21% of all files in the cloud contain sensitive data

McAfee released its Cloud Adoption and Risk Report, which analyzed billions of events in anonymized customers production cloud use to assess the current state of cloud deployments and to uncover risks. The report revealed that nearly a quarter of the data in the cloud can be categorized as sensitive, putting an organization at risk if stolen or leaked.

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Data in the cloud

The study found that while organizations aggressively use the public cloud to create new digital experiences for their customers, the average enterprise experiences more than 2,200 misconfiguration incidents per month in their infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) instances.

Cloud service providers only cover the security of the cloud itself, not customer data or customer use of their infrastructure and platforms. Companies are always responsible for securing their data wherever it is, hence highlighting the need to deploy cloud security solutions that span the whole cloud spectrum, from SaaS (software-as-a-service) to IaaS and PaaS.

“Operating in the cloud has become the new normal for organizations, so much so that our employees do not think twice about storing and sharing sensitive data in the cloud,” said Rajiv Gupta, senior vice president of the Cloud Security Business, McAfee. “Accidental sharing, collaboration errors in SaaS cloud services, configuration errors in IaaS/PaaS cloud services, and threats are all increasing. In order to continue to accelerate their business, organizations need a cloud-native and frictionless way to consistently protect their data and defend from threats across the spectrum of SaaS, IaaS and PaaS.”

Cloud collaboration a blessing and a curse

Cloud services bring a momentous opportunity to accelerate business through their ability to quickly scale, allowing businesses to be agile with their resources and provide new opportunities for collaboration. Cloud services like Box and productivity suites like Office 365 are used to increase the fluidity and effectiveness of collaboration. However, collaboration means sharing, and uncontrolled sharing can expose sensitive data. Findings demonstrate that:

  • Twenty-two percent of cloud users share files externally, up 21 percent YoY
  • Sharing sensitive data with an open, publicly accessible link, has increased by 23 percent YoY
  • Sensitive data sent to a personal email address also increased by 12 percent YoY

To secure sensitive data in cloud storage, file-sharing and collaboration applications, organizations must first understand which cloud services are in use, hold their sensitive data, and how that data is being shared and with whom. Once organizations have gained this visibility, they can then enforce appropriate security policies to prohibit highly sensitive data from being stored in unapproved cloud services and provide guardrails that prevent noncompliant sharing of sensitive data from approved cloud services, such as when data is shared with personal email addresses or through an open, public link.

IaaS and the risks of misconfiguration

With SaaS, securing data, user identity and access to data is primarily the customer’s responsibility. With IaaS, customers take on a much larger share of security responsibility that includes data, identity, access, applications, network controls and host infrastructure. While this provides customers with an opportunity to have greater control over their cloud infrastructure, it also increases the organization’s surface area for security risks and their responsibility for the same. IaaS providers, like AWS, provide several infrastructure and platform services, each having deep and complicated security settings. Magnifying the IaaS/PaaS security challenge is the fact that organizations use multiple IaaS/PaaS vendors running several instances of each vendor’s product. McAfee research found:

  • Ninety-four percent of IaaS/PaaS use is AWS, but 78 percent of organizations using IaaS/PaaS have both AWS and Azure
  • Enterprise organizations have an average of 14 misconfigured IaaS/PaaS instances running at one time, resulting in over 2,200 individual misconfiguration incidents per month
  • Five-and-a-half percent of AWS S3 buckets have world read permissions, making them open to the public

McAfee recommends that organizations continuously audit and monitor their AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform and other IaaS/PaaS configurations as a standard security practice, while protecting data stored in IaaS/PaaS platforms. IaaS/PaaS use is growing rapidly as an alternative to on-premises data centers. Businesses need to get ahead and address their security responsibilities—data protection and threat defense as they would for SaaS cloud services and also configuration compliance and workload protection for IaaS/PaaS cloud services—before they experience a security incident.

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Cloud threats continue to grow

Compromised accounts and insider threats

Most of the threats to data in the cloud result from compromised accounts and insider threats. The average organization generates over 3.2 billion events per month in the cloud, of which 3,217 are anomalous behaviors and 31.3 are actual threat events. In addition:

  • Threat events in the cloud, such as a compromised account, privileged user, or insider threat, have increased 27.7 percent YoY
  • Eighty percent of all organizations experience at least one compromised account threat per month
  • Ninety-two percent of all organizations have stolen cloud credentials for sale on the Dark Web
  • Threats in Office 365 have grown by 63 percent YoY

To get ahead of comprised accounts and insider threats, organizations should understand how cloud services are used. They should also identify anomalous behavior, such as when the same user accesses the cloud from disparate locations simultaneously, which could indicate a compromised account threat.

As a first step towards protecting data in the cloud, cloud access security brokers (CASB) should be implemented. CASBs are cloud-native services that enforce security, compliance and governance policies for cloud services. They help organizations leverage and extend their existing security controls where appropriate and define and deploy new cloud-native ones where appropriate to enable enterprises to consistently protect their data and defend from threats across the spectrum of SaaS, IaaS and PaaS.

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