The IT department of your institution thrives on secrets. With modern businesses running on applications, you might need thousands of database credentials, encryption keys, and API keys to operate the applications. These keys and credentials are your institution's secrets. You may also need to protect financial details and proprietary information that you need to keep away from the public-facing storage.
What constitutes a Cloud secret? Secrets are privileged information that users enter into an application or program for authentication. These credentials include:
- API Keys
- Private certificates
- SSH Keys
- Database passwords
- Privileged account credentials
The privileged information above holds the key to your institution's most sensitive data and systems. If a malicious person gets access to your secrets, they will access sensitive data that can compromise the company.
Storing Trade Secrets in the Cloud: Why Is Cloud Protection Important?
Cloud protection helps restrict access to sensitive data. Protecting your cloud secrets ensures there is no data loss that can compromise the company.
The Complex Nature of Applications
As applications become more complex, the management of secrets in the Cloud becomes more challenging. Unlike a few years ago, today, companies have to deal with millions of SSH keys, and these can be difficult to handle across different IT layers if a company employs a decentralized approach. In the Cloud, the provider can allow the storage of secrets in the same place with superuser privileges.
Rising Cases of Cyber Attacks
The rising cases of cyberattacks necessitate the need for more secure security measures in the Cloud. Attackers use worms and viruses to attack systems through tactics such as social engineering, phishing, and spear phishing.
One of the worms that shook the digital world was the WannaCry ransomware. WannaCry targeted computers running an outdated version of Microsoft Windows with a server message block (SMBv1). Once the worm got into one computer, it would send an SMBv1 request to other computers and devices in the network. Within a short period, the worm would have access to all computers in the network.
WannaCry held network data and then asked for a ransom to release the data. If your secrets are in the public-facing storage, the attackers will have access to sensitive data, thereby compromising your business.
Viruses and email worms get into your system from emails and messages as attachments or links. Once a worm installs in your computer, it takes over the entire system and can delete, hide, or alter your files. They replicate and spread to all computers in a network.
With the increasing risk of a cyberattack, you have to protect your secrets in the Cloud. The Cloud might be more secure than traditional data storage options, but not everyone who accesses a company's computer network should be trusted.
With cyber attackers employing new tactics every day, it is now more important than ever to secure data.
Avoid Severe Losses With a Secure System
Loss of company data, especially loss of customer data, can make a company lose its credibility. Customers will be more cautious when giving data to such a company, and they may even avoid your products altogether.
You will also spend a lot of money and time securing your business after an attack. Some attackers will only hold your data hostage and ask for ransom, but others might use the sensitive information to empty your bank accounts. Whether you ransom, lose customers, lose money from your account, or lose proprietary information, your business will suffer financially.
It will take you many months or years to recover from the financial loss. You have to convince your customers that your business is safe for them to come back to, and you have to replace the money you lost. While business insurance will help you recover some of the losses, the loss of your customers may take time to fix.
How Secure Is Cloud Computing: What Happens When You Mishandle Secrets?
Although the Cloud is safe, companies make the mistake of mishandling data. One of the mistakes people make is using the default credentials for their devices and applications. If you do not protect your devices and applications, a hacker will have an easy time getting into your network.
If you use the default password, the attacker will use a dictionary-style or guesswork attack. Some of the most common default passwords are 0000, 1234, 123456, 123456789, iloveyou, and years such as 1990.
Another way people mishandle secrets is by managing their passwords manually. This is where coworkers share passwords, the passwords are easy to remember, and they never change.
The secrets might also be in the same folder as configuration files. Because the files appear in plain text, it is easy for someone to read these files and get access to the password. Poor management of secrets can be detrimental to a company.
Avoid a Security Breach
Mismanagement of data opens up a business to security breaches. Attackers exploit the vulnerabilities of a business to access their data and lock them out of the network. If a company suffers a security breach today, you may have to disable your business's mobile apps, websites, and software.
Your business will not run as it always has, and you will end up losing your annual turnover and spend more money in order to restore the business and install new security measures. By the time you restore the business, you will have lost some customers and some investors.
The time you spend dealing with the security breach could have been used to better your business. So, you lose time, money, and business.
You will also have to deal with lawyers. You may sue the attackers, but you may never know who they are, or your customers and investors may sue your business for negligence.
How Is Data Protected in the Cloud? What Can You Do?
General Approach on How to Secure the Cloud
There are security standards that every company should follow. These standards include:
- Encrypt your data before you store it on the Cloud — You can also pick a cloud provider that encrypts your data to make it as hard as possible for the attacker to access and read your data.
- Perform data backup — Storing all your information in one server can be detrimental if hackers get access to that server. Use a cloud provider who backs up your data.
- Use two-factor authentication — This authentication requires that you provide two pieces of information when logging in. This way, even if the hacker knows your password, they still need to have your email to verify the login.
- Use anti-malware protection.
- Update your operating system and your software automatically.
Use the Right Tools
Even after doing all the above, you still need to use the right cloud provider. Most cloud providers today have features that help you secure your secrets.
Amazon AWS offers the AWS Secrets Manager, which allows you to make frequent secret rotation. With this manager, you can access your API keys and database credentials with ease. With Secrets Manager, developers do not have to code sensitive information in plain text.
Google Cloud Platform (GCP) also offers a secret manager. This is a centralized platform that allows you to store, access, manage, and audit your secrets. Some of the features in the manager include:
- Automatic secret replication
- Automatic storage
- Extensive audit logging
- Anomaly detection
- Default encryption
Microsoft Azure offers Key Vault, which encrypts keys and other secrets. You can use it to store and access secrets on Microsoft Azure.
The three tools above and others offer advanced security features for your secrets. When choosing a tool, ensure it encrypts data and manages account access to ensure you never lose your secrets.
Build a Secret Management System and Train Your Team
Your team needs to learn the basics of cybersecurity. They need to understand how to set strong passwords, how to change the passwords after a few months, how to encrypt data, and much more. This way, they will uphold the simple security practices that keep out attackers.
For instance, an employee who knows they are not supposed to click links or download attachments from emails whose sender they do not know will save your business time and money. Once your team is informed, you can go ahead and create a solid secret management system. This involves getting the right tools and restricting access to the secrets folders.
A cyber attack takes a toll on a business. You lose money, time, and customers. If you do not have the right insurance, your business will stall, and in some cases, the business might crash from the weight of money loss, lawsuits, and being locked out of your systems.
The right insurance gives you the sense of protection you need to focus on building your business. However, an insurance policy is not an excuse to mishandle your secrets. It is an assurance that you are covered in the event that hackers still get access to your secured system and you lose money.
A Tel Aviv native, Oren Rofman is a veteran of the Silicon Wadi tech ecosystem. Rofman is an expert in information technology, blockchain, big data and cloud security. You can check out his writing portfolio here.