Public cloud services under cyber security threat in SA

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Six in 10 (60%) organisations from South Africa experienced a public cloud security incident in the past 12 months.

This is according to the State of Cloud Security 2020 report, a global survey from cyber security firm Sophos.

Sophos notes the cyber incidents include ransomware (25%), other malware (28%), exposed data (28%), compromised accounts (27%) and crypto-jacking (26%).

The State of Cloud Security 2020 report highlights the findings of an independent survey conducted by Vanson Bourne among more than 3 500 IT managers across 26 countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa that currently host data and workloads in the public cloud.

The report comes as SA’s cloud computing space sees growth, with international public cloud service providers Amazon Web Services and Microsoft having established data centres in the country.

South African companies which recently hit the headlines after suffering cyber security incidents include Life Healthcare Group, the second largest private hospital operator in SA.

In February, big four bank Nedbank warned that the information of about 1.7 million clients was potentially affected by a data breach, and the following month, chemicals and fertiliser maker Omnia Holdings said its IT infrastructure was subject to a cyber attack.

The City of Johannesburg has also been a target, as were Capitec Bank and Telkom.

Globally, says the report, organisations running multi-cloud environments are greater than 50% more likely to suffer a cloud security incident than those running a single cloud.

It points out that Europeans suffered the lowest percentage of security incidents in the cloud, an indicator that compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines are helping to protect organisations from being compromised.

Locally, South Africa’s GDPR equivalent, the Protection of Personal Information Act, came into force on 1 July, with organisations given a one-year grace period to comply with the regulation.

India, on the other hand, fared the worst, with 93% of organisations being hit by an attack in the last year.

“Ransomware, not surprisingly, is one of the most widely reported cyber crimes in the public cloud,” says Chester Wisniewski, principal research scientist at Sophos.

“The most successful ransomware attacks include data in the public cloud, according to the State of Ransomware 2020 report, and attackers are shifting their methods to target cloud environments that cripple necessary infrastructure and increase the likelihood of payment.”

Wisniewski notes that the recent increase in remote working provides extra motivation to disable cloud infrastructure that is being relied on more than ever.

“So it’s worrisome that many organisations still don’t understand their responsibility in securing cloud data and workloads. Cloud security is a shared responsibility, and organisations need to carefully manage and monitor cloud environments in order to stay one step ahead of determined attackers,” he says.

According to Sophos, accidental exposure continues to plague organisations, with misconfigurations exploited in 39% of reported attacks in SA. Detailed in the SophosLabs 2020 Threat Report, misconfigurations drive the majority of incidents and are all too common, given cloud management complexities.

Additionally, it says, 59% of South African organisations report that cyber criminals gained access through stolen cloud provider account credentials.

Despite this, only 28% of organisations say managing access to cloud accounts is a top area of concern.

Data from Sophos Cloud Optix, a cloud security posture management tool, further reveals that globally, 91% of accounts have over-privileged identity and access management roles, and 98% have multi-factor authentication disabled on their cloud provider accounts.

Nearly all respondents (89%) from South Africa admit to concern about their current level of cloud security, an encouraging sign that it’s top of mind and important, says Sophos.

Appropriately, “identifying sudden increase in cloud spends” tops the list of security concerns for more than three in 10 (31%) of the organisations, followed by “identifying and responding to security incidents” and “convincing senior management to invest in cloud security”.

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