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Why should we automate cloud apps – because hackers do

Organisations worldwide would be safer automating their cloud applications – because hackers do just that.

Migrating to the cloud is no longer a forward-looking trend: it's the industry mainstream, with about 70% of production applications running in the cloud. Cloud security is becoming synonymous with cybersecurity.

Organisations need to protect their cloud applications while considering the special characteristics of public cloud environments and the security challenges they pose.

Although most production applications now run in cloud environments, many organisations still use on-prem deployments. Usually, this is for testing, and once the application is released to production, it heads for the cloud.

Moving to the cloud is all about agility and speed. But frequently, this comes at the expense of security, leaving organisations, customers, and their data at risk. Adopting multi-cloud and hybrid cloud strategies adds additional challenges and threat vectors to an increasingly complex environment.

Four common cloud vulnerabilities frequently lead to a breach:

Public exposure

It's the oldest mistake in the book: spinning up a new cloud resource but leaving it publicly accessible and completely unsecured. Hackers routinely employ automated tools to scan target networks for any exposed assets, meaning that unsecured public assets are virtually guaranteed to be discovered.


Cloud security is still a ‘greenfield' for many security practitioners who are unsure exactly which cloud configurations they need to close down and how. Misconfigurations come in many shapes and forms, but one constant is how ubiquitous they are. Almost any organisation, security practitioner and application can fall victim to some type of cloud security misconfiguration.

Excessive permissions

While moving to the cloud enables fast business operations, access credentials are frequently handed out in a hasty and unnecessary manner. As a result, many users end up with excessive permissions for which they have no business need. Should any of those credentials fall into the wrong hands, attackers will have far-reaching access to sensitive data.

Malicious access

According to IBM's 2021 The Cost of Data Breach report, stolen credentials are the main cause of data breaches, accounting for one in five breaches. Attackers use stolen credentials for malicious purposes, accessing the network, searching for sensitive data, and then exfiltrating it and selling it on the dark web.

This is an even bigger problem in cloud environments, where security managers have less visibility and control over the actions of cloud users.

Attackers use automation, so should defenders. Even the largest and best-trained organisations can fall victim to sophisticated cloud attacks. So how can a single hacker achieve such scale?

With automation. Automated tools have become a common component of hackers' toolkits. While many are labelled as ‘ethical hacking' or ‘testing' tools, they are frequently used by hackers to perform reconnaissance against potential targets.

Cloud defence strategies

What can organisations do against a wide array of automated scanning, reconnaissance and exploitation tools? Leverage automation. The use of defensive automation procedures can prevent easily exploitable vulnerabilities and automate attack detection if, and when, an organisation is penetrated.

Common vulnerabilities that can be closed with defensive automation include:

Publicly exposed assets: Running in the public cloud makes it easy to spin up new resources and forget to secure them. Automated defensive tools can help identify publicly exposed assets and ensure they are secured.

Cloud misconfigurations: Make sure the cloud environment does not fall prey to common cloud misconfigurations that make cloud networks vulnerable to penetration and exploitation.

Excessive permissions: Public cloud environments are notorious for granting unnecessary permissions to users who have no business need for them. Intelligent permission analysis methods and smart hardening procedures can help crackdown on excessive permissions, limiting the threat surface without interfering with business activities.

Compliance violations: Since cloud security is frequently a black box to many organisations, a primary objective for many migrating to the cloud is to make sure they comply with national and industry standards. Defensive automation can help identify compliance requirements an organisation might not meet and address them.

Assume a breach: The threat vectors and attack surfaces that must be protected are nearly infinite, but beginning with the vectors listed above is a good place to start and will go far to ensuring that data is protected.

However, since the threat surface is so large, it is virtually impossible to guarantee that hackers won't penetrate it. Instead, assume that penetration is a matter of when, rather than if, and plan accordingly.

By using automation, a number of different steps should be taken immediately for when that fateful day comes:

Detecting suspicious activity in a cloud environment is potentially indicative of data breach activity. Using a risk-prioritised detection engine will enable CISOs to focus first on the alerts which matter the most.

Many detection tools can detect practically every peep on a network. However, this only leads to alert fatigue. What's required is an engine that not only detects events, but also correlates them into unified storylines showing step-by-step progression of the attacks.

Detection is only half of the equation. And while many attacks take time to unfold, an organisation wants to respond fast. So, an automated response is critical to stopping attacks the moment they are detected and before any damage is done.

Cloud native protection

Leading vendors offer cloud native protector tools to help organisations lock down their cloud security posture and protect against common vulnerabilities to their public cloud environments. Other posture management apps enable security managers to quickly identify security vulnerabilities to their cloud security posture, isolate them and close them off.

Also, seek advanced capabilities for cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) to remediate excessive permissions and other IAM vulnerabilities. Sophisticated cloud threat detection and response (CTDR) tools are also crucial for immediate detection, correlation, and response of malicious activity within the cloud environment.

Together, these features provide comprehensive, multi-layered security for public cloud environments, helping organisations secure their workloads and ensure their customer data is not exposed.

Article by Radware senior product marketing manager, Eyal Arazi.

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