Organizations use more and more cloud services these days to improve business efficiency and achieve working flexibility for remote employees. However, keeping up with reliable cybersecurity measures in such a cloud-dependent world becomes challenging. And one of the reasons for that is the increase in insider risk.
In this article, we explore the major insider risks in cloud infrastructure and discuss the importance of IRM program for cloud security. We also offer a few valuable tips on crafting an efficient IRM strategy to help you safeguard your organization’s sensitive data in the cloud.
Why you might need a new approach to data protection
Over the past few decades, organizations have witnessed a significant transformation in the IT landscape. Previously, almost all data was securely stored within organizations’ data centers, and employees worked from well-defined office locations. But as of 2022, 60% of all corporate data is now stored in the cloud, according to Statista.
The migration of data from on-premise servers to cloud-based solutions and SaaS tools offers much more flexibility but also introduces new risks. Your data may now be dispersed across various locations, making monitoring and protecting it more challenging. Moreover, when you rely on cloud services, traditional security controls such as network firewalls and network-based data loss prevention (DLP) tools are no longer enough for comprehensive protection.
It’s worth mentioning that the transition to cloud environments isn’t the only factor that demands enhanced security measures. Other triggers that call for a new security approach include:
Migration to the cloud, changing work dynamics, and remote work significantly impact the way your employees and vendors store and handle data. This emphasizes the need for your organization to adopt a new approach to cloud infrastructure security. And one of the key vectors to pay attention to is insider risk management. Let’s take a closer look at the major insider risks in cloud infrastructure.
The major insider risks in cloud infrastructure
Insider risks (i.e. potential negative consequences an organization may face as the result of insiders’ actions) are now extremely high as more and more employees, contractors, and partners handle sensitive assets in unsafe ways. According to the 2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report by Ponemon Institute, insider security incidents rose 44% from 2020 to 2022, and the costs associated with them increased by more than 30% within the same time frame.
Note: It’s also important not to confuse insider risks with insider threats. Whereas insider risk is a quite broad concept that covers everyone who handles sensitive data, only a small share of them pose an insider threat. For example, when an employee makes a copy of your sensitive data – it’s a risk. But if the same employee exposes that data, it’s an insider threat.
The major insider cloud security risks that may become significant threats to your cloud infrastructure and data are as follows:
1. Insufficient control over data
If you use Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Azure, or any other cloud service on the rise, you may deal with newer security issues such as the inability to maintain complete control over your sensitive data stored on cloud services.
The major problem is that it’s quite challenging to define the boundaries of a cloud environment—systems and data may be attacked through the personal devices of remote employees, unauthorized third-party cloud apps and services, public networks, etc. Moreover, if you use complex multi-cloud and hybrid environments, this may pose difficulties in choosing effective cybersecurity tools that operate both in the cloud and on-premises.
2. Poor identity access management
Weak Identity Access Management (IAM) can be a significant problem in your cloud environment. IAM is a fundamental component of cloud security that controls who has access to resources and data within the cloud infrastructure. If your IAM is not adequately maintained, it could lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data, resulting in data breaches or data loss.
Poor IAM practices can also create security vulnerabilities, potentially allowing malicious actors to exploit weaknesses in access controls.
3. Misconfigured privileges
Improperly configured access controls and permissions in your cloud environment can result in a security gap through which unauthorized users can access your sensitive data or resources. Properly configured permissions are crucial to limit access to only what’s required for each user or system. Ideally, you should implement the principle of least privilege to restrict access to the bare minimum of users, thus, minimizing potential security risks in your cloud. It’s also a good idea to periodically perform user access reviews to avoid privilege misuse.
4. Credential compromise
Insider risks can involve the compromise of credentials, such as usernames and passwords, which can then be used to gain unauthorized access to your cloud resources. This compromise can occur through various means, including phishing attacks that trick your employees into revealing their credentials or weak security practices such as using easily guessable passwords.
Protecting user credentials through strong authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication and educating your employees about security best practices is essential in preventing credential-related insider threats.
