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Cloud Computing Security Issues

Instructor: Martin Gibbs

Martin has 16 years experience in Human Resources Information Systems and has a PhD in Information Technology Management. He is an adjunct professor of computer science and computer programming.

This lesson will cover issues with cloud computing. With so many companies storing data in the cloud, it is important that you take a step back and evaluate the security issues surrounding having data stored off-site.

Cloud computing security issues

Threats in the Cloud
threats in the cloud

It seems like everyone is in the cloud these days even organizations that once swore they would never have data and/or applications stored off-site. Many employees have watched their own organization shift from hosting everything in-house to the cloud.

This lesson separates the issues between vulnerabilities and threats. A threat refers to a potential attack that could compromise data or resources, and a vulnerability is an error or flaw in the system that could be exploited by an attack.

Vulnerabilities

There are numerous vulnerabilities present in cloud computing, from human threats to system issues.

Human vulnerabilities

Cloud providers may not conduct background checks or screen their employees fully. Administrators in cloud systems have full access to the data, including sensitive information.

The customers of cloud companies themselves may be shady. A mischievous customer could find a way to worm into another company's data stored in the cloud.

Security education is a huge vulnerability. The weakest link in any computer system is the user base. Since more people interact with the cloud (suppliers, end-users, organizations, and administrators), the risk is higher that someone will allow a breach (either consciously or unknowingly).

System vulnerabilities

System vulnerabilities include data access concerns, resource issues, and data integrity.

Interfaces

Cloud providers offer several options for sending and receiving data between systems. These interfaces can be quite vulnerable if not secured properly.

Data Vulnerabilities

In many cloud solutions, several customers may share space in the cloud service provider. There is a risk that the sensitive data of one company could be seen (or taken) by another. In addition, the cloud service provider may not disclose where or how the data is stored.

Threats

The threats to cloud computing are many, including account hijacking, data loss, denial of service, and customer manipulation.

Account hijacking

If an attacker gains access to an account, he or she can carry out malicious activities. Data can be manipulated or stolen to be used for identity theft or other financial gains.

Data loss

Although cloud service providers may claim that they purge/delete data, the data is never truly deleted unless the disk is destroyed. Clever hackers may be able to get at so-called purged data and use it for their own gain. This is referred to as data scavenging.

Data can also be siphoned from the cloud while it is in transit, stored, or processed. This security threat is called data leakage.

Denial of service

A malicious individual could write scripts to consume all of the resources of the cloud server, thus denying that service to other customers. This type of attack is common on the Internet, but it can still be carried out in cloud applications.

Customer manipulation

Unscrupulous users can attack cloud applications by manipulating the data that is sent from their application to the server's applications. The user could possibly access other customers' data.

Countering the threats and vulnerabilities

All is not lost, however. There are countermeasures that can be taken in order to protect the organization looking to do business in the cloud. These include identify and access management, dynamic credentials, digital signatures, and web application scanners.

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