Introduction Previously we introduced the concept of cloud leaks, and then examined how they happen. Now we’ll take a look at why they matter. To understand the consequences of cloud leaks for the organizations involved, we should first take a close look at exactly what it is that’s being leaked. Then we can examine some of the traditional ways information has been exploited, as well as some new and future threats such data exposures pose.
Guest post by UpGuard engineer Nickolas Littau While running a series of unit tests that make API calls to Amazon Web Services (AWS), I noticed something strange: tests were failing unpredictably. Sometimes all the tests would pass, then on the next run, a few would fail, and the time after that, a different set would fail. The errors I was getting didn’t seem to make any sense:
When we examined the differences between breaches, attacks, hacks, and leaks, it wasn’t just an academic exercise. The way we think about this phenomenon affects the way we react to it. Put plainly: cloud leaks are an operational problem, not a security problem. Cloud leaks are not caused by external actors, but by operational gaps in the day-to-day work of the data handler. The processes by which companies create and maintain cloud storage must account for the risk of public exposure.
Making Copies In our first article on cloud leaks, we took a look at what they were and why they should be classified separately from other cyber incidents. To understand how cloud leaks happen and why they are so common, we need to step back and first take a look at the way that leaked information is first generated, manipulated, and used. It’s almost taken as a foregone conclusion that these huge sets of sensitive data exist and that companies are doing something with them, but when you examine the practice of information handling, it becomes clear that organizing a resilient process becomes quite difficult at scale; operational gaps and process errors lead to vulnerable assets, which in turn lead to cloud leaks.
Breaches, Hacks, Leaks, Attacks It seems like every day there’s a new incident of customer data exposure. Credit card and bank account numbers; medical records; personally identifiable information (PII) such as address, phone number, or SSN— just about every aspect of social interaction has an informational counterpart, and the social access this information provides to third parties gives many people the feeling that their privacy has been severely violated when it’s exposed.
Nearly all large enterprises use the cloud to host servers, services, or data. Cloud hosted storage, like Amazon's S3, provides operational advantages over traditional computing that allow resources to be automatically distributed across robust and geographically varied servers. However, the cloud is part of the internet, and without proper care, the line separating the two disappears completely in cloud leaks— a major problem when it comes to sensitive information.
So I've finally gotten the go-ahead from higher-ups to join the twenty-first century and use cloud hosting. Now I need to prove that running in AWS is not just easier than maintaining our own farm, but more stable and secure. To do this, I need to be able to monitor each of my instances for configuration drift, ensure that they are properly provisioned, and maintain visibility into dependencies like load balancers and security groups. Fortunately, UpGuard provides all of this information, so even if something were to go wrong I could catch it before someone else does.
Over the years, Amazon has become the poster child for all things cloud-related, and for good reason: as one of the initial vendors to embrace the cloud computing paradigm, they were the first to offer widely accessible commercial cloud infrastructure services when it launched EC2 and S3 as part of AWS back in 2006. And now, almost a decade later, the tech giant continues to dominate with a 27% market share of the cloud services market. It's therefore not surprising that for many, Amazon comes to mind first when thinking of cloud computing.
Cyber resilience is a fundamental change in understanding and accepting the true relationship between technology and risk. IT risk (or cyber risk, if you prefer) is actually business risk, and always has been. And the cybersecurity industry, for what it's worth, has generally avoided this concept because it goes against the narrative that their respective offerings—whether it's a firewall, IDS, monitoring tool, or otherwise—would be the one-size-fits-all silver bullet that can keep businesses safe. But reality tells a different story.