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Cloud Penetration Testing

Read Time: 4 min.

More and more organizations are switching to cloud services to accelerate business operations
and develop collaboration, so the need for cloud security is greater than ever. For
this reason, the relevance of cloud penetration testing in 2020 continues to grow.

Cloud Penetration Testing
Cloud Penetration Testing

The number of cloud migrations is growing every year, so the issue of security is still a serious topic. The first step to minimizing the risks in the cloud is the timely identification of key security threats in order to be able to respond in a timely manner and effectively prevent their impact. And here cloud penetration testing remains one of the most effective methods for ensuring the protection of company data.

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Cloud rental gives you the opportunity to immediately use ready-made computing resources. There is no longer any need for the purchase and administration of equipment, since the provider is responsible for all this. Flexibility and scalability are the main advantages of a virtual cloud, and also it provides the opportunity not to invest heavily in IT infrastructure, which makes cloud solutions cost-effective. Choosing the right partners, companies get a competitive advantage in terms of business digitization, flexibility of processes, ability to quickly respond to market changes.

You can independently regulate the amount of rented resources, and therefore regulate the cost of rent, create virtual machines, configure the network and organize network traffic according to your chosen rules, as well as do much more using the convenient control panel. Isolation of data and applications running inside virtual machines is performed using the hypervisor. Client traffic in private networks is protected, which completely excludes access from one isolated network to another. In addition, at your discretion, you can use additional encryption mechanisms for data and network traffic over the technologies used.

What is Cloud Penetration Testing?

A cloud penetration testing refers to authorized cyberattacks at the network and application level for all publicly available company services from the Internet when conducting an external penetration test, as well as an internal active security audit. The penetration test is designed to confirm or deny the possibility of unauthorized access to protected information, using vulnerabilities found during testing.

The main goal of the cloud penetration testing is to detect the weak points and strengths of the system so that you can accurately assess the security status. Pentest allows you to really check how resilient the IT system is to attacks by cybercriminals. Such testing is carried out both for the IT infrastructure and for various business applications. During testing, a check is performed for vulnerabilities that could arise as a result of improper system configuration or due to software flaws.

Penetration test ensures compliance with various standards and regulations, such as PCI DSS Compliance and Application Security , which requires Payment card processing companies conduct annual penetration testing. At the same time, the test should cover the entire perimeter of the information environment of cardholder data. So, the cloud penetration testing prevents economic and reputational losses by checking and building effective information protection of the company.

In addition to the ability to comply with the mandatory requirements of various standards, cloud services pentesting provides a general and practical check of the company's security and safety level, the ability to prevent negative incidents that can affect the company's image and customer safety, reduce the risks of data leakage and unauthorized access, as well as detect all critical threats.

Obviously, the operating principle of the VM is significantly different from the physical, real equipment. If the processor core of a physical computer is uniquely localized on the CPU chip, then in IaaS this is a hypervisor-based simulation of a quota allocated from the total processor power of the cloud. Despite the fact that each user the provider gives the ordered amount of resources, the real state and status of the cloud infrastructure is constantly changing:

  • when adding and removing running abstractions of runtimes, virtual machines;
  • due to fluctuations in user load;
  • after start and stop running applications;
  • during backups, data recovery.

Thus, there is a high probability that when you re-run the same test at different times, the results will not be identical, since the status of the infrastructure and the state of the communication channels have changed.

A cloud penetration testing consists of a sequence of several steps typical of other types of testing:

  1. Initiation;
  2. Search for information in open sources;
  3. Active collection of information;
  4. Analysis of information;
  5. Report;
  6. Demonstration, discussion of the results;
  7. Check for fixing vulnerabilities.

Based on the results of the testing, a report is compiled containing all the discovered vulnerabilities in the information security system. Such a report provides a number of recommendations to address the identified vulnerabilities.

Threats That Cloud Penetration Testing Helps to Identify

The cloud is unprotected to the equal danger as conventional infrastructures. Through the big amount and value of data that is often transferred to the clouds today, the sites of cloud hosting providers are an tempting aim for hackers.

