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73% of organizations using the cloud are not sure which parts of security fall under their responsibility. Ultimately, the customer is responsible for security in the cloud, meaning protecting the workloads (applications and code) hosted on top of the virtual resources created in the cloud provider’s platform. Whereas the cloud provider is responsible for the security of the cloud, meaning the physical infrastructure (e.g., data centers, network and server equipment) and for operating that infrastructure (e.g., physical security, power redundancy, connectivity between facilities).
The big three cloud providers, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), offer various built-in tools and services designed to prevent a wide range of attacks and reduce the attack surface. Yet, breaches still happen.
Let’s examine some cases where the security tools provided by the cloud provider were not enough to fully secure the customer’s environment.
Security in the Cloud
Before we get started, it’s important to note that most cloud monitoring tools are based on one or more of the following categories:
Network security – Firewalls, networking segmentation and protection against DDoS attacks.
Vulnerability management – Scanning and patching vulnerabilities in the cloud system.
Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) – Focus on securing the workloads themselves with runtime visibility and protection.
Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) – Find misconfigurations and security risks based on predefined security policies in the cloud infrastructure. In some cases, remediation can be automated to terminate an attack.
SIEM capability – A combination of security event management (SEM) and security information management (SIM). The goal is to collect logs from different sources and take the appropriate action when an incident happens.
Refer to our article for a detailed discussion on the necessary security controls for a complete cloud security strategy.
The security tools provided by the cloud providers are not bulletproof though. Certain attack vectors, such as unknown vulnerabilities and supply chain backdoors, are not preventable.
Cloud Snooper Attack Bypasses Firewall
The Cloud Snooper attack bypassed the on-premise AWS Network Firewall using a rootkit. The rootkit hid the communication with the Command and control (C2) server by disguising it as “innocent” packets and then dropped a RAT. The attackers had control over the victims and a safe channel to communicate with the C2.
Despite having a well-configured firewall the attackers still managed to infiltrate the system, meaning the security tools of AWS couldn’t stop this attack. Having runtime visibility is an important last line of defense, since it detects the execution of any unauthorized code or commands which are critical for an attacker to carry out a successful attack. AWS doesn’t support this capability, therefore the cloud customer should leverage third party tools for workload-centric security and runtime protection.
Security Tools Have Vulnerabilities Too
Cloud services have their own vulnerabilities which can be exploited as an initial attack vector. The problem is it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all software vulnerabilities, especially for large deployments spread across multiple clouds and when using third parties. Consider that not every software has a fix and not every vulnerability is known. Not to mention, fixing vulnerabilities takes time and third party vulnerable software also exists.
Relying only on the cloud provider’s tools is not enough because once a vulnerability in the tool is exploited by an attacker, the only way to detect and stop the attack is by detecting unauthorized code or commands in runtime. This capability is not natively supported by AWS and GCP. Azure offers Microsoft defender however it has limited support for Linux which runs 90% of the cloud.
Misconfigurations are the Leading Cause of Attacks
A whopping 99% of cloud security failures are expected to be the fault of the customer through 2025. Despite the variety of tools and policies, setting up and maintaining a secured environment relies on skilled and experienced professionals. Yet, people can make mistakes that can compromise information or expose the infrastructure to attacks.
For example: FedEx exposed information by leaving an exposed storage server. The Pentagon exposed 100 GB of data from a joint intelligence program with the U.S. Army and National Security Agency. The data had been available for years in a publicly exposed S3 bucket.
The attack using a misconfigured Docker port drops the Doki malware which installs a backdoor on the victim’s machine and executes a cryptomining malware. 73% of companies leave SSH ports publicly exposed.
Sometimes the user is not aware of the misconfiguration only until a breach occurs and the damage is done. In this case, a runtime protection solution can stop the attack before it causes more damage.
Unauthorized Access to Cloud Workloads
Credentials and permissions have an important role in securing the infrastructure and cloud providers offer dedicated tools like Identity and Access Management (IAM). However, when attackers or malicious insiders gain or steal credentials to cloud assets they can cause extensive damage to the entire cloud environment.
Attackers used Tesla’s Kubernetes dashboard that was exposed to the public internet and not password protected. One of the pods contained access credentials for Tesla’s AWS environment which included an Amazon S3 bucket that stored sensitive information and telemetry. The attackers ran cryptomining malware on the server and took measures to hide the activity of the miner. The attackers used atypical ports for communicating with the mining pools and they also did not use well-known mining pool hosts.
When an attacker bypasses all security measures, having clear visibility into what code is running on your systems enables you to identify and stop the attack before the attacker gains remote access to other assets. Having runtime security measures in the environment will help to identify and mitigate attacks on cloud workloads. But not all cloud vendors have these tools, specifically for Linux.
You Need Runtime Protection
Currently, AWS and GCP do not offer a runtime Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) focused on what is running “inside the machine.” Azure has a CWPP but it’s mostly focused on Windows threats, which means you still need a third party tool like Intezer Protect to secure your Linux workloads. Runtime visibility and protection for your cloud-hosted applications is a critical control that is not supported by the cloud providers.
At Intezer, we recommend protecting the runtime environment as a key security control. Most research shows that nearly all successful attacks are based on running unauthorized code or commands, regardless of how the attacker got in. Risk reduction programs like vulnerability scanning and misconfiguration management are very important but they take a lot of time. If you take an assume breach mentality, an attacker will eventually get through, making the last line of defense a priority. Protecting the runtime environment buys you time to do larger programs to reduce risk and have a more holistic cloud security. Runtime protection is also needed to detect and respond to attacks. If an attacker exploits an unknown vulnerability or a backdoor in the supply chain you must be able to detect it.
Detect and respond to cloud attacks with Intezer’s SC Award winning threat detection technology. Secure all types of compute resources, including Linux VMs, containers and Kubernetes, against the execution of any unauthorized or malicious code, under one roof. Try Intezer Protect for free on 10 hosts.
Nicole is a malware analyst and reverse engineer. Prior to Intezer she was an embedded researcher in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Corps.