Cloud Penetration Testing: What Do You Need to Know?

March 2, 2023

Cloud Penetration Testing What Do You Need to Know

The cloud computing industry in Australia is expected to grow by 12.5% and reach a whopping $14.1 billion in 2025. With such huge investments in cloud perimeter on the horizon, security measures should be a top priority. That’s where cloud penetration testing comes in!

But what exactly is cloud penetration testing? And why do you need it?

Let’s find out!

What is Cloud Penetration Testing?

Cloud penetration testing, otherwise known as ethical hacking, is the method of uncovering security weaknesses in cloud-based systems. It works by mimicking a malicious attack to reveal any potential security vulnerabilities that hackers can abuse. Doing this ensures organizations are better equipped to protect their data.

When it comes to cloud pen testing, it’s important to note that some strict guidelines and protocols must be followed, as set forth by the cloud service providers themselves, such as AWS and GCP.

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Cloud Penetration Testing vs. Penetration Testing

Cloud pentesting specifically focuses on a company’s cloud-based infrastructure and services. It involves the cloud provider’s security controls and the security of the company’s applications, data, and other assets stored in the cloud.

In contrast, a traditional penetration test focuses on performing offensive security tests on a system, service, or network to find security weaknesses. Still, it only concentrates on processes relevant to on-premise.

To put it briefly, cloud penetration testing differs from standard penetration testing in that it requires specialized knowledge and tools to test cloud-specific configurations such as virtualization and API access.

cloud penetration testing quote

Why is Cloud Pen Testing Important?

As the usage of cloud computing quickly grows, attackers find more ways to infiltrate your system. Due to the nature of cloud-based systems, they are often at a higher risk than traditional ones due to their access and storage of sensitive data.

For that reason, cloud penetration testing is important to discover any potential security threats in your cloud service before malicious actors have the chance. Not only will it help you take proactive steps to improve the security of your cloud environments, but it will also help you stay compliant with data protection regulations.

3 Cloud Penetration Testing Methods

Cloud penetration testing is all about applying penetration testing methods to cloud computing environments. Basically, it’s the process of finding, assessing, and fixing vulnerabilities in cloud infrastructure, applications, and systems.

When you hire cloud penetration testers, you should also invest in using a variety of tools and techniques to spot flaws in a cloud environment and then patch them up.

Penetration testing and cloud penetration testing usually fall into three main methods:

  • White box testing: During the cloud penetration testing process, pen testers get admin or root-level access to the whole cloud environment. This means they know everything about the systems they’re trying to breach before they even start, making it the most thorough method out there.
  • Gray box testing: Your cloud penetration tester might have some limited knowledge or access to your cloud environment. This could include info about user accounts, the IT system layout, or other details.
  • Black box testing: Among penetration tests, this method is the least involved. Basically, as an organization, you just need to give your cloud pen tester limited information. The goal is for them to mimic a malicious attacker who knows nothing about your cloud environment beforehand. It’s the most “realistic” because it really simulates how an external attacker would think and operate.

What are the Benefits of Cloud Penetration Testing?

Many cloud providers encourage conducting cloud penetration testing to help their clients ensure the security and integrity of their cloud-based infrastructure.

Including this in your overall cloud security strategy empowers you to identify and fix vulnerabilities and protect your data from potential threats. As a business in a digital world, it enables you to better understand your cloud environment’s security posture.

To be more specific, here are some of the main benefits that come along with cloud pen testing:

  • Identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your cloud infrastructure before attackers exploit them
  • Meet industry regulations and standards to avoid any potential penalties or fines
  • Gain peace of mind and help you focus on your business objectives
  • Offers actionable recommendations for remediation to address security vulnerabilities
  • Shows how identified vulnerabilities could be exploited and the potential damage they could cause

The Shared Responsibility Model in Cloud Penetration Testing

The Shared Responsibility Model in Cloud Penetration Testing Inforgraphic

Cloud penetration testing is important to ensure cloud security within the shared responsibility model and the Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the client and the cloud service provider.

This shared model of cloud security is known as ‘security in the cloud’. This means that both cloud providers and clients are responsible for maintaining the security of the data and applications stored in the cloud.

