How Safe is Cloud Security?
Ask anyone where they keep all of their private digital data and they will likely respond with “computer” or “cloud”. Those who keep their files and photos on their laptops, in folders on their desktops or simply kept on their phone are seen as risk-takers – after all, you never know when your computer is going to crash and burn.
Cloud storage is an alternative form of digital storage where you can safely file your photos and personal files. It’s generally thought to be a completely secure option for those who are more sensible than the “risk-taking” desktop storage keepers. But how safe is cloud storage really? If your information is out there in the cloud is it easy for hackers to access this information? In this article, we will look into cloud storage in more detail, talk about what it is, how it works, how it can fail and how you can protect yourself against a cloud attack.
Read on to discover more…
What Is Cloud Storage?
The cloud or “cloud storage” is a model of computer data storage where digital data is stored, managed and backed up remotely. The physical storage is on multiple servers, often across multiple locations. Cloud storage is often managed and owned by independent hosting companies and their responsibility is to keep the environment protected and ensure all of the servers are running smoothly. The cloud storage providers are also responsible for maintaining data and ensuring that it is available to its users. Cloud storage is generally a paid service although some companies offer small amounts of storage for free. Normally, users pay a subscription fee to lease the storage capacity which is paid yearly or monthly.
Many people choose to store their digital files on the cloud as it’s thought to be a safer alternative to keeping your files on your hard drive, flash drive, external hard drive or USB stick. Saving data online can be a safer and easier alternative. Lots of people choose to use cloud storage when they’re running low on disk space in their hard drive or so they can access files from anywhere in the world, from any device. Cloud storage makes sharing files easier too, as you simply upload your files onto the system and then they’re immediately ready to view. Rather than store your private files and data on your system, you can keep them encrypted in the cloud – which often requires a password to access.
Cloud storage comes in three different forms
Public Cloud – accessible and secure. This type of cloud storage is suited to those who have unstructured data such as files in folders and is affordable for those who have limited data to store.
Private Cloud – these are normally held on-premise so that users can have total control over the storage system. This solution is often more expensive as you have to purchase and manage the physical hardware. Great for enterprises.
Hybrid Cloud – perfect for businesses that have storage needs that branch both public and private. This works for those who are looking for a solution that will keep their sensitive data on a private cloud and high-volume files on a public cloud.
Can Cloud Storage Fail?
There is a growing concern among users that cloud storage might not be the safest of services – should we be paying attention? With its two-step authentication security features and encryption function, shouldn’t the cloud be the safest form of storage?
Let’s look at the benefits of cloud storage first.
When you save your files to a cloud storage system you can feel safe in the knowledge that they are being stored in a system that uses an enhanced level of security. To access your data the cloud storage requires a password and many other storage systems provide the following additional features:
Intrusion Detection – if your cloud storage system didn’t provide this then we would have some serious concerns. Because of the nature of the service, it attracts a vast quantity of users. Top-quality storage solutions will have systems in place where they can identify when someone is trying to break into the system to access data and potential cloud attacks. If the system has multiple layers of cloud security then they can even prevent intruders who have broken past the first level.
Internal & Advanced Firewalls – these act by limiting secure cloud access to those who are not granted access to the data stored in the cloud.
Event Logging – these have been designed to record network actions and help analysts understand threats. They use the information from the logs to form a network event narrative which helps them predict and therefore prevent security breaches.
Encryption – data which has been encrypted is worthless to anyone apart from the owner. Encryption scrambles the data so even if it fell into the wrong hands the information wouldn’t be readable without a secret key.
Physical Security – certified data centers are highly secure places that are often monitored 24 hours a day by armed guards. Secure enough? We think so.
So, we’ve spoken about the benefits of using cloud storage, but what about the security concerns?
Cloud Security Concerns
- Lack of control over the software
- Default credentials and weak access management
- Account hijacking
- IT incompatibilities
- Data breaches
- Multitenancy leads to data isolation
- Malware and other external attacks
- Insider-related threats due to privileges
It’s all About the Key
We found that a lot of the concerns surrounding data breaches came from the shared keys. When users upload information onto the cloud it is then encrypted and only legible with a key. But here’s the problem…who holds the key? Some cloud storage companies hold the key for their customers whilst others give them to the individual users. The reason some companies hold the keys is so that they can process user data for future searches or when a user logs in with a password so that they can unlock the data so it’s then accessible to the user. The problem here is that keys can be transferred to other users, stolen or misused – all without the user’s awareness.
