How Agencies Can Avoid Breaches from Leaking Cloud Storage Buckets


Don't let human error cause a data breach.

Today’s digital transformation is all-encompassing, affecting all that we see, hear and do. And the cloud’s role in this transformation is that it has become a repository of information from all over the world, replacing the legacy infrastructure that once completed the same task of storing and protecting this data.

Securing this cloud data, especially for the military, is of the utmost importance.  Hackers are constantly learning and evolving, and a new type of enterprise security threat is emerging.

“Leaking cloud buckets” is the term used for the instances of data being exposed on public clouds, often as the result of a poorly configured storage bucket. In the last six months, there have several of these incidents affecting global organizations including sectors of the U.S. military and government, such as the National Security Agency last November. 

The security vulnerabilities are not with the cloud providers involved, but the way the cloud is utilized by military and government administrators. Eventually, most leaks are found out to be—bottom line—a problem associated with human error. In fact, Gartner says 95 percent of cloud security failures will be the customer's fault through the end of the decade. 

When it came to the NSA breach of November 2017, observers noted that the cloud leak was entirely avoidable, likely the result of process errors “within an IT environment that lacked the procedures needed to ensure something as impactful as a data repository containing classified information not be left publicly accessible.”

Every public cloud storage service offers buckets, a term coined by Amazon Web Services for the repositories that house data on the cloud. Military and enterprise customers configure storage buckets in ways that best suit their needs. But there are two main attributes to these buckets: They are a shared service located outside of the cloud and firewall perimeter, and they are based on object storage, which doesn’t enforce file system access-control lists,  so it is not possible to define permissions. 

These weaknesses cannot be tolerated in the military and government sectors where classified information is involved. The newness of cloud storage can result in unprotected storage that can fall into in the hands of hackers. This level of insecurity has to be eliminated when it comes to governmental data.

There are steps that can ensure the government and military data stays secure:  

1. Encrypt the data. 

Here's a cardinal rule, if data resides outside an organization, it must be encrypted. If any governmental data is encrypted at rest and only people with approved, secure access have contact with the encryption keys, it eliminates worry about storage bucket exposure. Encrypted data is of no use without the key. This ensures against any mistakes happening.

2. Data loss prevention software is your friend. 

Use DLP software to monitor data-access patterns and report those deviations that may indicate a data breach. These tools also block policy violations, so you can preemptively stop sensitive data being relocated–by accident or not.

3. Require multi-layer access.

Utilizing an access control system that starts from the permissions of the bucket itself all the way to the file level for the relevant workloads make sense in military and governmental sectors. 

4. Watch the endpoints.

Use enterprise mobility management or mobile device management tools to eliminate shadow IT and create secure corporate-provided or sanctioned bring-your-own-device environments. 

5. Recheck security regularly.

It is important to check on the level of data security, at regular intervals.  Penetration testing is vital, especially when there is a change in network. It is simply good practice to perform regular pen tests to evaluate security and ensure no new leaks have sprung.

With good security policies in place, governmental organizations can keep those buckets from every becoming leaky.

Sabo Taylor Diab is vice president of Global Marketing at CTERA Networks.