For attackers, misconfigurations in the public cloud can be exploited for a number of reasons. Typical attack scenarios include several kill chain steps, such as reconnaissance, lateral movement, privilege escalation, data acquisition, persistence and data exfiltration. These steps might be fully or partially utilized by an attacker over dozens of days until the ultimate objective is achieved and the attacker reaches the valuable data.
Removing the Mis from Misconfigurations
To prevent attacks, enterprises must harden configurations to address promiscuous permissions by applying continuous hardening checks to limit the attack surface as much as possible. The goals are to avoid public exposure of data from the cloud and reduce overly permissive access to resources by making sure communication between entities within a cloud, as well as access to assets and APIs, are only allowed for valid reasons.
For example, the private data of six million Verizon users was exposed when maintenance work changed a configuration and made an S3 bucket public. Only smart configuration hardening that applies the approach of “least privilege” enables enterprises to meet those goals.
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The process requires applying behavior analytics methods over time, including regular reviews of permissions and a continuous analysis of usual behavior of each entity, just to ensure users only have access to what they need, nothing more. By reducing the attack surface, enterprises make it harder for hackers to move laterally in the cloud.
The process is complex and is often best managed with the assistance of an outside security partner with deep expertise and a system that combines a lot of algorithms that measure activity across the network to detect anomalies and determine if malicious intent is probable. Often attackers will perform keychain attacks over several days or months.
It is tempting for enterprises to assume that cloud providers are completely responsible for network and application security to ensure the privacy of data. In practice, cloud providers provide tools that enterprises can use to secure hosted assets. While cloud providers must be vigilant in how they protect their data centers, responsibility for securing access to apps, services, data repositories and databases falls on the enterprises.
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Hardened network and meticulous application security can be a competitive advantage for companies to build trust with their customers and business partners. Now is a critical time for enterprises to understand their role in protecting public cloud workloads as they transition more applications and data away from on-premise networks.
The responsibility to protect the public cloud is a relatively new task for most enterprises. But, everything in the cloud is external and accessible if it is not properly protected with the right level of permissions. Going forward, enterprises must quickly incorporate smart configuration hardening into their network security strategies to address this growing threat.