Over the course of the last two years, attacks against the cloud storage systems used by a number of high-profile organisations have come to light. In every instance, whether it was the celebrity photographs that were published following the hack of Apple’s iCloud in 2014 or the revelations that the accounts of around 500 million users were compromised in the attack against Yahoo! in 2012, sensitive information has been compromised as a result. This, in turn, brings into focus the importance of businesses ensuring their customers’ data is always protected.
A lot of businesses now use cloud-based systems to store their customers’ data. As with all new technologies though, hackers will look to exploit any security vulnerabilities they can find, as the high profile attacks that have taken place against cloud storage systems in recent years demonstrates.
In this article we will examine what has made cloud storage vulnerable to attack and how to make the cloud a more secure method of storing information.
It is safe to say that eCommerce continues to grow and become more prevalent in our society – all of the big supermarkets now let you order your groceries online, websites like JustEat and hungryhouse exist that can be used to order a takeaway, while Amazon can now be used to order almost anything! A lot of these services also have apps to help make the buying process as easy for the consumer as possible too.
All of this means that consumers are now increasingly comfortable making online financial transactions. I’d even argue that customers now come to expect the ease and convenience of making financial transactions in this way to the point that they’d only use a service that allows them to buy online. However, the public should be wary of handing over their financial details via the internet so easily.
Businesses, particularly big businesses, have embraced cloud storage options in recent years to store their data as, among other reasons, cloud storage solutions have meant they no longer have the numerous costs associated with having to store all their information on physical servers housed in large data centres. However, some businesses don’t seem to understand the potential hazards of using such a method for storing customer data.
I say this as, while the cloud has opened up new frontiers, it has also opened up a whole new world of security issues, as hackers now have another way to try and access people’s personal and financial information.
Therefore, it is vitally important that businesses processing and storing customer information do their upmost to ensure it is secure and safe from those with sinister motives. This unfortunately is not always the case though.
For example, the last two years has seen a number of high profile attacks against cloud storage systems. For example, the attack on Apple’s iCloud platform that resulted in the release of the personal photographs of many high-profile figures was a big talking point in the summer of 2014. Furthermore, a group called The Impact Team claimed to have stolen all the personal details of the extra-marital dating site Ashley Madison’s 37 million users back in July 2015. The month after that, this information was then released in two large data dumps. In turn, this led to a number of people being targeted by extortionists for large sums of money. As recently as last month, following a lot of speculation as to the true scale of the attack, it was revealed that the accounts of over 500 million Yahoo! users were compromised in 2012. Such was the level of information gained during the attack, Yahoo! e-mailed the affected users at the time to change their usernames and passwords not just for their Yahoo! accounts, but also for any other online accounts they had as well.
What makes the above even more worrying is that, on all three occasions, the hackers were able to access this information following a single hack too. As someone who works in the fintech sector, where large amounts of customer financial data is processed on a daily basis, I find this very troubling indeed, particularly given more and more people are now making online transactions.
However, it would be unfair to only criticise cloud storage options, as hackers will attack wherever they can find a weak spot in a company’s security. It may simply be that the initial high-profile attacks put the spotlight onto cloud storage, meaning that other hackers then focused their attentions onto cloud storage systems as a way of gaining access to sensitive information rather than other possible avenues that may have been as, if not more, vulnerable to attack. As the revelations about the scale of the Yahoo! hack demonstrates, the details of these hacks are still emerging. Therefore, it may be some time before we fully know just how vulnerable to attack all business systems were two years ago.
Given these most recent revelations, I’m sure we can all agree that online security needs to be a top priority and treated with the utmost importance at all levels of an organisation. It really isn’t difficult either, as common sense practices, such as businesses keeping all their security software up-to-date and making sure their privacy and spam settings are rigid, really do go a long way to helping a business keep itself and the information it keeps protected. Following the attack on Apple’s iCloud that led to the release of all those embarrassing celebrity photos and videos, Apple has seen a decline in the sale of iPhones. While this could arguably be put down to Apple’s products now reaching a saturation point, a strong argument can also be made to say that this drop-off in sales was due to consumers losing trust in Apple’s ability to keep their private photos and personal information secure. Therefore, security vulnerabilities not only compromise users’ personal and financial information, they can also compromise the reputation of an organisation, thereby leading to a loss in revenue and market share too. Hence, the need to ensure the level of security protecting cloud storage systems, as well as all of an organisation’s other systems, is top-notch is evident.
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