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How Cloud Penetration Testing Is Different?

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Cloud penetration testing has become a top priority for data security with the rise of cloud computing and its rapid adoption by organizations across industries. But what is cloud penetration testing and how is it different from standard penetration testing? In this blog post, we will explain how cloud penetration testing is different in many aspects, from their testing permission and scope to their most common security threats.

What is cloud penetration testing?

Cloud penetration testing is a process of simulating an attack on cloud-based systems and applications to find and fix vulnerabilities before they could be exploited by attackers. While cloud providers offer secure tools to build your environment, each user is responsible for securing their cloud-hosted assets and controlling their access. The wide flexibility in configuring these platforms thus creates an inherent insecure environment where hackers can easily exploit vulnerabilities.

Key differences of cloud penetration testing

Permission

The basic difference with cloud penetration testing is that you need explicit permission from the cloud provider to conduct any kind of test or assessment. This is because you’re dealing with someone else’s infrastructure, and they need to be on board with what you’re doing. You also need permission from your client, as you would for any penetration test. Many hosting providers no longer require permission to perform network-level penetration testing of their public facing hosts (e.g., Azure, Google), as long as it doesn’t include any Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack type of testing.

Infrastructure

Cloud providers offer a range of services, from storage and computing power to complete platforms that include everything you need to run an application. This means that the infrastructure you’re dealing with can vary greatly, and so can the potential vulnerabilities. Cloud infrastructures, whether it’s AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP), are also constantly changing, with new features and services being added all the time. This requires to keep up with the changes and to identify new potential types of vulnerabilities.

Scope

Cloud penetration testing involves more considerations when it comes to scope. Certain cloud services simply cannot just be tested as they are owned and operated by the cloud vendor, such as Amazon CloudFront. Some vendor-specific restrictions may also apply, such as restraining penetration testing from very low resource instances, as with Amazon’s Relational Database Systems (RDS). But generally, your penetration tests will focus on virtual server-style environments or static hosting configurations, where restrictions are minimal. However, penetration testing in SaaS and other shared cloud resources environments, namely the Microsoft Office 365 platform. will typically focus on the application layer and gaining access to its data and resources, as the underlying infrastructure is managed by the cloud provider.

Methodology

Some things don’t change, namely IP addresses and open ports hosting services that can be scanned for vulnerabilities. You can basically use a traditional external penetration testing methodology, but it must account for additional attack vectors like the following:

  • Password attacks on cloud applications like Outlook or SharePoint.
  • Administrator Key Disclosure.
  • Open source software disclosing API keys (e.g., AWS keys in Github).
  • Potential S3 Bucket misconfigurations.

Security threats

Following a massive transition to cloud-hosting operations, organizations have brought a new list of common cloud-based vulnerabilities.

Server misconfigurations

A 2021 Aqua Security study reported that 90% percent of cloud-hosted organizations were vulnerable to a data breach due to misconfigurations of the following types:

  • Storage (bucket/blob)
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM)
  • Data encryption
  • Open-port exploitable services
  • Container technology exploitation

Insecure APIs

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are the backbone of cloud connectivity by enabling the share of information across various applications. But poorly designed or implemented APIs can introduce vulnerabilities leading to data breaches. APIs can be compromised namely through improper access control and lack of input sanitization; APIs can also be attacked through improper use of HTTP methods like PUT, POST, or DELETE, allowing hackers to upload malware or delete data.

Data breaches

A 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) indicated that 32% of data breaches involved cloud services. A data breach is a security incident in which information is accessed without authorization. Among the causes of cloud-based data breaches are the following:

  • Publicly accessible buckets
  • Misconfigured ACLs and bucket policies
  • Unencrypted storage data
  • Improper handling of identity and access management

Stolen or weak credentials

Credentials could leak in some way or be hard coded in the application, potentially causing them to be stolen. The use of common or weak passwords also make it easier for attackers to gain access to your resources, possibly leading to a complete takeover of your accounts. Insecure practices such as the reuse of passwords and the use of simple, easy-to-remember passwords are making this type of attack fairly common. Our top password security best practices, including a checklist, can help you break old habits and improve security.

Access privileges

By default, cloud users have full administrative privileges and access to all resources, making it imperative to apply “the least-privilege access” principle to your access control. This principle ensures that any user in a given system is granted only the minimum level of privileges that is needed to perform their tasks. Failures to enforce access control policy can lead to vulnerabilities such as violation of the least-privilege user, permitting viewing or editing someone else’s account, and elevation of privilege. In the OWASP Top 10 most common security risks in web applications, “Broken access control” sits at number 1.

Final word

Cloud penetration testing is a specialized form of penetration testing that must account for the unique features and challenges of cloud environments. By understanding the key differences of cloud penetration testing with standard penetration testing, you can effectively help secure an organization’s cloud environment. Whether your organization has implemented a full or hybrid cloud service model, cloud penetration testing will help you determine if your configurations and user access management are optimal for security.

Contact us if you need help with your cloud penetration testing project.

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