While cloud computing and its many forms (private, public, hybrid cloud or multi-cloud environments) have become ubiquitous with innovation and growth over the past decade, cybercriminals have closely watched the migration and introduced innovations of their own to exploit the platforms.

Most of these exploits are based on poor configurations and human error.

New IBM Security X-Force data reveals that many cloud-adopting businesses are falling behind on basic security best practices, introducing more risk to their organisations.

Shedding light on the “cracked doors” that cybercriminals are using to compromise cloud environments, the 2022 X-Force Cloud Threat Landscape Report reveals that vulnerability exploitation, a tried-and-true infection method, remains the most common way to achieve cloud compromise.

Gathering insights from X-Force Threat Intelligence data, hundreds of X-Force Red penetration tests, X-Force Incident Response (IR) engagements and data provided by report contributor Intezer, between July 2021 and June 2022, some of the key highlights stemming from the report include:

* Cloud vulnerabilities are on the rise – Amid a sixfold increase in new cloud vulnerabilities over the past six years, 26% of cloud compromises that X-Force responded to were caused by attackers exploiting unpatched vulnerabilities, becoming the most common entry point observed.

* More access, more problems – In 99% of pentesting engagements, X-Force Red was able to compromise client cloud environments through users’ excess privileges and permissions. This type of access could allow attackers to pivot and move laterally across a victim environment, increasing the level of impact in the event of an attack.

* Cloud account sales gain ground in dark web marketplaces – X-Force observed a 200% increase in cloud accounts now being advertised on the dark web, with remote desktop protocol and compromised credentials being the most popular cloud account sales making rounds on illicit marketplaces.

Unpatched software: #1 cause of cloud compromise

As the rise of IoT devices drives more and more connections to cloud environments, the larger the potential attack surface becomes introducing critical challenges that many businesses are experiencing like proper vulnerability management.

Case in point: the report found that more than a quarter of studied cloud incidents were caused due to known, unpatched vulnerabilities being exploited.

While the Log4j vulnerability and a vulnerability in VMware Cloud Director were two of the more commonly leveraged vulnerabilities observed in X-Force engagements, most vulnerabilities observed that were exploited primarily affected the on-premises version of applications, sparing the cloud instances.

As suspected, cloud-related vulnerabilities are increasing at a steady rate, with X-Force observing a 28% rise in new cloud vulnerabilities over the last year alone.

With over 3 200 cloud-related vulnerabilities disclosed in total to date, businesses face an uphill battle when it comes to keeping up with the need to update and patch an increasing volume of vulnerable software.

In addition to the growing number of cloud-related vulnerabilities, their severity is also rising, made apparent by the uptick in vulnerabilities capable of providing attackers with access to more sensitive and critical data as well as opportunities to carry out more damaging attacks.

These ongoing challenges point to the need for businesses to pressure test their environments and not only identify weaknesses in their environment, like unpatched, exploitable vulnerabilities, but prioritize them based on their severity, to ensure the most efficient risk mitigation.

Excessive cloud privileges aid in bad actors’ lateral movement

The report also shines a light on another worrisome trend across cloud environments — poor access controls, with 99% of pentesting engagements that X-Force Red conducted succeeding due to users’ excess privileges and permissions.

Businesses are allowing users unnecessary levels of access to various applications across their networks, inadvertently creating a stepping stone for attackers to gain a deeper foothold into the victim’s cloud environment.

The trend underlines the need for businesses to shift to zero trust strategies, further mitigating the risk that overly trusting user behaviours introduce.

Zero trust strategies enable businesses to put in place appropriate policies and controls to scrutinize connections to the network, whether an application or a user, and iteratively verify their legitimacy.

In addition, as organisations evolve their business models to innovate at speed and adapt with ease, it’s essential that they’re properly securing their hybrid, multi-cloud environments.

Central to this is modernising their architectures: not all data requires the same level of control and oversight, so determining the right workloads, to put in the right place for the right reason is important.

Not only can this help businesses effectively manage their data, but it enables them to place efficient security controls around it, supported by proper security technologies and resources.

Dark web marketplaces lean heavier into cloud account sales

With the rise of the cloud comes the rise of cloud accounts being sold on the Dark Web, verified by X-Force observing a 200% rise in the last year alone. Specifically, X-Force identified over 100 000 cloud account ads across Dark Web marketplaces, with some account types being more popular than others.

Seventy-six percent of cloud account sales identified were Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) access accounts, a slight uptick from the year prior.

Compromised cloud credentials were also up for sale, accounting for 19% of cloud accounts advertised in the marketplaces X-Force analysed.

The going price for this type of access is significantly low making these accounts easily attainable to the average bidder. The price for RDP access and compromised credentials average $7.98 and $11.74 respectively.

Compromised credentials’ 47% higher selling price is likely due to their ease of use, as well as the fact that postings advertising credentials often include multiple sets of login data, potentially from other services that were stolen along with the cloud credentials, yielding a higher ROI for cybercriminals.

As more compromised cloud accounts pop up across these illicit marketplaces for malicious actors to exploit, it’s important that organisations work toward enforcing more stringent password policies by urging users to regularly update their passwords, as well as implement multifactor authentication (MFA).

Businesses should also be leveraging identity and access management tools to reduce reliance on username and password combinations and combat threat actor credential theft.