Consequently, the SLA outlines each party’s security responsibilities, with the cloud provider and client handling different aspects of cloud security. For example, the cloud provider is responsible for the physical security of the data centers, while the client is responsible for securing their data and applications stored in the same cloud environment.

Simply put, the cloud service provider is not held responsible for security errors related to user identity. At the same time, the client is not responsible for the management of the physical security of the data centers by the cloud provider.

5 Common Cloud Security Threats to Watch Out for

There is a multitude of security loopholes that can lead to the exploitation of your cloud applications. And if you want to remain safe from cyber-attacks, it is time to proactively manage your cloud security.

Here are five of the most common cloud security threats that organizations should watch out for:

1. Misconfigured Cloud Storage

Corporate data stored in the cloud is vulnerable to cybercriminals who can sell or use it for malicious purposes. One of the main reasons for this vulnerability is misconfigured cloud storage. Misconfigured cloud storage can expose data to anyone on the internet who knows where to look, making it easy for cybercriminals to access and exploit your company’s data.

2. Insecure APIs

APIs are commonly used in cloud services to allow different software applications permitted services to communicate with each other securely. However, APIs are vulnerable to cyberattacks as they require access to sensitive data and functions. Tokens can grant access to third parties without compromising user credentials.

3. Weak Credential Security

When it comes to cloud security issues, weak passwords can be a major vulnerability. Attackers can use brute force techniques to guess passwords and gain access to cloud accounts. This is why using strong and unique passwords for your cloud accounts and enabling multi-factor authentication whenever possible is important. 

4. Outdated software

Outdated operating system software is a major risk to your data based in cloud environments. Many software vendors do not have streamlined update procedures, or users disable automatic updates, leaving their systems vulnerable to attack. Hackers may use a vulnerability scanner to identify outdated software, making them easy targets for exploitation.

5. Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks

Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are malicious efforts to take down a web service, such as websites or web applications. It works by flooding the server with requests from many different sources simultaneously and overwhelming it with immense amounts of data traffic, rendering it unable to respond or process legitimate requests. Malicious actors usually conduct this type of attack to disrupt the availability and accessibility of your cloud services.

software engineers consulting about code

Cloud Penetration Testing Best Practices

When conducting cloud penetration testing, following industry best practices is important to ensure the best possible security testing outcomes.

Follow these tips:

Partner with experienced cloud penetration testers

Find a provider with knowledge and experience in cloud systems. Consider an AWS inspector or Azure security center partner who is certified and highly skilled in cloud systems.

Consider these popular cloud service providers:

  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

Review your cloud service provider’s SLAs

If you decide to partner with the Google Cloud platform, they have detailed Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that outline the performance and uptime commitments they make to their clients. So, take time to understand any CSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs) or “Rules of Engagement” specific to cloud security that you may need to abide by.

Define the scope of your cloud and determine the type of testing

Clarify the scope of your cloud security assessment, such as which applications and services require testing. Also, define the type of testing needed, whether it’s a full or partial penetration test or an assessment of user identity and access management.

Establish clear expectations and timelines

Set clear expectations for the security testing process, timelines, and milestones. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page throughout the process.

Develop a protocol for data breaches or live attack incidents

Ready a plan for what to do during a live attack on your cloud environments or data breach. Establish protocols for who should be notified and how quickly the incident needs to be reported.

software engineers

Need Consultation for Cloud Services?

Choosing the right cloud service provider, performing testing, and understanding cloud security risks can be too much for startups and growing companies. That’s why it’s a good idea to seek out the help of an experienced cloud infrastructure specialist.

Our cloud consulting services at StarTechUP will help empower your digital transformation while ensuring the complete security of your data and applications. We strive to help you unlock all the potential of cloud computing for your business.

Contact us today and begin crafting better solutions with the power of the cloud!

About the author: Andrea Jacinto - Content Writer

A content writer with a strong SEO background, Andrea has been working with digital marketers from different fields to create optimized articles which are informative, digestible, and fun to read. Now, she's writing for StarTechUP to deliver the latest developments in tech to readers around the world. View on Linkedin