10 ways to avoid having your cloud-hosted business destroyed by hackers

The demise of Code Spaces, a code-hosting service that had its customer data deleted by extortionists, is an example of the dire consequences from inadequate cloud security.

The criminals destroyed the service, run by Wayne, N.J.-based AbleBots, after gaining access to the control panel Code Spaces used to manage its infrastructure on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

With that powerful tool in hand, the hackers deleted most of the service's data, backups, machine configurations and offsite backups. The ruinous security breach, which occurred this week, followed the attackers' unsuccessful attempt to extort money.

Technical details of the attack are unclear, but experts say the assault is a reminder of what can happen when cloud-based environments and assets are not adequately secured.

Protective measures could include meticulous backup and disaster recovery plans and solid access control tools, particularly those that would apply tough restrictions on privileged access, experts say.

Also, Cloud Spaces should not have had so much so easily accessible from one control panel.

"They were naive to a number of basic security precautions and best practices," Adrian Sanabria, senior security analyst for 451 Research, said. "They put all their eggs in one basket."

The company is unlikely to ever recover, because no one would trust them with their code again, Sanabria said. "Literally with a few clicks, the company was done."

Among the specific actions CSOs can take to avoid a similar fate when using a cloud service provider is to enforce two-factor authentication for logins to critical infrastructure, Tod Beardsley, Metasploit engineering manager at Rapid7, said. In addition, privileged access should be limited only to those people who need it.

"Aside from that, having a locally controlled backup of any irreplaceable intellectual property is a must, and an in-house plan for service interruptions," Beardsley said.

Rapid7 interviews the CSOs of the cloud organizations it uses to determine their incidence response readiness, Beardsley said.

"Ultimately, you do have to trust these cloud service providers in their responses, but you can get a good sense of their security preparedness just by talking to them," he said. "If the prospective cloud services provider is vague or evasive about what protections and recovery procedures they have in place already, it'd be worthwhile to look at alternatives."

Ruihai Fang, senior analyst for IT security consultancy Bishop Fox, had a few other recommendations for CSOs:

  • Don't hardcode credentials or access keys anywhere.
  • Enforce a key rotation every 90 days, which is what Amazon recommends.
  • Take the extra time to properly set up identity and access management (IAM) permissions on the Amazon EC2 accounts and on access keys. - "Avoid using the default IAM permission provided by Amazon," Fang says.
  • Develop a strong password policy. The default setting for passwords should be at least 10 characters.

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