15 most common cloud security attacks and countermeasures


Cloud computing is an emerging technology offering numerous benefits to organizations of all sizes, such as reduced IT costs, scalability, efficiency, flexibility, and more. However, it comes with drawbacks, mainly in the form of security threats and vulnerabilities.

Unlike traditional solutions, where perils come from either inside or outside the network, security threats in cloud computing can originate from different levels: application, network, and user levels.

In this post, we will look at different types of attacks at these three levels: cloud service provider (CSP) level, network level, and user or host level, and the ways to reduce their damage.

Application or Cloud Service Provider Level Security Issues

Application-level security issues (or cloud service provider CSP level attacks) refer to intrusion from malicious attackers due to vulnerabilities of the shared nature of the cloud. Some companies host their applications in shared environments used by multiple users without considering the possibilities of exposure to security breaches, such as:

1. SQL Injection

An unauthorized user gains access to the entire database of an application by inserting malicious code into a standard SQL code. Often used to attack websites, SQL injection can be avoided by the usage of parameterized queries and stored procedures. Additionally, applying least privilege principles to database users and regular security audits can help prevent these attacks.

2. Guest-Hopping Attack

In guest-hopping attacks, due to the separation failure between shared infrastructures, an attacker gets access to a virtual machine by penetrating another virtual machine hosted on the same hardware. One possible mitigation is the use of forensics and VM debugging tools to observe any attempt to compromise the virtual machine. Another solution is to implement a High Assurance Platform (HAP) to provide a high degree of isolation between virtual machines.

3. Side-Channel Attack

An attacker opens a side-channel attack by placing a malicious virtual machine on the same physical machine as the victim machine. Through this, the attacker gains access to confidential information on the victim machine. Countermeasures include ensuring that no legitimate user VMs reside on the same hardware as other users and using advanced cryptographic techniques to secure data.

4. Malicious Insider

A malicious insider can be a current or former employee or business associate who abuses system privileges and credentials to access and steal sensitive information. Implementing strict privilege management, conducting regular security audits, and utilizing behavioral analytics to detect anomalies can minimize this risk.

5. Cookie Poisoning

Cookie poisoning means gaining unauthorized access to an application or webpage by modifying the contents of the cookie. In a SaaS model, cookies contain user identity credential information that allows the applications to authenticate the user identity. Cookies are forged to impersonate an authorized user. Solutions include cleaning up the cookie and encrypting the cookie data.

6. Backdoor and Debug Option

A backdoor is a hidden entrance to an application, created intentionally or unintentionally by developers. Debug options are similar entry points used by developers to facilitate troubleshooting. Hackers can exploit these hidden doors to bypass security policies and access sensitive information. To prevent this kind of attack, developers should disable debugging options and conduct thorough code reviews to identify and remove backdoors.

7. Cloud Browser Security

A web browser is a universal client application that uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol to facilitate privacy and data security for Internet communications. TLS encrypts the connection between web applications and servers, such as web browsers loading a website. While TLS provides some security, combining it with XML-based cryptography in the browser core can offer enhanced protection against malicious attacks.

8. Cloud Malware Injection Attack

A malicious virtual machine or service implementation module such as SaaS or IaaS is injected into the cloud system, making it believe the new instance is valid. If successful, user requests are redirected automatically to the new instance where the malicious code is executed. Mitigation involves performing integrity checks of service instances before using them for incoming requests in the cloud system.

9. ARP Poisoning

Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) poisoning occurs when an attacker exploits weaknesses in the ARP protocol to map a network IP address to a malicious MAC address, updating the ARP cache with this malicious MAC address. Using static ARP entries can minimize this attack for small networks. For larger networks, strategies such as port security features to lock a single port or network device to a particular IP address can be more effective.

Network-Level Security Attacks

Cloud computing largely depends on existing network infrastructure such as LAN, MAN, and WAN, making it exposed to security attacks originating from users outside the cloud or a malicious insider. In this section, let’s focus on the network level security attacks and their possible countermeasures.

10. Domain Name System (DNS) Attacks

DNS attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the domain name system (DNS), which converts hostnames into corresponding IP addresses. DNS servers are subject to various kinds of attacks since DNS is used by nearly all networked applications. Common attacks include TCP SYN Flood Attacks, UDP Flood Attack, Spoofed Source Address/LAND Attacks, Cache Poisoning Attacks, and Man-in-the-Middle Attacks. Mitigation strategies include DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) to ensure the integrity and authenticity of DNS data and implementing rate limiting to reduce the impact of flood attacks.

11. Domain Hijacking

Domain hijacking involves changing a domain’s name without the owner or creator’s knowledge or permission. This enables intruders to obtain confidential business data or perform illegal activities such as phishing. Countermeasures include enforcing a waiting period of 60 days between a change in registration and a transfer to another registrar, and using the Extensible Provisioning Protocol (EPP), which utilizes a domain registrant-only authorization key to prevent unauthorized name changes.

12. IP Spoofing

In IP spoofing, an attacker gains unauthorized access to a computer by pretending that the traffic has originated from a legitimate computer. IP spoofing is used for other threats such as Denial of Service (DoS) and Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks:

a. Denial of Service Attacks (DoS)

DoS attacks aim to make a website or network resource unavailable by flooding the host with a massive number of packets that require extra processing. The target becomes so busy dealing with malicious packets that it does not respond to legitimate incoming requests, denying service to legitimate users. Mitigation includes using rate limiting, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems (IDS) to filter and block malicious traffic.

b. Man-In-The-Middle Attack (MITM)

MITM attacks involve an intruder intercepting and potentially altering communications between two parties who believe they are communicating directly with each other. Mitigation techniques include using strong encryption for communications, employing secure protocols like HTTPS, and implementing mutual authentication to ensure both parties are who they claim to be.

End-User/Host Level Attacks

End-user or host level attacks often involve phishing attempts to steal user identity information, including usernames, passwords, and credit card information. Phishing typically involves sending an email containing a link to a fake website that looks like a legitimate one. When the user enters their credentials on the fake website, the information is sent to the attacker. Countermeasures include using spam filters and blockers, training users to recognize and avoid phishing attempts, and implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security.

13. Credential Stuffing

Credential stuffing involves attackers using lists of compromised usernames and passwords to gain unauthorized access to user accounts. This attack exploits the fact that many users reuse passwords across multiple sites. Countermeasures include implementing MFA, using CAPTCHA to prevent automated login attempts, and encouraging users to adopt strong, unique passwords for each of their accounts.

14. Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a user’s data and demands a ransom for the decryption key. To protect against ransomware, organizations should implement robust backup and recovery strategies, maintain up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software, and educate users about the risks of downloading attachments or clicking on links from unknown sources.

15. Social Engineering

Social engineering involves manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. Tactics can include phishing emails, pretexting (creating a fabricated scenario to gain information), and baiting (leaving physical media like USB drives in public places). Countermeasures include regular security awareness training for employees, implementing strict verification procedures for sensitive requests, and fostering a culture of security mindfulness within the organization.

By understanding and addressing these common cloud security attacks and their countermeasures, organizations can better protect their data and maintain the integrity and availability of their cloud-based services.