Introduction to Cloud Security Threats

Cloud adoption is on the rise as more and more companies move critical data and applications to cloud computing environments. Yet, while the cloud has numerous business benefits, including increased availability and scalability when compared to on-prem systems, it also introduces significant cybersecurity risks for organizations. 

Since cloud environments require specific cybersecurity controls and policies, protecting these environments requires a clear understanding of the possible threats and best practices for managing them. Below, we take a closer look at some common types of cloud security threats, and best practices that can help organizations manage these threats.

Common Types of Cloud Security Threats

Cloud environments face an array of potential cybersecurity risks that can have a significant impact on the business. Exploitation of cloud security gaps can result in the exposure of sensitive data, downtime, and expensive remediation. Some of the most significant cloud security threats include the following:

Data Breaches

Cloud environments are often extensions of the traditional corporate network perimeter and often have access control challenges, configuration errors, and other vulnerabilities that can lead to data breaches. As more valuable data and sensitive applications move to the cloud, this can lead to the loss of financial, personal, or intellectual property data.


Misconfigurations are a common security challenge in cloud environments. The complexity of multi-cloud infrastructures, unfamiliarity with the services, and human error can all create security gaps that introduce vulnerabilities and potential data breaches.

Unauthorized Access

Unauthorized access to cloud environments, applications, and data is caused by a variety of security issues. For example, attackers could exploit vulnerable applications, compromise a user account via phishing, or infect corporate systems with data-stealing malware.

Insecure APIs

APIs are crucial to cloud environments, connecting microservices together and enabling applications to communicate with other internal or external programs. However, these APIs are commonly unmanaged and can contain vulnerabilities that enable attackers to gain unauthorized access to data and other resources. This can allow an attacker to steal sensitive customer data, exposing the company to regulatory penalties. Alternatively, they could perform denial-of-service (DoS) attacks designed to deny legitimate users access to functionality or consume expensive cloud resources.

Insider Risk

Companies face cybersecurity risks from both malicious insiders and employee negligence. Corporate data may accidentally be at risk of exposure due to weak passwords, phishing attacks, and similar threats.  Additionally, it is not uncommon for employees to intentionally take data with them when leaving an organization. 

Third-Party Software & Supply Chain Risks

Developers commonly use third-party code (open-source libraries, plug-ins, etc.) and services to achieve their objectives. However, these can introduce supply chain security risks such as vulnerable code or libraries that have been compromised and infected with malware by an attacker. These vulnerabilities and malicious code will have an adverse impact on end users and the wider organization.


Ransomware is malware that infects a computer and encrypts or exfiltrates sensitive data. The group behind the attack then demands a ransom for the decryption key needed to restore encrypted data or to prevent stolen data from being leaked publicly. These attacks force organizations to choose between paying the ransom or suffering reputational damage of being exposed by the ransomware gang.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Some threat actors — such as organized cybercrime or nation-state actors — have the resources and skills required to pose a serious, sustained threat to an organization. These APTs are long-lived and subtle cyberattacks designed to steal data or enable extended sabotage.

Multi-Cloud Sprawl

89% of companies have a multi-cloud environment that sprawls across multiple cloud providers. Often, this is intended to ensure that a cloud environment is optimized for a specific use case. However, this distribution of corporate resources across multiple environments creates security challenges. Security misconfigurations, visibility gaps, and security blind spots can have an adverse impact on an organization’s security posture.

Shadow IT

Shadow IT is the use of unsanctioned software or systems that are not managed by the company’s IT and security teams. As cloud environments and software as a service (SaaS) offerings become more ubiquitous, employees often expose corporate data to these unsanctioned cloud applications. As this data is outside of corporate IT’s control, it may not have adequate protection against unauthorized access or misuse.

Overpermissioning in the Cloud

Organizations often assign excessive permissions to cloud users, applications, and services. For example, users may be granted full access to an entire cloud environment, rather than specific applications or services within it. This excessive access increases the potential risk of these accounts being compromised and being used for nefarious purposes.

Expanded Attack Surface

At the end of the day, the biggest security risk that companies face is a failure to properly secure their entire cloud environment. Cloud environments differ from traditional on-prem environments and without proper attention, will lack the security provided to on-prem environments. Also, unique cloud features, such as microservices and public workloads, create additional attack vectors. All of these contribute to a complex digital attack surface that is difficult to monitor, manage, and secure without the right tools.

