systems, and Linux-based encryption. Access to these systems is controlled through user accounts, MFA, Single Sign-On (SSO), and Secure Shell (SSH).

  • DigitalOcean Marketplace-security: You can easily deploy and manage security measures directly from the DigitalOcean Marketplace.

Application Name Description Type
Acra Database encryption and intrusion prevention for PgSQL and MySQL (including DigitalOcean-managed Postgres) Droplet 1-Click
twigs Monitor cloud components and assess them for vulnerabilities. Droplet 1-Click
Sandfly Security Agentless intrusion detection and incident response for Linux. Droplet 1-Click
Teleport Unify access for SSH servers, Kubernetes clusters, web applications, and databases Droplet 1-Click
authentik An open-source identity provider focused on flexibility and versatility Droplet 1-Click
Cloudanix Protects your cloud workloads with a single dashboard across all your cloud environments Add-Ons
SOOS DAST Droplet Scan web apps and APIs Droplet 1-Click
BotGuard GateKeeper Protective reverse proxy built with bot and hacker detection technology Droplet 1-Click
Paralus Open-source access management tool for Kubernetes Kubernetes 1-Click
Haltdos Community WAF User-friendly web application GUI-based configuration, simplifying monitoring, and providing bot protection, geo-fencing capabilities to limit access based on geographic location, and load balancing features to distribute traffic across multiple server farms. Droplet 1-Click
Infisical Open source, end-to-end encrypted secret configuration manager Kubernetes 1-Click
Border0 Secure and simplify access to cloud infrastructure Droplet 1-Click
KubeArmor Cloud-native runtime security enforcement system for restricting pod and container behavior Kubernetes 1-Click

Please note that some of the above tools may result in additional costs.

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