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Ask an MSP ExpertData breaches in the cloud are becoming more common, impacting industry giants and small players alike, and MSPs now have to dig deeper to prevent them.

In 2020, Blackbaud, a cloud computing vendor for nonprofits, foundations, corporations, education institutions, and healthcare entities, disclosed that it had fallen victim to a ransomware attack. The attack exposed the data of millions of customers.

The hack on its self-hosted environment lasted from February 7 until Blackbaud discovered it on May 20. Unencrypted data ranging from bank account information, Social Security numbers, usernames, and passwords was extracted.

Proper configuration can prevent vulnerabilities

According to the Wall Street Journal, human error is the culprit:

Poor security practices, complicated controls, and rushed technology programs are causing a rash of data breaches stemming from the use of cloud services, experts say. Both users and cloud providers could be doing more to prevent them.

For some perspective, Smarter MSP caught up with Khester Kendrick, a professor in the college of Science, Engineering, and Technology at Grand Canyon University. Kendrick specializes in cybersecurity.

Kendrick says that cloud security has taken a beating as of late, but the recent breaches also coincide with the massive influx of businesses crowding onto the cloud.

“The increased flexibility, lower cost, decreased labor and man-hours coupled with resource sharing makes it a very attractive platform,” notes Kendrick.

​The influx of companies leveraging the cloud, Kendrick adds, provides malicious actors a more centralized target or one-stop-shop to steal data, whether in motion or at rest.

“This centralized shared distribution is where the weakness of the system comes in,” Kendrick advises.

While it is difficult for someone to breach virtual layers, it is still possible when those who are configuring the service fail to apply all the security features the service provider suggests. This, Kendrick says, highlights what the Wall Street Journal called the cloud’s most significant vulnerability: human error. Improperly configured cloud services can create vulnerabilities along with people who inadvertently download malware to their cloud services.

“Everyone seems to think the cloud is this computer in the sky with unlimited storage, they forget it is still a server, you are simply leasing space on it,” Kendrick asserts.

Multi-tasking MSPs must respond quickly

Where does this leave MSPs trying to watch client networks, while also keeping an eye on the cloud?

“The trick is to get ahead of the game, which is a lot easier said than done as with anything in this rapidly growing field,” Kendrick advises.

“Knowing what is happening and being prepared will always beat a reactive approach,” Kendrick says adding that cybersecurity challenges shift and change so quickly, and in so many directions, it is challenging to prepare for a singular attack vector.

“So we have to be prepared on multiple fronts with experienced personnel that can make decisions. Cybersecurity is not a yes man field. You need intelligent, trained, proactive people manning those front lines,” Kendrick states. With the shortage of cybersecurity talent, MSPs have a role to play in protecting the cloud.

Privilege access management and shared responsibility have also emerged as vulnerability points in the cloud. With various companies creating cloud infrastructures, there is no one-size-fits-all security solution, but Kendrick points out that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“It could be argued that a single cloud infrastructure is a weakness. We often use diversification as a security tactic in cybersecurity, so if a system or platform is compromised, the attacker has to go through a different system to gain full access,” Kendrick says.

This allows the security systems to detect the intruder, identify the vulnerability, and remediate the problem before they have full access. There is no silver bullet in cybersecurity. One vendor might use one type of system, and another uses a different type. There are usually benefits and disadvantages to each.

Stay tuned, as Kendrick will continue to offer specific steps that security personnel can take to keep the cloud safe in a future “Ask an MSP Expert” article on SmarterMSP.

Photo: phloxii / Shutterstock

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Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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