How to minimise cloud data security risks in 2016

Phil Muncaster

Monday 18 January 2016

With mandatory breach reporting on the way, what are the key threats coming down the road this year and how can they be mitigated?

As the new year begins, cloud adoption in the UK has never been higher. Eighty-four per cent of organisations – beyond the magical 8 out of 10 – now use the cloud, up from 48 per cent in 2010, according to the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF). What’s more, 70 per cent of those who already use cloud computing predict that their adoption will increase over 2016, and 12 per cent of those who don’t currently use the cloud say they will within a year. A new Amazon Web Services UK region planned for 2016 will help boost adoption even further. But security is still one of the biggest barriers. Despite the vast majority of respondents (99 per cent) to that CIF study claiming never to have suffered a breach, 70 per cent cited data security as an inhibitor.

So what are the key threats facing firms’ cloud data in 2016, and what can best be done to help secure it?

Let’s start with the most obvious threat first: the data breach. We’ve seen information-stealing cyber attacks continue to affect organisations across the globe in 2015 and the coming 12 months will be no different. Whether it’s an attack on a nation state by those attempting to snatch sensitive information with geopolitical value; financially motivated cybercriminals after IP and customer data to sell on; or hacktivists looking to disrupt and discomfort, the bad guys are more adept than ever at finding gaps in typical cloud security. A serious data breach – as the TalkTalk attack showed – can result not only in a hefty bill for remediation and clean-up, legal costs, potential industry fines and the like, but also damage to reputation. Such damage is notoriously difficult to repair and can lead to long-term customer attrition.

Roger Levy, vice president of products at open source database specialist MariaDB, expects organisations in 2016 to increasingly embrace a multi-layered approach to security, combining improved access controls as well as native encryption to protect data at rest; and SSL encryption to protect it as it moves between applications.

“Ultimately, hackers want access to the content of an enterprise’s database, so securing the database itself must be a core component of every organisation’s IT strategy,” he argues.

Held to ransom

One of the fastest growing malware trends in 2015 was that of ransomware – malicious code designed to encrypt the user’s data until they pay a fee for the crypto key. And the UK was particularly badly hit. One in ten of all ransomware-infected emails sent globally targeted UK users in 2015, and 2016 will be worse still, spreading to multiple platforms including Linux, according to security firm Bitdefender. Along with a continued increase in DDoS attacks, this all proves that cybercriminals are still getting a good return on investment from launching campaigns designed to extort money from their victims.

Cloudmark research analyst, Andrew Conway, urges firms to make sure all critical data is backed up, and that they sign up to a reliable DDoS protection service.

“Ransomware is such a cash cow for cybercriminals, and thanks to Bitcoin the barriers to entry are low, so we can expect to see the attacks continue and spread to other platforms such as OSX and Linux,” he explains.

“The best protection against ransomware is not to get infected, so make sure your spam filtering and anti-virus software are current and effective. However, if you do get hit, simply being able to restore from a backup will prevent you having to pay ransom.”

As for other types of malware on the horizon, think tank Boston Global Forum argues in a new report on cybersecurity that there’ll be much to keep IT teams busy:

“Growing forms of malware in 2016 will likely include blastware designed to destroy data and systems upon detection, ghostware designed to hide its own forensic tracks, and two-faced malware designed to act normally when being sandboxed upon startup, but change into active malware when no longer under examination. […]

Onion attacks, in which recent attacks rely upon previously hidden infections, will increase in 2016. Onion attacks are some of the most difficult to root out of a system because of their complexity and the hidden nature of their underlying backdoors. As malware infections layer on top of one another, onion attacks will lead to increased lack of cybersecurity in 2016.”

The key to coping with this barrage of new threats in 2016 comes down to a combination of people, process and technology. The latest whizz-bang cybersecurity on its own rarely works, unless combined with a well thought out security strategy  which would include a focus on hiring the right IT staff and improving employee training and awareness. With the European General Data Protection Regulation all but signed, the prospect of mandatory breach reporting and potential fines of up to 4 per cent of annual turnover for non-compliance will ensure CEOs across the region make security an urgent priority for 2016.

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