Today, more businesses than ever use external computing infrastructure like cloud services to support their operations. It allows businesses to save money and scale operations without investing in physical infrastructure. While this is useful, it also creates another avenue which for malicious parties to exploit. As such, in cyber security it’s important that organisations have a plan to regularly assess the security posture of their cloud-based activities.

What is cloud penetration testing?

Cloud computing has a wide scope in terms of the IT resources it can provide, such as data storage and scalable computing. These services follow a shared responsibility model, meaning the provider is responsible for the security of cloud itself, while customers (businesses) are responsible for security of systems within the cloud. This includes the likes of servers, applications, and user access controls. Cloud penetration testing is similar to other forms of penetration testing, in that it simulates an attack to assess system defences. However, it differs in that testing cloud-based applications requires unique knowledge of cloud-specific configurations.

Cloud penetration testing, sometimes referred to as external infrastructure penetration testing, can be used to:

  • Identify system vulnerabilities, gaps, and risks.
  • Forecast potential implications of vulnerabilities.
  • Compile and deliver actionable remedial information.
  • Provide best practices for maintaining visibility.

In assessing its strengths and weaknesses, cloud penetration testing is designed to improve the level of security of business cloud services. It achieves this by identifying how third parties could exploit cloud systems, allowing you to plan ahead to protect your business, your data and your employees.

What are the benefits of cloud penetration testing?

The main benefit of penetration testing is it helps improve the overall security of your business. Cloud penetration testing has the same effect by focusing on external servers and hosting services. It can protect your business from the following:

  • Cloud misconfigurations – many cloud applications will have built-in security settings that can be controlled by users and administrators. Incorrect configurations are a major source of cloud system vulnerabilities.
  • Insecure APIs – application programming interfaces are how companies can share app data and functions with third parties. If an API key falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to severe data leaks. This commonly happens when keys are accessible to unauthorised persons or embedded within code.
  • Stolen credentials – employee credentials can be leaked through cloud applications, either due to hardcoding or other means. Similar to API keys, credentials can be used by malicious third parties to access sensitive company information.
  • Access privileges – if an account with extensive access privileges is lost or stolen, it can pose a serious security risk. This can be prevented by following ‘the least privilege principle’ for access management, which states that users should have the minimum level of privilege necessary to do their job.
  • Outdated software – oftentimes software updates are done expressly to fix security issues. If you’re using outdated software, you could therefore be leaving yourself open to old security flaws. Fortunately, threats from this angle can be removed by making sure you’re operating with the most recent programme versions.

Cloud penetration testing pursuits, by their nature, provide insight into how your external infrastructure is operating. This has the added benefit of allowing businesses to more effectively manage external storage and more efficiently scale resources.

The step-by-step cloud penetration testing process

Conducting a cloud penetration test isn’t as simple as trying to guess your passwords. There are lots of different technologies involved, which in turn requires a flexible approach. As such, there are certain procedures that must be followed to ensure you get the best results from cloud penetration testing.

1. Determine which providers are being used

Different cloud providers have different penetration testing policies, which dictate how cloud penetration testing should be done. One of the first things to do is therefore make sure which services are being used.

2. Create a testing plan

At CyberWhite, we start creating a testing plan by sitting down and discussing the parameters of the test. This reveals important information like URL choices, cloud architecture, and the test start and end dates.

3. Choose your tools

To mimic an attack on cloud systems, the right tools must be selected. This is because certain tools are designed specifically to test certain methods of attack. For example, hackers will often use automated software to try and repeatedly guess passwords.

4. Analyse findings

The cloud penetration testing process produces raw data which requires analysis. This is where the expertise of information security consultants like us comes in, as we possess knowledge around cloud-based systems and the associated security risks.

5. Identify and eliminate vulnerabilities

The findings of the test will reveal areas of security weakness, which can be compiled into a full vulnerability report. Remediations are then discussed. Regardless of any action taken, all findings should be documented and kept for future reference.

The scope of a test will vary depending on the number of external IPs a business has, the size of its network subnet, and the number of sites it controls. This can resultantly impact price and time.

One of the top penetration testing companies UK

If you’re not sure where to start with cloud penetration testing, CyberWhite can help. We’re experienced information security consultants offering a range of penetration testing services. Even if your internal infrastructure is secure, you could be leaving the business vulnerable through external channels.

Contact us today and find out.