Cloud Vulnerability Management

Cloud vulnerability management is the continuous process of identifying, classifying, prioritizing, and remediating security vulnerabilities in your cloud environment.

Wiz Experts Team
7 min read

What is cloud vulnerability management? 

Cloud vulnerability management is the continuous process of identifying, classifying, prioritizing, and remediating security vulnerabilities in your cloud environment. Because the vast majority of enterprises leverage cloud computing, cloud vulnerability management is a requirement for holistic IT protection. 

According to Google Cloud, only 7% of technology leaders reported that their companies primarily use on-premises IT infrastructure. In other words, cloud environments have become the norm, and they need robust defenses.

Cloud vulnerability management is critical for creating and fostering secure cloud environments and software development lifecycles (SDLCs). And though the conversation around cloud security often focuses on the potent vulnerabilities and security threats that are introduced in these dynamic environments, it’s important to remember that cloud environments inherently feature more advanced vulnerability management capabilities to tackle these threats.

The 6 most common cloud vulnerabilities

Thousands of vulnerabilities can affect cloud and cloud-adjacent software and hardware. However, not all vulnerabilities have severe implications for cloud environments. That’s why the key to cloud vulnerability management is prioritization (which we’ll explore in more detail later). Below are six of the most common types of cloud vulnerabilities that we recommend you prioritize.

1. API vulnerabilities

APIs are the software that allow different cloud services to seamlessly integrate and interact with each other. Enterprises use multiple kinds of API architectures for their needs, including REST, SOAP, RPC, and GraphQL. API vulnerabilities, like broken and exposed APIs, can significantly compromise cloud environments. According to OWASP, the biggest API dangers include security misconfigurations, broken authentication, and unrestricted resource consumption. Cybercriminals often use API vulnerabilities as a vector to kickstart lasting and lateral attacks.

An API vulnerability was recently identified as the cause of significant data exposure for Honda. This API vulnerability, which involved suboptimal access controls, potentially exposed more than 21,000 customers’ data, 3500 dealers’ information, and 11,000 customers’ names and email IDs. 

2. Unencrypted data

There are considerable benefits to storing data in the cloud, including cost savings, redundancy, accessibility, and scalability. However, data needs to be encrypted to remain safe in the cloud. Threat actors will struggle to abuse or leverage encrypted data, even if they manage to breach an enterprise’s cloud defenses. Unencrypted data results in more destructive data breaches, many of which can be hard to recover from. 

3. Misconfigurations

Misconfigurations are mistakes in the security settings of cloud technologies including VMs, containers, container registries, and virtual appliances. Cloud misconfigurations can include exposed data, overprivileged identities, and weak password protocols and credential hygiene. There are many reasons for cloud misconfigurations, many of them stemming from the tendency to prioritize developmental agility over safety. 

4. Shadow IT 

Shadow IT refers to any cloud resource that is commissioned without the official authorization of an enterprise’s IT department. Shadow IT is an increasingly common and inevitable occurrence in modern organizations. Various personnel and teams within an organization may choose to self-optimize performance and productivity by commissioning third-party resources. This choice to sidestep official (and potentially complex) commissioning processes can lead to hidden vulnerabilities and a general lack of visibility across cloud environments. 

5. Poor visibility

Unlike previous eras when only select IT personnel could alter the enterprise’s IT infrastructure, a broad range of professionals across an organization can now commission cloud resources. Modern cloud environments are constantly in flux, rapidly expanding and evolving. This makes visibility across cloud topologies challenging, which can create blind spots and allow cloud vulnerabilities to fester unnoticed. 

The insurance company Trygg-Hansa was fined $3 million by the Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection when it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of customers’ data was exposed for almost two and a half years. Poor visibility is often the cause of cloud vulnerabilities and data exposure going unnoticed for long periods.

6. Suboptimal IAM 

The number of human and machine identities interacting with an enterprise cloud environment is immense. Identity access management (IAM) vulnerabilities are essentially mistakes in the privileges bestowed on these identities, and these can be dangerous attack vectors. Overprivileged identities, both human and machine, are a major cloud security vulnerability because they enable higher degrees of access and activity for account hijackers.

Traditional vulnerability management vs. cloud vulnerability management

The cloud poses unique challenges that traditional vulnerability management solutions may struggle to address. Cloud vulnerability management is a proactive security solution that can keep up with the speed and scale of the cloud. Traditional scanning tools were able to identify and remediate vulnerabilities but often flagged vulnerabilities that were non-critical and irrelevant. Furthermore, traditional vulnerability management had a significant deficiency: context. 

Context is one of the most important factors in cloud vulnerability management. Cloud vulnerability management needs to acknowledge workload, business, and cloud context to identify and remediate vulnerabilities based on how much damage they can potentially cause a particular organization. Cloud-based vulnerability management can weave in factors such as identities, secrets, and exposures, as well as internal and publicly available exploit data and threat intelligence to accurately and continuously identify and prioritize vulnerabilities. 

Cloud-based vulnerability management also enables enterprises to integrate vulnerability management early in SDLCs. Early integration means that potent cloud vulnerabilities can be addressed from build to deployment. 

