COVID-19 Shines a New Light on Cloud Misconfiguration Risk
April 14, 2020

Josh Stella
Fugue

With very few exceptions, all software engineering teams are now operating in a fully distributed mode due to the COVID-19 crisis and our efforts to keep team members safe and avoid spreading the virus. For teams that were already fully distributed, the interruptions are likely minimal. But those that are making the rapid transition from fully- or partially-colocated to 100% distributed are experiencing significant disruptions to their operations — and their cloud security posture.


Without new security steps in place, the adoption of new devices, access patterns, and processes used to maintain cloud environments while working from home increases the risk of cloud-based data breaches, cryptomining, and serious compliance violations. Cloud security risks are heightened when everyone is experiencing extraordinary amounts of stress and distraction. Mistakes can be made in times like these. And malicious actors are constantly watching, and more than happy to take advantage of those mistakes.

The Shared Responsibility Model of cloud security allows us to externalize a lot of security risks and costs to cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. But the security responsibilities that remain with the cloud customer are quite different from security in the data center. With cloud, security is focused on ensuring the correct configuration of cloud resources, and in turn, avoiding misconfiguration. Since a workforce accesses the cloud through cloud services, such as Security Groups and Identity and Access Management (IAM) services, the threats due to cloud misconfiguration can increase when that workforce becomes more distributed.

While cloud misconfiguration is a 100% preventable problem on the cloud customer's side of the Shared Responsibility Model, it remains the number one cause of cloud-based data breaches. The National Security Agency states that "misconfiguration of cloud resources remains the most prevalent cloud vulnerability and can be exploited to access cloud data and services." While cloud providers can educate and alert customers about potential risks, they can't prevent their customers from creating misconfigurations. Preventing customers from making such errors would severely limit the power and flexibility of cloud. 

But If Cloud Misconfiguration Is Preventable, Why Does It Keep Happening?

With the cloud, there's no perimeter to defend, traditional security tools aren't typically effective, and IT professionals often don't understand it. Cloud customers widely recognized as cloud security leaders can fall victim to their own misconfigurations. For example, if a Security Group is configured to allow SSH access to a remote worker's network, bad actors can find and exploit it within minutes. It can be difficult to distinguish malicious access patterns from legitimate ones, and traditional security tools can't detect these attacks.

Adding to this challenge is the fact that developers are continuously building and modifying their cloud infrastructure, so the attack surface has become highly dynamic. This makes gaining visibility into the state and security posture of cloud environments an ongoing struggle.

And while the most common methods of managing cloud misconfiguration are largely manual (e.g. reviewing alerts, remediating issues, conducting audits), malicious actors use automation tools to find and exploit misconfiguration almost as soon as they're created. Once they find a resource misconfiguration that gives them access to a cloud environment, they exploit additional misconfigurations to move laterally, discover resources, and extract data.

The good news is that while traditional security tools and approaches may be insufficient for keeping cloud environments secure, developers are empowering themselves to address the problem. They're using policy-as-code to automate certification processes and compliance reporting while removing human error from the equation. And they've adopted a "Shift Left" approach to moving security earlier in the software development lifecycle when making corrective changes is faster and less costly.

Companies that empower their developers to take on the security of their cloud environments have a leg up on avoiding cloud-based data breaches landing them in the headlines.

The COVID-19 crisis is already impacting the cloud industry. We're already seeing a surge in cloud demand, likely due to the rapid adoption of online collaboration tools. But expect to see a longer-term cloud adoption trend as companies who previously opted to continue managing their own data centers face previously unforeseen challenges. Existing data center capacity may be insufficient in supporting newly-distributed teams with the surge capacity that an increased demand for online services. Ensuring the safety of datacenter workers and maintaining sufficient staff levels are now front burner issues. And there will be fresh concerns over global supply chains and the ability to acquire physical infrastructure needed to maintain operations.

And with a new wave of cloud adoption comes more cloud misconfiguration risks and more opportunities for malicious actors to exploit.

Josh Stella is CTO of Fugue
Share this

Industry News

October 29, 2020

Cisco announced new software-delivered solutions designed to simplify IT operations across on-premise data centers and multicloud environments.

October 29, 2020

Bugsnag announced availability of user stability analytics, which will help developers gain a clearer understanding of how application errors are impacting the user experience and other key performance indicators (KPIs) for the business, as well as offer insights on whether to fix bugs or build new features.

October 29, 2020

HAProxy Technologies announced an open-source release of a VMware Open Virtual Appliance (OVA) virtual machine image of the HAProxy load balancer for vSphere, which HAProxy Technologies will maintain on GitHub.

October 28, 2020

Progress announced a number of new innovations designed to facilitate adoption and at-scale deployment of Chef offerings for both new and experienced users of the DevSecOps portfolio.

October 28, 2020

StackRox announced the release of KubeLinter, its new open source static analysis tool to identify misconfigurations in Kubernetes deployments.

October 28, 2020

Vercel announced Next.js 10 featuring a number of new capabilities that accelerate frontend developers’ ability to enrich end users’ web experiences globally.

October 27, 2020

ThinkTank has released a suite of applications designed to keep distributed agile teams aligned and engaged, regardless of physical location.

October 27, 2020

Cloudify, a Service Orchestration and Automation Platform, announced its latest 5.1 product release which aims to take one step further to permanently remove silos and roadblocks that are consistently associated with migration to the public cloud.

October 27, 2020

WhiteSource announced its new native integration for Microsoft Azure DevOps services.

October 26, 2020

NetApp unveiled a new serverless and storageless solution for containers from Spot by NetApp, a new autonomous hybrid cloud volume platform, and cloud-based virtual desktop solutions.

October 26, 2020

GeneXus released GeneXus 17, a new version of its platform that empowers enterprises to create and evolve new applications at unprecedented speed.

October 26, 2020

Alcide announced the company’s security solutions are now integrated with AWS Security Hub, sending real-time threat intelligence and compliance information to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for easy consumption by Security and DevSecOps teams.

October 22, 2020

Puppet announced Puppet Comply, a new product built to work with Puppet Enterprise aimed at assessing, remediating, and enforcing infrastructure configuration compliance policies at scale across traditional and cloud environments.

October 22, 2020

Harness announced two new modules: Continuous Integration Enterprise and Continuous Features.

October 22, 2020

Render announced automatic preview environments which are essential for rapid and collaborative development of modern applications.