Industry-Specific Cloud Security Concerns

Organizations must grapple with the challenges of managing configurations and access controls across sprawling cloud environments. However, some industries’ adoption of cloud exposes them to additional risks, such as the data exposure that violates industry-specific regulations (HIPAA, PCI DSS, etc.) or the threat of downtime caused by attacks against cloud systems. This all serves to increase specific security concerns in different industries.

Financial Services

Financial services organizations maintain highly sensitive and regulated data. Moving this information to cloud environments introduces new cloud security considerations and requirements due to the need to comply with industry-specific data privacy and security laws.

Manufacturing and Industrial Sectors

The manufacturing and industrial sectors are increasingly moving data and applications to cloud environments. However, when these environments are connected to operational technology (OT) networks, this creates significant security concerns since many OT systems have unique protocol requirements and are often unpatched and insecure.


Similar to the financial industry, healthcare’s main cloud security risks and challenges are related to data privacy. Healthcare organizations’ use of the cloud to manage protected health information (PHI) must be compliant with HIPAA and similar regulations.

E-commerce and Retail

E-commerce and retail organizations use cloud environments to build highly resilient, available, and scalable websites and marketplaces. However, a failure to secure these cloud platforms can render their systems vulnerable to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, data breaches, and other serious threats.

Best Practices for Mitigating Cloud Security Threats

Securing the cloud can be a very complex endeavor and requires careful evaluation, selection, and deployment of the best security technologies that address specific business use cases.  It also requires careful planning to ensure these technologies are implemented appropriately, and this requires the organization to adhere to a set of cloud security best practices.

Manage User Access Privileges

Excessive permissions are common in the cloud and can lead to unauthorized access and highly damaging data breaches. Access permissions should be based on the principle of least privilege, which states that users, applications, and data should only have the access and privileges needed to perform their roles.

Enable Security Posture Visibility

Often, companies struggle with cloud visibility since they lack full control over their cloud environment, and traditional on-prem security solutions and methods are ineffective in the cloud. Companies require cloud security tools capable of maintaining full visibility into the cloud environments to enable rapid threat detection and remediation and maintain a strong security posture.

Use Secure Coding Standards

The rapid pace of development in cloud environments can lead to vulnerable applications that can be easily exploited. Developers should adhere to secure coding standards and, if possible, build them into automated CI/CD pipelines, to minimize the risk of exploitable vulnerabilities in cloud applications.

As cloud security threats evolve, cloud security solutions and best practices will as well. Some key emerging and future trends in cloud security include the following:

Zero Trust Architecture

Many organizations are moving toward a zero-trust security model, which implements strong user authentication and the enforcement of least privilege access controls. In cloud environments, zero trust can be implemented using zero-trust network access (ZTNA) solutions. This allows the organizations to build and extend secure access controls to cloud, SaaS, and on-prem applications and achieve greater visibility into and control over the usage of their cloud applications and services.

Automation and AI-driven Security

Artificial intelligence (AI) dramatically improves security in cloud environments.  AI and automation capabilities can increase threat detection accuracy and accelerate threat response times to reduce exposure to security incidents. Leveraging AI and automation in cloud security solutions enables security teams to more rapidly respond to evolving threats to mitigate cyber risks and maintain a strong security posture for their organizations.

Data Encryption

Despite encryption being one of the best defenses against data breaches, only about 60% of sensitive data is encrypted in the cloud. An enhanced focus on cloud data encryption will help to prevent data breaches and improve regulatory compliance in the cloud.


DevOps is focused on writing and shipping code as quickly as possible, often to the detriment of security. DevSecOps integrates security into the DevOps lifecycle, improving application security and reducing the costs associated with vulnerability detection and remediation.

Ensure Resilient Cloud Security with Cato Networks

Cloud environments face continuous risks from data breaches, unauthorized access, supply chain risks, etc.. To manage these and other threats, organizations should implement cloud security best practices, including zero-trust and AI-driven security.
Cato SASE Cloud helps companies to secure the cloud via converged cloud security. By converging network and network security into a single cloud platform, the Cato SASE cloud provides the visibility and control needed to effectively secure complex cloud environments, including multi-cloud deployment.