Threat Research Blog

Top 5 Tips on Avoiding Cloud Misconfigurations

Cloud misconfigurations can cause devastating financial and reputational damage to organizations. Yet, such undesirable circumstances can be avoided by understanding common misconfiguration errors and mitigating them before malicious actors can exploit them. Ava Chawla, AlgoSec’s Global Head of Cloud Security provides some valuable insights on cloud misconfigurations and offers useful tips on how to avoid them

It may come as a surprise to some, but did you know that misconfigurations were the #1 cause of cloud-security incidents in 2021 and were also responsible for 65-70% of cloud-security challenges in 2020?

Cloud Misconfigurations: The Insidious yet Serious Threat

Clearly, misconfigurations are a common cause of security loopholes. These security loopholes – usually the result of oversights, errors, or poor configuration choices by inexperienced or careless users – often result in cyberattacks and the exposure of mission-critical information.

Most cloud environments are saturated with misconfigurations, with 99% of them going unseen. As a result, they become vulnerable to many cyberthreats, including malware, ransomware, and insider threats. Threat actors may also exploit the vulnerabilities caused by misconfigurations to access enterprise networks, compromise assets, or exfiltrate sensitive data.

So why are cloud misconfigurations such a serious threat in cloud environments? And, how can your organization avoid these errors and keep your cloud environment safe from the bad guys?

Jarring Data Breaches Resulting from Cloud Misconfigurations: More than Food for Thought

In 2018 and 2019, misconfigurations caused hundreds of data breaches that cost companies a whopping $5 trillion. Threat actors also took advantage of misconfigurations to attack many organizations in 2020. An exposed database is a perfect example of how misconfiguration errors like forgetting to password-protect critical cloud assets can create huge security risks for companies.

In early 2020, a database belonging to cosmetics giant Estée Lauder that contained over 440 million records ended up online – all because it was not password-protected. How bad was this oversight? It allowed malicious actors to access its sensitive contents, such as email addresses, middleware records, references to internal documents, and information about company IP addresses and ports.

And misconfiguration-related breaches didn’t stop in 2021. In May of that year, Cognyte left a database unsecured, leading to the online exposure of 5 billion records, including names, passwords, and email addresses. The incident is particularly ironic because Cognyte is a cyber-intelligence service that alerts users to potential data breaches.

So how can your organization avoid suffering the same fates as Estée Lauder and Cognyte? By preventing misconfiguration errors.

How to Eliminate Common Misconfiguration Errors?

1) One of the most common cloud misconfiguration errors is not implementing monitoring. A failure to monitor the cloud environment creates huge security risks because the organization can't even know that there’s a threat, much less mitigate it.

Solution: By integrating monitoring and logging tools into your entire cloud estate, you can keep an eye on all the activity happening within it. More importantly, you can identify suspicious or malicious actions, and act early to mitigate threats and prevent serious security incidents. An example of a monitoring tool is CloudTrail in the AWS Cloud.

2) The second-biggest misconfiguration risk stems from overly permissive access settings. Enterprise teams frequently forget to change the default settings or make the settings overly-permissive, resulting in critical assets being exposed to the Internet and to threat actors lurking in cyberspace.

3) Another misconfiguration mistake is mismanaging identity and access management (IAM) roles and permissions. Unrestricted access, particularly admin-level access, significantly increases the probability of breaches. The compromise of this user could allow a malicious actor to exploit the entire network and its sensitive data.

4) Mismanaged secrets are another common misconfiguration mistake that can lead to attacks and breaches. Secrets like passwords, API keys, encryption keys, and access tokens are the keys to your (cloud) kingdom, and their compromise or theft can severely damage your enterprise.

Solution: You can avoid mistakes #2, #3 and #4 by granting least-privilege access (also known as the principle of least privilege) and implementing detailed security policies, standards, and procedures for IAM, secrets management, remote access, etc.

5) The fifth misconfiguration error is not patching vulnerabilities. Patch management pitfalls include pushing out updates too quickly and devices going offline. But the most significant risk when patch management doesn't take place, not surprisingly, is leaving a system vulnerable to malicious actors.

Solution: Proactively scanning your cloud environment is vital to find the vulnerabilities that can be exploited by threat actors to elevate their privileges in your network and execute remote attacks.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Cloud misconfigurations are the most common cause of security incidents in the cloud. Fortunately, most of them are avoidable. If you’ve found this action-packed guide a valuable read, then you’re on the right path to reaching a solution that includes protecting your most valuable assets, securing the connectivity of your most critical business applications, and streamlining the management of your entire multi cloud environment. Prevasio can help you get there faster.