As we use more and more cloud applications, the more difficult it’s become to maintain and control our multi-cloud environments. Because of this increasing complexity, configuration errors are becoming more and more common — Gartner says that through 2025, 99% of cloud security failures will be caused by misconfiguration errors.
To stay on top of your cloud application security and prevent breaches caused by cloud misconfigurations, you need to understand why they happen, what the most common misconfigurations are, and what you can do to prevent them.
What are cloud misconfigurations and why do they happen?
At their core, cloud misconfigurations are the vulnerabilities that crop up as you assemble a complex, multi-cloud environment. As you add cloud apps, it becomes more difficult to manage each one’s individual settings, and it may not be obvious how each cloud app interacts with your user, data, or each other.
If they aren’t addressed, security misconfigurations can leave your data exposed or provide opportunities for attackers to gain access to your cloud infrastructure.
Misconfigurations often happen because security teams don’t have proper visibility into their cloud resources — and even if they do have visibility, they may not have the technical skills or bandwidth to properly identify and remedy misconfigurations.
What are the most common types of misconfiguration?
Misconfigurations manifest in many different ways, and these are some of the most common security misconfiguration issues that occur when creating a multi-cloud infrastructure.
Granting excessive permissions
This happens when you have too many people and devices that have been granted permission to access cloud resources. With excessive permissions, oversight becomes much more difficult, ultimately increasing the likelihood of insider threats or other malicious actors gaining access to sensitive data.
Using default settings
You might think cloud apps would be properly configured right out of the box, but that would be a mistake. Default settings tend to be overly permissive, which can leave your organization vulnerable to unnecessary risks.
Poor credential management
Keeping passwords, API keys, encryption keys, and other credentials a secret is critical to securing your cloud apps. If you’re lax about credential hygiene, it becomes easier for attackers to gain access to your cloud resources.
Failure to collect or monitor important telemetry
Most cloud apps have the ability to collect and log data on things like security gaps or suspicious behavior, but in order to take advantage of that information, IT teams must manually enable logging and regularly review the telemetry.
Every open port creates an additional configuration risk for your organization, and if you have unrestricted access to ports, there’s no way your security team can understand the threats. Access to both inbound and outbound ports needs to be limited and monitored following the principle of least privilege.
Mistaking “authenticated” users for “authorized” users
Cloud apps and repositories often authenticate their users, but that doesn’t mean your organization has verified them. When you don’t differentiate between authenticated and authorized users, you could make your data available to people outside your organization.
Using insecure third-party resources
If one of your third-party libraries or apps has a vulnerability — like AWS’s notorious “leaky” storage buckets — attackers can exploit that to gain access to your cloud data. That’s why it’s critical to do your due diligence on potential vulnerabilities before adopting a third-party resource.
What can you do to mitigate risks related to misconfiguration?
To combat the wide range of security misconfigurations that can occur in a multi-cloud environment, you can’t just rely on your IT and security teams to manually identify and remediate all vulnerabilities. After all, human error is one of the main causes of cloud misconfiguration. Here are some tools and strategies to help you get a handle on potential misconfigurations and protect your data in the cloud.
Zero-trust access management
Your users need seamless access to cloud resources to get their work done — but if you’re too permissive, it creates the opportunity for misconfigurations. To prevent such misconfigurations and balance productivity and security, take a zero-trust approach to access.
Instead of granting binary yes-no access to everyone with authenticated credentials, take into account factors like device health and user behavior to get a better sense of risk levels and identify potentially compromised accounts or insider threats.
Data loss prevention (DLP)
With so much of your organization's sensitive data now residing in the cloud, you'll need a data loss prevention (DLP) tool to protect your data from cloud misconfiguration.
DLP will help you understand where all of your data is located and enforce data protection policies across all cloud apps. Even if your data is compromised by a misconfiguration-related vulnerability, DLP offers a wide range of remediation options like masking, redacting, or even encrypting sensitive data.
Cloud security posture management (CPSM) and SaaS security posture management (SSPM)
Ultimately, to get a true handle on cloud misconfigurations, you’ll need some form of cloud security posture management (CPSM) and SaaS security posture management (SSPM) to give you far-reaching visibility into the configurations of all your cloud apps.
CPSM and SSPM give you continuous insight into your organization’s cloud risk posture by offering administrative and configuration controls with security guardrails in place. With auto-remediation capabilities, they can detect potential misconfigurations and take actions to correct them, reducing the administrative burden for your IT and security teams and mitigating potential security risks.
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What Every Organization Needs to Know About Protecting Data in SaaS Apps
The rise of hybrid work has accelerated digital transformation for organizations of all sizes. As a result, more and more applications and data are moving to the cloud. While this has created a number of benefits — including cost savings, ease of access, and increased operational efficiencies — the cloud has also made it more challenging to protect sensitive data.
Existing security solutions simply aren’t designed to protect sensitive data in the cloud, and by understanding the challenges of securing cloud applications, organizations can mitigate the risks and protect their sensitive data.
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