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March 8, 2022

Warning Signs of a Cloud Security Breach and How to Respond ASAP


Most businesses use the cloud to store and share documents and data. Cloud computing saves money, resources and can offer better security flexibility than in-house hardware and networks. However, it comes with some risk when businesses fail to do their due diligence, leaving their cloud vulnerable to threat actors and cybercriminals. For instance, lacking the proper cloud security policies has left 60 percent of all cloud data at risk.

Many companies either see cloud security breaches as an inevitability, or conversely, believe that they are exceptions to the rule. As such, they let their security systems lapse, failing to not only prevent, but minimize potential attack surfaces and/or business impacts left in the rubble of a breach. According to Ermetic’s 2021 survey of 200 security decision-makers, 83 percent of cloud security breaches come from access vulnerabilities or gaps in the security infrastructure. Meaning they could have been prevented with proper controls, oversight, and detection capabilities.

Ermetic’s data also shows that nearly 100 percent of the polled companies experienced a cloud data breach in the last 18 months. This was a significant increase from 79 percent in 2020. Moreover, 67 percent indicated they had experienced three or more cloud breaches, and 64 percent stated that sensitive data was exposed.

The Importance of Cloud Security and Catching Breaches Fast

As digital transformation continues and more business is done over the internet, the risks of cloud security breaches will continue to increase. Gartner’s 4 Trends Impacting Cloud Adoption in 2020 suggested that by 2024, nearly two out of every three organizations will use more than one outside vendor for services. This will ultimately introduce more cloud security breach risks, as more parties are connected to your network, adding to the number of potential access points.

That is why it is more important than ever to implement adequate cloud security controls, and invest in the right tools and an experienced cloud security team to help navigate the expanding digital landscape.

Catch a Cloud Security Breach ASAP

To protect your company from threat actors and limit data loss or exposure, you need to prevent and detect cloud security breaches as soon as possible.

The sooner you catch a breach, the better your organization can recover and restore its network integrity and reputation.

If you don’t catch a breach right away, threat actors may leak, sell, and otherwise tamper with sensitive data, leading to financial and legal damages. If data is leaked, companies run into compliance issues and failure to meet regulation standards. This can quickly further derail getting operations back up and running, and come with costly fines imposed by governing bodies.

The longer you wait to act, the more likely consumer data will be in danger. Malicious third parties may use, sell, and access victims’ important personal information such as:

  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card numbers
  • Social security numbers

Cloud Security Breach Indicators to Look Out For

Here’s a list of cloud security breach indicators that you should be cognizant of in your organization’s daily operations:

A Large Number of Requests

Many hackers will use trial-and-error to get into your system. If you receive a large number of requests for the same permission setting or file type in your platform as a service (PaaS) cloud, your IT team may need to analyze what is going on.

It is tempting to hit “yes” when these permission pop-ups appear so you can get back to work, but never do that without properly vetting first. Don’t allow a program or user to access your cloud unless you know exactly who is requesting access and for what reason.

Excessive Read Operations

Once an account is compromised, you may see a spike in read operations such as:

  • Application record access
  • File-read requests
  • Database read volume signals

These all suggest a program or person is trying to gather large data sums from the applications and files on your cloud.

Irregular Access Logins and Locations

If a program or user accesses an application from unexpected locations, this may indicate that a foreign vector is trying to gain entrance to your system. Be wary if parties are trying to access your network from diverse locations within a short period of time. Irregular login locations are often a strong giveaway that a cloud security breach might be taking place.

Abnormal Outbound Network Traffic

Most companies think they are adequately protected if their security systems detect and block inbound attacks. However, you should observe your outbound traffic as well. Many attacks can be carried into the network through outbound traffic.

If your security program notices unusual traffic patterns exiting an application, threat actors may be trying to hack your systems. Compromised cloud networks are usually calling home to command-and-control servers, which are computers used by cybercriminals to send commands, and receive stolen data from compromised systems.

Abnormalities in Administrator Activity

Changes in privileged users’ and administrators’ behavior may also indicate a cloud security breach. Threat actors often use compromised privileged users and administrator accounts to leak, access and tamper with files in your cloud. These actors may be outside hackers or malicious insiders.

Either way, your IT team needs to regularly monitor privileges and administrator accounts for suspicious activities to catch cloud security breaches.

Missing Assets or Intellectual Property

Your cloud may already be compromised if you are missing assets or intellectual property. If you can’t find an asset or patent anywhere, report the incident to your cybersecurity team. From there, a thorough assessment can be done to search for a potential cloud security breach.

Slowed Internet Speed or Bandwidth

When threat actors access and use your cloud, they will take up the bandwidth. This will slow down your internet even if you are barely using any apps.

Report it to your cybersecurity team if you suddenly experience a drop in your internet speed. They will run diagnostics to see if your cloud system has been compromised.

How to Respond to a Cloud Security Breach ASAP

If you catch or suspect a cloud security breach, here’s how you can mitigate the effects ASAP:

  1. Take a deep breath: In the midst of an attack, it is easy to become panicked and act with little thought. Use this moment to collect yourself and your team to assess what you know of the situation and what immediate actions to take.
  2. Hire a cybersecurity team that specializes in incident response: It is best to hire a cybersecurity team prior to a successful cloud security breach, as a proactive approach is the most effective. However, if not the case, work with a cybersecurity provider to create a detailed plan for how you will handle a breach. Your plan should address the following:
    • How can we determine where the breach came from? A forensic analysis of the attack will be necessary to look at how the threat actors breached your cloud security system. Was there a defect in your network infrastructure, or was human error to blame?
    • What are the consequences of the attack, and how can we mitigate the effects? For example, if the attack exposed the sensitive data of 90 percent of your clients, how will you contact these clients to tell them that their information has been leaked? What steps will you take to limit further exposure? What will you do to prevent the data that’s already been leaked from being misused by third parties?
  3. Execute the plan: Notify the victims of the breach once a timely response plan has been established. Be specific and transparent when addressing what information was compromised. For instance, if a victim’s personal information -such as credit card numbers- has been exposed by the breach, it is critical that they be informed of potential activity and fraud. During this phase, also provide any necessary support to the incident response team as they work to eradicate the threat and restore your network. Depending on the type of breach and situation, the incident may need to be reported to CISA or another government agency. This regulatory process could be handled more efficiently with the help of a professional cybersecurity partner leading the way.
  4. Take precautions to prevent future breaches: First, to prevent future breaches from happening, fixing whatever caused the initial breach is key before normal operations can return. Next, work to implement a holistic cloud security program that provides the proper tools and monitoring to minimize the risk of future cloud security breaches.

‌Ready to Invest in Cybersecurity?

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to move your cybersecurity program forward, CDG can help. Founded in 2016 by cybersecurity expert Lou Rabon, Cyber Defense Group was designed to address the growing demand for experienced cybersecurity consulting for innovative cloud-native and cloud-reliant organizations.

Our unique combination of Fortune 500 leadership experience, deep knowledge of cloud security and incident response, and commitment to Outcomes-Based Security enable CDG to fully protect our client’s security posture while delivering desired business outcomes in an agile environment. Get in touch with our cloud security consulting team and see what results are possible for your organization.

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