Cloud Security Pitfalls: Understanding and Overcoming Common Threats

February 8, 2024  |  Ivan Shyshkou


The advent of cloud computing has ushered in a new era of technological advancement, reshaping the way organizations approach data management and information technology. With cloud technologies becoming increasingly pervasive, their adoption has transcended geographical boundaries, offering businesses a versatile and scalable framework for their operations. In the era of widespread integration, when cloud technologies have become a cornerstone of digital transformation, the imperative for robust security measures has never been more evident.

Current prevalence of cloud technologies is substantiated by persuasive statistics on adoption rates. Recent studies indicate that over 80% of businesses actively use cloud services, showcasing a transformative shift in the digital landscape. Companies predominantly store employee data (44%) and customer data (44%) using cloud storage solutions, and about 80% of companies adopt a hybrid approach incorporating both public and private clouds.

Cloud services offer a number of benefits, including on-demand access to computing resources, rapid deployment of applications, and reduced infrastructure maintenance costs. However, cloud security remains a paramount concern for many businesses, as it involves entrusting sensitive data and valuable applications to a third-party provider. The present article deals with the complexities of cloud security exploring common vulnerabilities, effective strategies, and best practices to maintain a secure cloud infrastructure stemming from the extensive experience and IBA findings in the domain of cloud security.

Key Cloud Security Challenges

As organizations embark on the transformative journey of adopting cloud technologies, the spotlight on security becomes more intense. Seamless integration of cloud solutions demands meticulous attention to safeguarding digital assets and sensitive information. Apart from the promises of efficiency and innovation, firm commitment to addressing key cloud security challenges becomes imperative. Below follow some of the most common security challenges.

Misconfiguration. Misconfigurations stemming from human error or lack of comprehension have the potential to make cloud resources vulnerable to security threats caused by, for instance, the use of default accounts and passwords, the deactivation of monitoring and logging features, insecure automated backups, and unrestricted access to non-HTTPS/HTTP ports. In general, the main problems here typically originate from the employees. For instance, in 2022, 82% of breaches involved the human element. According to checkpoint research, the misconfigurations were of the primary cloud security concern in 2022 affecting about 59% of respondents.

Breach of Access Control. Unauthorized access to confidential and personally sensitive information stored in the cloud may occur when access to an API is restricted to only one host, however another instance with privileged service-account attachment has access as well. Moreover, weak password policies may facilitate early password guessing or a cloud provider may not require MFA for all users, making it easier for attackers to gain unauthorized access. For example, permissions set to all users or authenticated users can expose data to the public posing a risk if the data are sensitive. It is crucial to restrict anonymous and public access, especially to Cloud KMS cryptographic keys, to prevent unintended data exposure.

Insecure Sensitive Data Storage. Keeping passwords in plaintext inside Docker containers also poses a security risk. To mitigate unauthorized access and potential security breaches, it is crucial to constantly encrypt credentials. Storing sensitive data, such as API keys and encryption credentials, in plaintext within cloud environments can allow attackers to easily escalate their privileges. According to the findings, only 45% of cloud data is being currently encrypted on average.

Over-permissive or Insecure Network Policies. Inadequate implementation of cluster ingress controls can lead to unregulated communication among pods, while unrestricted internet access on any port heightens the potential for lateral movement and external attacks, thereby increasing the overall risk.

Granting the Editor role to a service account provides extensive privileges, it’s generally contradicting security best practices. Such roles should be assigned judiciously to minimize the risk of unauthorized access and potential system compromise. 16% of attacks occur through valid accounts.

Ineffective Logging and Monitoring with Lack of Policy and Incident Response. Unauthorized actors exploit the situation by obtaining authorization credentials with maximum access rights. Subsequently, they can boldly explore the internal infrastructure without taking covert actions and proceed to add the initially granted account to all conceivable access groups. This allows attackers to locate and acquire sensitive details, including credentials for various services within both cloud and external platforms. Furthermore, they may propagate dummy malware files and manipulate data in storage, posing a significant threat to the overall system security.

It is imperative to promptly detect and respond to the situations described. The longer attackers remain within the system undetected, the greater the potential damage they can inflict. Early detection and immediate response are crucial to mitigating the impact of such security threats.

Strategies for Ensuring Comprehensive Cloud Security

It is important to adopt a series of interrelated best practices to guarantee reliable protection. Further follows an overview of possible approaches to data protection.

1. Establishment of an all-encompassing identity and access management (IAM) system. This system acts as the guardian managing access to cloud resources through strict verification methods, including multi-factor authentication.

2. Regular inspection of cloud infrastructure (Security Assessments) which helps in pinpointing and resolving possible hazards like configuration errors or antiquated systems. Review of permissions for compute service account’s custom role on the Principle of Least Privilege.

3. The ‘zero trust’ principle is a key tactic in contemporary cloud security. This approach is based on the premise that trust is never implied, regardless of the origin of the request. Access is provided only after rigorous validation, it’s reducing the risk of both internal and external intrusions.

4. Implementation of secrets management solution. Deployment of a robust secrets management system like HashiCorp Vault to handle sensitive data such as tokens, passwords, and API keys. Ensure that secrets are not hard-coded in source code or configuration files.

5. Data Encryption and Backup. Encrypting data, whether stored or in transit, preserves their integrity and confidentiality, protecting the data from unauthorized intrusion and breaches. Moreover, consistent data backups are important to avert data loss from various dangers, including cyber-attacks and system failures.

6. Vulnerability scanning, which involves using specialized software to automatically scan systems for known vulnerabilities. Unlike the manual in-depth approach to ethical hacking, vulnerability scanning provides a broader, ongoing review of the cloud environment.

7. Introduction of necessary responses to suspicious activities by high-privileged principals. Define clear incident response procedures when Event Threat Detection identifies suspicious activities involving high-privileged accounts. Implement automated response actions where possible, such as revoking credentials or isolating affected resources. Train your security team to respond to high-severity finds, which may indicate unauthorized access to privileged groups or roles. Use tools like the Security Command Center to monitor and alert to suspicious bucket access patterns.


The multifaceted nature of cloud services challenges the system security and causes the need to apply comprehensive, dynamic strategies to protect against evolving threats. This necessitates high-quality training of employees not only in using cloud services, but also in how to work safely with them.
No doubt, while the Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) assume responsibility for securing the architecture utilized by customers, it is equally crucial to regularly validate it through penetration testing and red teaming.

If you are facing challenges in securing your cloud environment, IBA Group is here to help. We have a proven track record of delivering successful Red Team and cloud security projects. Our expertise in cloud security is tailored to meet the specific needs of each client.

If you are interested in bolstering your cloud security, leave us an inquiry, and let’s explore how IBA Group can provide the security solutions you need.

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