Business cloud computing: digital screen with application cloud service icons and blurry laptop at background

Cloud computing: security risks and security measures

Advances in cloud computing have revolutionised the ways in which businesses can operate. From data gathering and storage to interconnected, convenient working to fast scalability, they offer huge advantages that streamline processes, support flexible and sustainable growth, improve customer experiences, and boost competitiveness – among many others.

However, with more and more organisations relying on cloud-based technologies to conduct business – an estimated 94% of enterprises use a cloud service – it’s imperative that leaders invest in securing their systems against cyberattacks and other threats.

With cybercrime rates growing in tandem with widespread cloud adoption – tech giant Microsoft reportedly detects 1.5 million attempts a day to compromise its systems – companies are on the look-out for talented computer science and cybersecurity specialists who can help safeguard their assets.

What are the main security risks of cloud computing?

As well as being expensive, disruptive to business operations and damaging to brand reputation, cloud hacks can result in compromised confidential data, data loss and regulatory compliance failure. 

Whether it’s a public cloud, private cloud, multi-cloud or any other type, understanding the risks and security threats associated with cloud applications as a whole is critical. After all, an awareness of common risks ahead of time will help digital teams to better prepare for any eventuality.

Here are some of the most common security risks associated with cloud-based operations:

  • Unmanaged attack surface. The move to the cloud and an increase in remote work have fragmented attack surfaces, making it easy for attackers to find unmanaged assets with critical exposures. Each new workload that connects with these public networks presents a new, unmanaged attack surface.
  • Data breach. Data is the primary target of most cyberattacks – for example, internal documents that could sabotage a company’s stock price or cause reputational damage, and personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI) which can lead to identity theft. Data breaches involve sensitive information being taken or compromised without the knowledge or permission of the owner.
  • Misconfiguration. Cloud service providers (CSP) – such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Oracle Cloud and IBM Cloud are numerous and diverse, with many organisations choosing to use more than one. This can bring with it a degree of risk, as different default configurations and implementations can lead to critical system vulnerabilities – which cybercriminals and hackers will exploit.
  • Human error. Human error can present a huge risk when building any business application, and ever more so in relation to hosting cloud resources. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2025, 99% of all cloud security failures will result from some degree of human error. For example, users may use unknown or unmanaged application programming interfaces (insecure APIs), inadvertently creating holes in cloud perimeters and leaving networks and sensitive data resources open to attack.

There are, of course, any number of other security risks and cloud security threats: denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, malware, phishing, data leakage, cloud vendor security risk, unauthorised access, insider threats, limited visibility of network systems and many more.

How can cloud security issues be managed?

While risk cannot be completely eliminated, it can certainly be managed.

As well as choosing a cloud service provider wisely, the following risk management and risk assessment strategies will help reduce the risks associated with using cloud environments:

  • Cloud penetration testing. Proactive testing is an effective method to assess the cloud’s current security measures by attempting to exploit vulnerabilities. It may also indicate areas for improvement ahead of a real attack, such as reinforcing a firewall or boosting other security software.
  • Data security audit. How often are routine security audits conducted? Complete transparency regarding cloud security measures – including how effective they are at protecting personal data and files and how they are implemented – is key.
  • Contingency planning. Is a business continuity plan in place that details a strategy for protecting cloud data and systems in the event of an emergency – and how often is it tested? Are there regular backups of cloud storage? Emergencies will vary but should include events such as natural disasters and catastrophic cyberattacks.
  • Security training. Can your CSP provide training to help upskill staff and protect against potential security risks? Team members who understand how their employer’s cloud storage and data management system works – and what the best practices are, such as enabling two-factor authentication and limiting access controls – will be better prepared to avoid attacks on their personal data, information and files.

Organisations should not be scared of using cloud software, but they should understand the risk and ensure the right risk management strategies are in place. From this strong position, they can maximise the benefits of transformational cloud technologies and use them to drive the business towards its goals.

Where can I learn more about good cloud security?

IT and cybersecurity professionals can find out more about how to implement robust cloud security from three key international frameworks.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides checklists that can help with establishing new cloud systems and cloud infrastructure.he National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) presents new system frameworks and supports troubleshooting of specific problems. Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) offers operational standards and resources for auditing and vetting systems.

Stay ahead of the latest security measures and developments to protect against cybercrime

Want to learn to develop and implement effective security controls to help organisations protect their assets and remain compliant?

Gain key understanding of computational thinking – and develop specialist understanding of cybersecurity challenges and solutions – with the University of York’s online MSc Computer Science with Cyber Security programme.

If you’re ready to switch to a career in the computer science and cybersecurity sector and develop skills and expertise applicable to almost any industry, our flexible course is the ideal choice for you. You’ll become adept at problem solving and addressing critical, real-world scenarios as you advance your knowledge of software, hardware, artificial intelligence, digital infrastructure, network systems, data science and data security.