5. Shadow IT
Shadow IT refers to situations when your employees install and use cloud applications and services without the approval or knowledge of your cybersecurity team. This unauthorized software usage can introduce various cybersecurity risks and issues related to IT compliance.
Furthermore, if these unauthorized cloud services are compromised or exploited, cybercriminals can get access to privileges and exploit them to delete or steal sensitive data from your cloud infrastructure.
6. Inadequate employee offboarding process
The employee offboarding process is one of the most common insider cloud security risks of all. Unfortunately, not all employees may leave your company without drama. And when disgruntled employees exit your organization, the chances are they will take more than just memories with them.
Former employees may not even have malicious intent when they leave your organization. However, your intellectual property or other valuable data may be of great use to them in their new roles. That’s why it’s critical to revoke access to every departing employee as soon as possible.
7. Malicious intent
Similar to standard office settings, malicious actors still pose a significant risk to your data integrity in the cloud. Individuals within your organization can steal sensitive data with motivations ranging from financial gain to espionage. Therefore, you should closely monitor user activity within your cloud infrastructure and respond immediately if you detect suspicious user actions.
8. Insider negligence
Accidental sharing of sensitive data outside your organizational boundaries and other negligent mistakes can also occur, posing the risk of data leakage. Your employees, especially remote workers, might neglect security policies and act carelessly when working. They may put your valuable assets at risk by clicking on a phishing link in an email, sharing user credentials, accessing sensitive data from an unsecured network, etc.
Negligence is the leading cause of security incidents, accounting for 56% of cybersecurity incidents.2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report by Ponemon Institute
What dangers can these risks bring?
When not managed properly, insider risks can lead to various cybersecurity incidents. The consequences of such incidents may be severe for your organization ranging from serious operational disruptions and financial loss to legal and regulatory issues.
Now that you’re acquainted with the major insider risks and their consequences in a cloud-driven world, the question becomes: How to conquer them? How can organizations continue to collaborate and be productive in cloud environments without putting sensitive data at risk? A well-architected insider risk management strategy is the key.
IRM program: definition and core elements
An insider risk management strategy is a comprehensive approach aimed at identifying, assessing, and mitigating the risks posed by insiders within your cloud infrastructure. The primary goal of an IRM program is to proactively manage and minimize the threats that can arise from your employees, third parties, or other individuals who have access to your systems and data.
Even if you already have an IRM program for cloud security in place, consider revising it to ensure that your program remains effective and addresses any new insider risks that arise over time. Regular assessments and updates can help you stay ahead of potential insider risks and enhance your overall security posture.
Ideally, the IRM program for protecting your cloud infrastructure should consist of three key elements.
To create a successful IRM program to manage insider risks in the cloud, you need to choose the right people with the right expertise. Engage insider risk analysts as their roles are very different from traditional security operations center (SOC) analysts or blue team analysts. Whereas most of the time blue team analysts typically deal with malware, phishing, or ransomware attacks, insider risk analysts deal with various issues related to user activity. Insider risk analysts perform the following tasks:
- Conduct risk assessments to identify potential insider threats
- Implement and use monitoring tools to detect unusual activities in the cloud
- Analyze information to identify patterns that may indicate insider threats
- Develop and implement an incident response plan
- Assist in the development and enforcement of security policies that mitigate insider risks
- Provide training and awareness programs for employees
- Investigate suspected insider incidents
- Stay up-to-date with emerging insider risk trends
- Ensure that your organization complies with relevant industry regulations and standards related to data protection, etc.
Remember that a strong IRM team is the backbone of your organization’s security culture. It helps ensure that your employees have enough security knowledge to safely collaborate and share your data in a cloud environment.
As already mentioned, human error will always remain a significant factor in cloud security. Education plays a vital role in protecting your organization against insider-led attacks. And by education, we don’t just mean providing regular cybersecurity awareness training to your staff.
