A Business’s Guide To Cloud Risk And Vulnerability Assessment

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Around 94% of businesses in the US and up to 46% in Europe are using cloud computing at the start of 2023. Such an uptake in cloud service can be attributed to many factors, including efficiency and versatility. However, because it is provided by third-party vendors, risks and vulnerabilities across diverse cloud environments are worrisome. The most common cloud vulnerabilities in the cloud ecosystem are theft or loss of data, non-compliance with industry security regulations, vulnerable access management, and application programming interfaces (APIs). 

To mitigate these challenges, most businesses conduct risk and vulnerability assessments to weed out anything their cloud security systems might have missed. These assessments evaluate the business’s compliance with security, privacy standards, and regulations concerning user data. There are various tools and methods available for vulnerability assessments, such as Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing or SAP vulnerability management, which focuses on identifying and managing security risks in SAP systems. 

This guide to cloud risk and vulnerability assessment focuses on common cloud-based vulnerabilities, the process involved in a cloud risk and vulnerability assessment, and the benefits of an assessment. But first, here is a background on cloud service models. 

Cloud Computing 101

There are three types of cloud service models: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). SaaS models store applications at the cloud provider’s location, and customers can then access them over the internet. PaaS provides businesses with a framework for developers to create customized applications and software, all hosted in the cloud. PaaS allows developers to focus on building apps without worrying over operating system requirements, infrastructure, and storage. 

IaaS involves automated and highly scalable resources provided to a business through APIs or a dashboard from which businesses control the relevant infrastructure. Virtualization is the crucial word in IaaS. Organizations don’t have to physically maintain this virtual data center, as it delivers through the cloud. They can just focus on managing their applications, run-time, middleware, and data. 

Common Cloud-Based Vulnerabilities 

  • Misconfigurations: These are gaps in the adopted security measures that may leave valuable information unprotected. Common misconfigurations include a lack of proper access management and security group misconfigurations, which can lead to unauthorized individuals accessing a business’s data or applications. 
  • Loss And Theft Of Data: Effortless access to data makes cloud computing attractive to many businesses. However, since data transfer occurs in an off-premises cloud environment, the threat of cyberattacks is always high. Data deletion and altering are also likely, which can cause a significant amount of data to be lost and impact business operations. 
  • Non-compliance: Compliance in cloud security often relates to data protection, that is, the steps businesses and cloud service providers (CSPs) take to adhere to industry regulations in place. Compliance standards mean that systems can pass an audit of their security processes, software, and such. Common industry compliance standards include PCI-DSS, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and SOC 2. You can check out this article discussing soc 1 vs soc 2 to learn more about these compliance standards.
  • Vulnerable APIs: Cybersecurity threat actors found APIs to be the easiest way to access a business’s information. While API security has improved, unsecure APIs open communication channels that might risk a business’s data. When conducting cloud risk and vulnerability assessment, sufficient authentication and verification measures must be established to restrict the information that APIs can access.

Cloud Risk And Vulnerability Assessment 

Here’s a five-step checklist for conducting a cloud risk and vulnerability assessment: 

  1. Asset Identification

When conducting a cloud risk and vulnerability assessment, every asset stored in the cloud environment should be listed. Nothing should be left out, no matter how sensitive or insensitive. 

  1. Data Classification

After sourcing every asset from the cloud environment, they should be classified according to their sensitivity. This measure will be important in determining which assets are most likely at risk and the steps to put in place to ensure they are well protected. 

  1. Threat Identification

At this stage, the focus should be on the events or individuals that could threaten the security of your cloud environment. Security exercises like red team/blue team can be introduced to simulate an attack on your cloud environment to determine if the security measures previously put in play are still working. If not, there’s an opportunity to institute better security measures. There are many manual and automatic options to help with cloud threat identification. 

  1. Risk Evaluation

After identifying the threat, the risks can be evaluated regarding how threatening they are to the cloud environment security and their likely impact on the business.

  1. Control Implementation

Implementing control measures is the final stage of the cloud risk and vulnerability assessment. In this stage, control measures are put in place to mitigate the threats that have been identified. Measures like better encryption and appropriate firewalls are introduced. Permissions given to at-risk APIs are revoked or limited, and employees are trained about the right and secure way to handle data stored on the cloud. Some of the measures likely to be instituted at this stage are patching (immediate and permanent fixing of highest-risk vulnerabilities), mitigation (reducing the threat risk if an immediate and permanent fix is not feasible), or no action, if the threat is shallow.  

After this, a report is produced. It details the scan, the methods used to detect vulnerabilities, the vulnerability database, and remediation measures. 

Benefits of Cloud Risk And Vulnerability Assessment

There are many benefits of cloud risk and vulnerability assessment. Here are the major ones:

  1. Regular cloud risk and vulnerability assessment reduces the risk of errors occasioned by accidental misconfiguration. According to data from the insight firm Gartner, by 2025, 99% of cloud errors will result from human errors.  Regular assessment of a business’s cloud infrastructure will ensure that errors made by engineers or developers are identified and corrected.
  2. Cloud risk and vulnerability assessment help uncover security vulnerabilities in the cloud environment, enabling the development of measures to correct them. These security assessments provide a secure environment for applications and data.
  3. Assessments improve the resilience of the cloud infrastructure as cloud risk and vulnerability assessments offer recommendations that would help a business recover faster in case of breaches.

Conclusion

The choice of a CSP will determine the level of responsibility shared between the business and the CSP regarding cloud security. While the CSP carries the bulk of responsibility for data security on their servers, the business is responsible for the devices used to access this information, the individuals granted access, and the network connectivity. A collaborative effort between the business and the CSP is thus required for the data stored on the cloud to remain secure. 

 

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