The cloud industry is expected to reach a $250 billion milestone soon with popular cloud-based platforms such as OpenStack, Microsoft Azure, Google Storage, and Amazon leading the way. Cloud computing has reached mainstream adoption, and organizations continue to invest millions of their IT budgets in cloud initiatives.

As more enterprises focus on priorities like improving business resilience, digitizing operations, and supporting hybrid workplaces, they’ll shift more of their business processes and infrastructure to the cloud. Gartner forecasts that more than 45% of IT spending on infrastructure, software, and business process outsourcing will be reallocated from traditional to cloud solutions by 2024.

Cloud technology and its market have matured, but many organizations still overlook the security risks of cloud computing. Surprisingly, 45% of organizations have experienced an attack and 25% have experienced a breach, according to a recent SailPoint survey. A big part of the cloud security problem is the complexity of the environment. The majority of organizations rely on multiple vendors while lacking consistent security policy enforcement. To lower the risks of cloud computing, enterprises need to ensure that cloud security is part of a risk mitigation strategy.

An Overview of Cloud Computing Models

Cloud computing, often simply called “the cloud,” refers to an internet-based application, networking, and software solutions to deliver or access computing resources and services. Cloud services are delivered via different types of models, such as:

  • Public cloud: The most-common type of deployment, the public cloud is a shared resource among the cloud service provider’s customers. The provider owns and manages all the supporting infrastructure.
  • Private cloud: Hosted either at an in-house data center or by a provider, a private cloud is used exclusively by one organization, and provides more flexibility and control than the public cloud.
  • Hybrid cloud: The hybrid model combines the public and the private clouds, allowing organizations to move workloads and applications between the two environments.
  • Community cloud: A less common model, a community cloud is shared among organizations that are part of certain communities, such as government agencies or financial institutions, and is typically provided by a third party.

There are three main types of cloud computing categories that are delivered through these models:

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) refers to applications that users access over the internet instead of installing them on local devices. Cloud service providers typically charge for pay-as-you-go subscriptions, hosting all the underlying infrastructure and data in their own data centers, as well as managing the software and the hardware.
  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) are development platforms that provide the infrastructure, middleware, and development tools that enable organizations to develop and deploy applications. PaaS can be open source, such as OpenShift and Cloud Foundry, or proprietary, such as with Microsoft Azure and Salesforce’s
  • Infrastructure-as-service (IaaS) provisions and manages the entire stack—compute resources, storage, and networking—in the cloud, while an organization manages the middleware, databases, data, operating systems, and so forth.

Some emerging categories that cloud providers now offer are:

  • Containers-as-a-service (CaaS)
  • Function-as-a-service (FaaS)
  • IT-as-a-service (ITaaS)
  • Everything-as-a-service (XaaS).

The Varied Security Risks of Cloud Computing

The security risks of cloud computing vary slightly depending on the delivery model used, but many of the risks extend into every type of cloud solution. Taking the time to understand and evaluate these risks can help to ensure that you have the right processes and tools to mitigate them.

Data Breaches

One of the biggest security risks of cloud computing, data breaches have costly consequences for organizations of all sizes and in all industries. Data breaches occur when a security incident causes unauthorized access to critical data. In short – this results in a data leak. Cloud security issues that can be prevented cause many large, high-profile data breaches.

Insider Threats

Insiders don’t need to act maliciously to pose a security risk. Often, users create exposure by simply storing sensitive files or sharing them with outsiders via unsanctioned or unsecure cloud services. This is particularly worrisome in a BYOD environment, where the IT team often has limited visibility into devices and cloud applications.

Excessive Entitlements and Privileges

Spinning up a new virtual machine or instance and adding containers and objects is easily done within cloud environments. However, this can lead to excessive and unused access that increase the attack surface as well as the chances of misuse.

Poor Access Management

Many organizations adopt the cloud without a holistic strategy that extends their identity access management (IAM) program into their cloud ecosystem. The lack of an integrated solution creates visibility gaps, along with inconsistent policies and enforcement, which leads to compromised credentials and data breaches.

Privileged Access Management

Privileged access management, or PAM, can greatly reduce security risks with best practices such as least privilege. This practice restricts access rights based on what’s necessary to perform regular activities. Many enterprises, however, leave gaps by not implementing PAM across their on-premises and cloud ecosystem. 

Misconfigurations and Other Vulnerabilities

Misconfigurations such as default database settings and unsecure access keys are very common, and threat actors frequently exploit these vulnerabilities. Misconfigurations are preventable because they are typically the result of human error. This is in fact, one of the most common causes of data breach.


Regulatory compliance affects just about any organization. Managing compliance in the cloud becomes complicated due to the proliferation of cloud vendors and solutions within each organization. While cloud providers are responsible for securing their own underlying infrastructure, the secure use of that infrastructure—and the data that resides in it—still lies with the users.

Insecure APIs

Application programming interfaces, or APIs, enable the provisioning of computing resources. Threat actors exploit unsecure APIs—such as APIs that lack authentication or use unvetted open-source software—to gain access to the computing resources.

Summing Up Cloud Security

To protect against the security risks of cloud computing, organizations should consider adopting cloud access and entitlement management solutions that provide visibility across all cloud resources along with consistent enforcement and management of access policies. Furthermore, organizations should consider implementing a cloud governance framework that integrates their cloud access and entitlement management solutions into their overall identity management strategy. By taking this identity-centric approach to cloud governance organizations can use their existing identity processes, workflows, signoffs and reporting for their cloud environments, simplifying administration, enhancing security and easing compliance.

For more information, please visit our Cloud Governance webpage.

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