Cloud Security for SMBs: 5 Essential Steps in 2024

The past decade has seen a meteoric rise in cloud adoption. A buzzword at the time, the cloud was treated with lots of skepticism, as many saw it as simply a data storage/access innovation.

But it didn’t take long before it matured into a computing framework, spiraling into different computing models and services like software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaP), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

While enterprises have been the loud, constant instigator of cloud spending, SMBs are beginning to turn skywards, with Amazon predicting that by 2025, 30% of SMBs will shift half of their key workloads to the cloud to drive business agility and future resilience.

Although computing in the cloud promises scalability and cost-effectiveness, it often obscures the security pitfalls that lurk beneath the surface. A recent cloud security report by Orca Security reveals 81% of organizations have vulnerabilities in public-facing cloud assets with open ports. Another security finding by BlackFrog show that 61% of attacks last year were targeted at SMBs.

In this article, we will explore the state of cloud security among SMBs, identify common cloud vulnerabilities and highlight cloud security best practices.

Key Takeaways

  • SMBs are rapidly adopting cloud computing but often overlook cloud security risks like misconfigured resources, insecure interfaces/APIs, and account hijacking.
  • Misconfiguration of cloud resources is a major risk exposure for SMBs, allowing threat actors to exploit vulnerabilities in the cloud environment.
  • Essential cloud security steps for SMBs include understanding their cloud environment, implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), following secure practices from start to deployment, leveraging cloud provider security features, demanding better security standards from vendors, and implementing robust encryption.
  • Despite budget constraints, SMBs can leverage cost-effective security measures offered by cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and GCP to enhance their cloud security posture.
  • Investing in the right cybersecurity strategy is crucial for SMBs to protect their cloud investments and mitigate the significant financial impacts of data breaches

The SMB Cloud Security Landscape

Among companies with fewer than 500 employees, the average cost of a data breach, according to IMB, is approximately $3.31 million per incident. With more SMBs defaulting to cloud models, cybercriminals have redirected their radars on SMBs, a survey by Sophos has found. The survey indicated that 56% of respondents experienced an increase in the volume of attacks, 59% in complexity, and 53% in impact. The survey also noted misconfigured cloud services as the most significant cloud security risks for small businesses.

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SMBs face a significant threat from misconfigured cloud resources, which unintentionally create vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit within the cloud environment. Studies from CheckPoint show that misconfiguration of cloud resources has increased risk exposure for businesses.

In addition to misconfigurations, Chris Doman, Co-Founder/CTO at Cado Security, told Techopedia that threat actors have become proficient in exploiting other issues such as insecure interfaces and API and poorly configured Identity and Access Management (IAM) credentials.

Doman said:

“Insecure interfaces and APIs, such as the use of default credentials or open Docker APIs, Account hijacking, such as through phishing attacks for cloud credentials and misconfigured IAM credentials are common breaches in the cloud.”

While cloud providers have injected some improvements to forestall misconfiguration issues in the cloud, Doman believes that the other issues can’t be fixed by cloud providers, making them a serious challenge for SMBs.

“The good news is that the cloud providers have improved the default settings, making misconfigurations much more challenging. The bad news is that the other issues remain a problem, and the cloud providers will not solve them for you.”

Cloud Security for SMBs: 5 Essential Steps in 2024

Although SMBs face budgetary and resource constraints that make securing their cloud environments more challenging, there are still measures that can help strengthen defenses.

5. Understand Your Cloud Environment

The choice of cloud service provider should not just be based on cost and popularity. SMBs should commit to understanding the cloud environment of their preferred provider and ensure their core services align with the workload they intend to migrate to the cloud. They should also understand that cloud security is a shared responsibility between the service provider and their customers.

Shawn Loveland, Chief Operating Officer at Resecurity, agrees, saying that SMBs must “first understand their cloud environment and recognize that cloud security is a shared responsibility between them and their service providers.”

4. Prioritize MFA Implementation

Doman suggested that SMBs should implement multi-factor authentication MFA across their accounts as well as opt for IAM roles over IAM users to mitigate the risk of IAM credential misconfigurations. He also recommended some tools to auto-scale down IAM permissions.

Doman said:

“Enforcing MFA across all accounts helps prevent phishing attacks, and using IAM roles instead of IAM users helps prevent misconfigured IAM credentials. For example, tools such as AWS access advisor can scope down IAM permissions semi-automatically.

 

“Securing interfaces and APIs is a bit more complicated and can be done through API gateways and WAFs, using the cloud providers’ security tools to monitor and detect unusual behavior and scan your infrastructure for vulnerabilities.”

3. Start Secure and Remain Secure

Security leadership within SMBs needs to focus on making sure that continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) doesn’t turn into Continuous Vulnerability, said Fawaz Naser, CEO at Softlist.

“The basic principle is ‘Start Secure and Stay Secure’ during the whole cloud migration journey. Starting secure means making sure everything is properly hardened before launching and staying secure involves following good practices for managing changes and configurations.”

2. Leverage Cloud Provider Security Features

SMBs can also leverage cloud provider security features to boost cloud security. Major cloud service providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), offer a wide range of built-in security features and tools designed to help organizations strengthen their cloud security posture.

So, instead of paying for a third-party security tool, SMBs can adopt relevant security features offered by their cloud service provider. This approach can help SMBs enhance their security capabilities without the need for extensive in-house expertise or additional investments.

For instance, AWS offers services like AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) for granular access control, AWS CloudTrail for auditing and logging, and AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) for protecting web applications from common web exploits.

Similarly, Azure provides Azure Security Center for unified security management and advanced threat protection, while GCP offers tools like Cloud Identity and Access Management (IAM) and Cloud Security Command Center.

1. Push for Better Standards

SMBs need to push their vendors for better standards in terms of encryption, best practices, and frameworks, Larry Zorio, Chief Information Security Officer at Mark43, told Techopedia via email.

“Users need to demand better standards, full stop. If you have the luxury of working for a company, push your vendors for strong encryption and other security best practices. Ensure they are following a framework. Ask for evidence like a SOC2 Audit, ISO Certification or FedRAMP Authorization.”

In addition, SMBs should implement robust encryption practices for data at rest and data in transit. Cloud service providers offer encryption services and tools, such as AWS Key Management Service (KMS), Azure Key Vault, and Google Cloud Key Management Service (Cloud KMS). These services can enable SMBs to generate, manage, and store encryption keys, ensuring that only authorized parties can access and decrypt sensitive data.

The Bottom Line

Understandably, the cloud is still a difficult path for many SMBs to tread. But as cloud adoption continues to soar and cyber attackers continue to bite, ensuring robust security measures is not an option but a necessity.

While limited financial and human resources could be a stumbling block to the effective implementation of cloud security measures for SMBs, some of the strategies outlined above are cost-effective and can be implemented at the SMB level.

In other words, it’s crucial to remember that investments in the right cybersecurity strategy are an investment to protect business investments.

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Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist

Franklin is an author and tech journalist with over seven years of IT experience. Coming from a software development background, his expertise lies in all things cybersecurity, AI, cloud computing, and IoT. Apart from Techopedia, Franklin’s work has been featured in many tech publications such as TechRepublic, The Register, TechInformed, and Moonlock.  In addition to pursuing a Master's degree in Cybersecurity & Human Factors from Bournemouth University, he has two published books and four academic papers to his name.  When he is not reading or writing, Franklin either trains at a boxing gym or plays the piano.