Key features for cloud vulnerability management tools

The cloud vulnerability management solutions market is crowded, and it can be difficult to identify the right tool for your needs. Below are some key features that every cloud vulnerability management tool should have.

  • Prioritized cloud vulnerabilities: Alert fatigue is not an option for enterprises. Knowing which vulnerabilities not to address is just as important as knowing which vulnerabilities require swift remediation. Every cloud vulnerability management tool should be able to prioritize cloud vulnerabilities based on business-specific factors.

  • Agentless scanning: Agent-based scanners have been effective in the past, but the cloud calls for quicker, less complicated, and more accurate scanning capabilities. Agentless scanners offer streamlined deployment, high efficiency, and cost savings. They are also more DevOps and CI/CD-friendly, a necessity for high-octane enterprises.

  • Extensive cloud vulnerability catalogs: There are thousands of vulnerabilities that can impact cloud-based operations. Cloud vulnerability management tools need to be informed by multiple vulnerability catalogs that include vulnerabilities across cloud technologies. They should also ideally be supported by an independent vulnerability intelligence and research program that actively catalogs unknown vulnerabilities and stays on top of new cybersecurity threats and trends.

  • Holistic cross-cloud functionality: Most modern cloud-based infrastructures are a combination of disparate IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS services and technologies from multiple providers. An effective cloud vulnerability management tool needs to be compatible and operate seamlessly across these complex and ever-changing cloud architectures.

  • Flexible compliance capabilities: Cybersecurity and compliance work hand in hand, each influencing the other. Cloud compliance can become extremely complex and troublesome if neglected. Cloud vulnerability management tools should feature the options to conform to industry standards as well as be manually configured to the specific needs of a particular organization.

Pro tip

Traditional VM tools only produce simple table-based reports with only a basic snapshot of vulnerabilities at a given time. Advanced vulnerability management solutions consolidate information from multiple scans and provide information on what has changed over time.

Best practices for prioritizing cloud vulnerabilities 

As we’ve seen, not all cloud vulnerabilities are equal. Some can have catastrophic implications, while others can be distracting and drain resources. Certain vulnerabilities, on the other hand, may not have any connection to the cloud. Understanding these differences can help enterprises optimize vulnerability management in the cloud. 

Below are a few best practices to ensure the effective prioritization of cloud vulnerabilities. 

Understand the cloud value of technologies

Knowing the cloud value or the implications of different technologies can sharpen an enterprise’s cloud-based vulnerability management efforts. Vulnerabilities in technologies like servers, containers, CDNs, serverless functions, K8s clusters, and VMs are critical cloud-based concerns. However, the ripple effects of vulnerabilities in hardware such as printers, routers, and certain on-premises infrastructure may not affect the cloud as much. Therefore, it’s important to identify which IT technologies and assets may affect the cloud. 

View your cloud vulnerabilities from a threat actor’s perspective

Ask yourself what a threat actor’s primary goals are and correlate those goals with your existing cloud vulnerabilities. This will help your organization identify which cloud vulnerabilities threat actors are most likely to target to exfiltrate data, attack your supply chain, cryptomine, hijack credentials, or conduct a range of other criminal activities. 

Certain vulnerabilities may be exploited to facilitate direct attacks, and others may be exploited as a first step in a more complex attack. Viewing cloud vulnerabilities from the point of view of cybercriminals can help you understand the attack path, context, and how they may attempt to exploit a potential cloud vulnerability.

Utilize CVSS metrics and threat intelligence

The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) adds a numerical value to a particular vulnerability that can help organizations identify its severity. CVSS scores range from none (0) to critical (9.0–10.0). This score, on its own, is not an accurate representation of business-specific risk. Still, it provides companies with an organized way to begin correlating potentially high-risk vulnerabilities with more business-specific criteria and vulnerability intelligence sources like CISA KEV and other vulnerability catalogs. 

Embrace multiple layers of prioritization

Any of the best practices we’ve discussed can help you prioritize cloud vulnerabilities to a certain degree. However, no single prioritization filter is holistic enough for modern cloud environments. The most effective cloud vulnerability management amalgamates a variety of complex risk factors. The volume and quality of prioritization filters used will significantly influence how well your organization can prioritize cloud vulnerabilities. Always remember that it’s not enough to identify dangerous vulnerabilities; it’s essential to know which of those vulnerabilities fall within your risk appetite and which pose the most risk to your organization.

The best approach to cloud vulnerability management

The cloud is often represented as a cybersecurity headache, but the right vulnerability management solution can unveil the advanced cybersecurity capabilities of cloud technologies. Wiz’s agentless and cloud native vulnerability management solution proves that cloud environments can be security powerhouses rather than security risks. Our platform can provide your organization with a powerful cloud-based engine with robust fortifications. Most importantly, Wiz’s cloud vulnerability management solution ensures that your organization addresses vulnerabilities that actually matter to your circumstances.

Get a demo now to explore why Wiz leads the industry in cloud vulnerability management. 

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