There’s also been controversy surrounding certain cloud storage companies such as Dropbox. Back in 2011, the American company found themselves with authentication issues which meant that users accounts could be accessed without passwords. Add to that: leaked government documents suggesting that Dropbox was to be included in the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program, an NSA whistleblower criticizing Dropbox’s encryption methods and 68 million leaked passwords and you can start to see why people are nervous using cloud storage. It’s risky business having so much data onto a system that wants to put the control back to its users. Data breaches through human error, system vulnerabilities and insecure Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) need to be designed to protect against malicious attacks that affect the cloud’s overall safety. Not forgetting that some threats come from within, with malicious system administrators having access to private data. When you start to really think about it – cloud storage isn’t so safe after all.
What to Look for in Excellent Cloud Security
Cloud-based security services run the risk of data loss prevention, email vulnerabilities, identity, and access management. These are some of the primary elements to keep in mind when choosing your secure cloud service.
Identity and Access Management
The biggest and most important factor when it comes to identity and access management is flexibility. Due to a large number of authentication directories available it is favorable if the IAM system is compatible with third-party resources. While this is expected from most providers, there are still some that are not as flexible as their competitors.
Data Loss Prevention
Users should look for a data loss prevention provider that is able to enumerate data using artificial intelligence to classify the data, reporting on how in is being transported.
Another important feature of your cloud security should be user identification, request destination, content filtering, secure session decryption, and device identification.
Encrypted Cloud Storage
Encrypted cloud storage is very important. Your data should be encrypted when in transit and at rest.
Consider the data backup, retention, and recover policies from your chosen cloud service and whether they meet your internal standards.
What Do Cloud Attacks Look Like?
There are many different types of cloud attacks that work in various malicious ways.
Here are a few common cloud attacks:
Insider Attack – This is when a user purposefully violates the security policy of the service from the inside – often a system administrator.
Account Hijacking – Through phishing or spyware, malicious individuals can gain access to users’ accounts in order to steal sensitive information.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) – These are attacks that allow hackers to continuously steal data without being detected by users.
Why Uploading Unsafe Data Is Dangerous
With so many threats to cloud storage, it may come as no surprise that if you upload unprotected data then you are taking a big risk. We still advocate using cloud storage as we feel that its benefits greatly outweigh its negatives, but you need to make sure your data is safe. Ensure that your information is 100% encrypted otherwise you are leaving yourself open and vulnerable to malicious attacks. When you are using a remote service, remember your sensitive data isn’t just in your hard drive, it’s now out there on the cloud and anyone can become a target.
Capital One Breach Affected 100 Million Users
A former Capital One Financial Corp employee has been accused of breaking into the bank’s server and accessing data of over 100 million people. The theft occurred in July with the Seattle woman taking advantage of a misconfigured firewall.
Capital One is one of the biggest advocates amongst banks for using cloud-based services as it lowers costs. The information that was stolen included personal data including things like names, addresses, dates of birth, addresses, credit scores, self-reported income as well as other fragments of transaction history.
Paige A. Thompson was charged with a single count of computer fraud and could possibly face a maximum of five years in jail as well as a fine of $250,000.
The Best Way To Keep Your Cloud Vector Data Safe And Secure
If you can’t control what happens with your cloud storage then you need to control what happens with your own data and this means protecting it before it’s uploaded onto the system. You can use your own encryption software to encrypt your data before adding it to the cloud. To preview the file, you’ll simply just need to log into the service, locate and download your file and decrypt it. This will add a layer of safety to your documents before you add them to the cloud. We always advocate using antivirus software and with cloud storage, there is no exception.
If you upload files that have been infected by a virus, you could potentially harm all of your stored data and the malware could spread through the system. You could be unknowingly spreading malicious content to friends and family by sharing files that have been corrupted. You can experience the same problem if the data on your computer system automatically syncs to the cloud too. This is how malware can reach cloud storage, unknown to the user. The easiest way to avoid this issue is to use antivirus software such as McAfee, which is one of the biggest names on the market. Not only will this software detect viruses but other malicious malware too such as worms, adware, ransomware, and spyware. Keep your sensitive data safe and secure and use a decent AV software package. They’re reasonably priced and usually run in the background without slowing down your system, working hard to detect, remove and prevent viruses from getting into your system and therefore the cloud.
At the end of the day, cloud storage is a great solution for storing your data. It isn’t fool-proof; there are risks with this type of storage. But we believe that if you take the right precautions the pros far outweigh the cons. There are many significant benefits to using the cloud. Sharing files, photos and movies with friends or work colleagues is simple and fast using this method. It also frees up space on your own hard drive when you store your folders onto the cloud. For enterprises, this is a cost-effective way of storing data and depending on the size of your business you can utilize the public, private or hybrid cloud options, adapting the storage to suit your needs. Like any other type of software, cloud storage can be vulnerable to countless different types of malware attack, but you shouldn’t let this put you off. Choose a cloud storage facility with a good reputation and make sure that your data is fully encrypted. Better still, install a decent antivirus software package onto your system such as McAfee and make sure that you have it running in the background. If your data is virus-free and protected before it hits the cloud then it’s likely to stay safe.