  1. Data leak.
    The severity of potential threats directly depends on the importance of the stored data. The disclosure of personal user information, as a rule, receives less publicity than the disclosure of different organizations’ data, which causes significant harm to the reputation of an individual company. In case of data leakage, the company will met fines, lawsuits and other troubles, as well as indirect components in the form of damage to the brand and wastage, which lead to irreversible consequences and protracted procedures for restoring the company's image.
  2. Authentication bypass and compromise of accounts.
    Data leakage is often the result of a careless attitude towards authentication mechanisms when weak passwords are used, certificates and encryption keys are not properly managed. In addition, companies face rights and permissions problems when end users are assigned much more authority than is actually necessary. The problem also occurs when the user is transferred to another position or quits. Few in a hurry to update the credentials according to the new user roles. As a result, the account contains much more features than required. And this is a security weakness that will also help identify cloud penetration testing.
  3. Hacking interfaces and APIs.
    Today, cloud services and applications are inconceivable without a convenient user interface. The safety and access to cloud services rely on how well-developed availability and encryption mechanisms in the API are. When interacting with a third party using its own APIs, the risks increase significantly. This is due to the fact that additional information is required, up to the username and password of the user. Security-weak interfaces are a narrow pass in accessibility, secrecy, continuity, and safety.
  4. Vulnerability of the systems used.
    This problem occurs in multi-tenant cloud environments. The issue of this vulnerability is minimized by properly selected IT management methods. According to reports of CSA , the costs of reducing system vulnerabilities are lower compared to other IT costs.
  5. Theft of accounts.
    Phishing, fraud, exploits, in addition dangers like trying to manipulate transactions and transfigure info are as well found in the cloud. Cloud platforms are considered by attackers as a field for attacks, so even adhering to the “defense in depth” strategy may be insufficient. It is important to forbid the spreading of user and service accounts with each other, as well as pay attention to the mechanisms of multi-factor authentication. Service and user accounts must be monitored in detail to ensure that accounts are not stolen.
  6. Target cyberattacks.
    A developed persistent threat, or targeted cyberattack is not uncommon. With sufficient knowledge and a set of appropriate tools, you can achieve a result. An attacker who has set out to establish and secure his own presence in the target infrastructure is not so easy to detect. To minimize risks and prevent such threats, cloud service providers use advanced security features. But besides modern solutions, an understanding of the nature of this type of attack is required.
  7. DDoS attacks
    Although DoS attacks have a long history, the development of cloud technologies has made them more common. As a result of DoS attacks, the operation of services that are significant for the company’s business can slow down or completely stop. Despite the fact that the principles of DoS attacks are simple at first glance, you need to understand their features at the application level, and it is because they are aimed at the vulnerabilities of web servers and databases. In this case, the main thing is to have a plan to mitigate the attack before it happens.
  8. Insiders-intruders.
    An insider threat may come from current or former employees, system administrators, contractors, or business partners. Insider attackers have different goals, ranging from data theft to the desire to simply take revenge. In the case of the cloud, the goal may be to completely or partially destroy the infrastructure, gain access to data and more. Systems that directly depend on the security features of the cloud provider are a big risk. Therefore, it is worthwhile to apply cloud penetration testing, as well as take care of encryption mechanisms and take control of encryption key management. Do not forget about the logging, monitoring and audit of events on individual accounts.
  9. Permanent data loss.
    Cases of data loss without the possibility of recovery due to the cloud service provider are now extremely rare. However, the attackers, knowing about the consequences of permanent data deletion, set as their goal the commission of such destructive actions. Cloud hosting providers, in order to comply with security measures, recommend separating user data from application data, storing them in various locations. Do not forget about efficient backup methods. Daily backup and storage of backups on external alternative secure sites are especially important for cloud environments.
  10. Joint technologies, common risks.
    Vulnerabilities in the technologies used are a sufficient threat to the cloud. Cloud service providers provide virtual infrastructure, cloud applications, but if a vulnerability arises at one of the levels, it affects the entire environment. Experts recommend using a deep security strategy, implement multi-factor authentication mechanisms, intrusion detection systems, adhere to the concept of network segmentation and the principle of least privilege.

Things to Consider Before Conducting Cloud Penetration Testing

When testing is conducted in a cloud environment, written permission of the cloud service provider or server owner is required. The basis for conducting penetration testing is a contract. The subject of the contract, which includes the object of testing and a list of actions that must be performed. They must ensure that penetration testing is limited only to the area of the network requested by their client. Since penetration testing involves the use of hacking tools, which entails the risk of damage, modification or deletion of data, it is also necessary to back up the data first.

In the process of penetration testing, situations are possible where the pentester has discovered vulnerabilities that could affect third parties. If the exploitation of the discovered vulnerabilities is successful, it is possible that the tester will know the information that constitutes a secret protected by law. Another situation where testing for penetration of an existing system in itself can potentially cause harm, for example, damage or destruction of data. In this case, you need to understand and accept the risks associated with holding a cloud penetration testing.

Cloud Security Specialists recommends a regular risk analysis process. Highlight information assets, assess their value and importance, then for each asset identify current threats and vulnerabilities. Based on the analysis, select key areas for improving the information security system.

Establish adequate access control, use protection and early threat detection tools, such as ImmuniWeb Discovery , and perform code security checks and cloud penetration testing. The ability to model threats and find solutions to repel them is effective prevention against hacking.

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