You also have to set the right priorities and educate your security team on what data and processes are the most important to your organization and need to be highly protected within your cloud environment. By doing so, your security team will be able to put the right policies and technologies in place, making sure your IRM program is built with every important aspect in mind.
Once the security policies and technologies are in place, it’s critical to implement them among other teams in your organization such as HR and legal. By doing so, you can make sure that all critical information is included when you’re onboarding new employees.
The same goes for the offboarding process. You need to cooperate with your legal team to create a document you can send to all departing employees with strict rules specifying that they should delete any sensitive data and not use it in their new role. This way, you’ll minimize the risk of data theft.
The right cybersecurity tools can reinforce people and processes. No policy can be successful if it doesn’t have a technology backup. Visibility into user activity and how your data is handled is critical when it comes to cloud environments.
You need to integrate an IRM solution that is able to address most insider cloud security risks—safe access to the cloud, user identity management, visibility into user actions (especially departing employees), and the ability to respond to security incidents once they occur.
Overall, you should build an IRM program for cloud infrastructure that gives your security team the tools and knowledge they need to effectively identify, prioritize, and manage insider risk without slowing down business processes.
Managing insider risks in the cloud with Ekran System
Ekran System is a comprehensive IRM platform that can help you protect your cloud infrastructure and sensitive data in numerous ways.
Access management. With Ekran System, your security teams can restrict access to sensitive cloud resources based on user roles and permissions. More specifically, you’ll be able to:
- Granularly control access permissions
- Grant access by request
- Manually/automatically rotate passwords
- Provide users with one-time passwords
- Set access time scoops for sensitive data
- Automatically generate and manage the credentials of users with elevated access
- Securely store passwords in an encrypted vault
With such functionality, you’ll be able to implement a zero-trust approach to reduce the attack surface and minimize the possibility of insider data theft.
Identity management. Thanks to multi-factor authentication, Ekran System can help verify whether the users accessing your critical data are the ones they claim to be. You can also set secondary user authentication to identify even those users who are hiding behind shared accounts.
User activity monitoring. Ekran System monitors user activity in real-time, recording all user actions on servers, workstations, and cloud-based resources. Even if a network connection is lost, Ekran System will continue to collect monitoring data so that you can review every action once the connection is restored.
Session recording. The platform captures video recordings of user sessions in a screen capture format, allowing you to review exactly what users are/were doing in your cloud infrastructure. Thus, you can search important episodes of user sessions using different parameters—websites visited, applications opened, keystrokes typed, etc.
Note: In the event of a security incident, you can use Ekran System’s session recordings for forensic analysis, helping you understand the scope of the breach and how it occurred.
Real-time alerts and incident response. Ekran System identifies suspicious user behavior and generates real-time alerts, allowing you to immediately respond to potential threats in the cloud and take proactive measures. More precisely, you’ll be able to:
- Display warning messages to users
- Block users
- Stop ongoing processes
Auditing and reporting. Ekran System maintains detailed logs and audit trails of user activity, making it easier for you to identify patterns of behavior that may put your organization at risk, foresee malicious activity, and mitigate cybersecurity incidents.
The comprehensive reports can help you gain insight into the common mistakes and at-risk behaviors of your employees, which will help you compile an effective security awareness program targeted for your organization.
Reports can also be of great help with setting policies and practices when creating an efficient IRM program.
Additionally, Ekran System offers the SaaS deployment model for organizations that keep up with this fast-paced world by migrating to the cloud as fully as possible.
Insider risk management is now more important than ever before. The overall landscape of insider threats has evolved significantly: employees are now more distributed, data has moved to the cloud, and old-fashioned security tools may no longer be effective for your cloud infrastructure. To mitigate insider risks within your cloud environment, consider implementing an IRM strategy that involves a combination of people, processes, and technology.
With Ekran System, you can enhance your IRM strategy for cloud infrastructure by gaining visibility into user activity, receiving comprehensive reports, enforcing access controls, detecting insider threats, and responding to them.
Want to try Ekran System? Request access to the online demo!
See why clients from 70+ countries already use Ekran System.