Penetration Testing in the Cloud Demands a Different Approach

Cloud Penetration Testing

Penetration Testing in the Cloud Demands a Different Approach

Penetration Testing in the Cloud Demands a Different Approach

Cloud computing’s popularity is on the rise due to many factors like scalability, efficiency, flexibility and reduced IT costs. As cloud computing is on the rise there is a worrying cybersecurity trend which has emerged that is a worrying factor for organisations and individuals alike. With advanced cloud computing technology, a large number of organisations are adopting or are diving into services provided by cloud computing security, cloud protection is of utmost importance and has become a priority recently.

How does cloud penetration testing work and how is it different from a traditional pen test?

Cloud penetration testing is a sanctioned simulated attack against a system that is hosted on a cloud provider to detect known and unknown vulnerabilities of that system. Cloud penetration testing requires specific expertise that differs from standard penetration testing methods. Traditional penetration testing is not cloud native and is performed on systems that are on premises whereas the cloud penetration testing would take everything into consideration from security of cloud-specific configurations, cloud system passwords, cloud applications and encryption, and APIs, databases, and storage access.

The shared responsibility model in the cloud that is responsible for the security of the components within a cloud infrastructure also influences cloud penetration testing. This model is basically the security in the cloud rather than the security of the cloud. The cloud services model are:

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): In which the hardware components and network connectivity are supplied by the cloud provider. The tenant or the organisation looks after the virtual machines and supporting software.
  • Platform as a service (Paas): The cloud provider supplies all the components required to run an application whereas the tenant only provides the application which it wants to deploy on the cloud.

Types of cloud penetration testing

Cloud penetration testing helps to:

  • Identify unknown vulnerabilities, threats, and gaps in the system
  • Understand the Impact of exploitable vulnerabilities
  • Determine how to leverage any access obtained via exploitation
  • Advise and recommend security measures to build a robust system

The following types are different types of cloud penetration testing:

Black Box: Authorised attack simulation where the cloud pen testers have no prior knowledge or access to the system to be attacked.

Grey Box: The cloud penetration testers have limited knowledge of the systems and the users and are granted limited admin access and privileges.

White Box: Cloud penetration testers know the systems and users very well and are granted admin-level or root-level access to carry out the attacks.


Benefits of cloud security testing

Centralised protection: Since cloud computing centralises data and applications, protection too is centralised. This helps in better understanding of cloud estate and to improve visibility of access and the flow of data providing centralised control to prevent attacks. Centralised system also helps in faster disaster control and l recovery as well as business continuity and ease of implementation

Reduced cost: A reputed cloud service provider offers in built tools and devices dedicated to protect your system from external threats round the clock. You as an organisation just have to bear overhead costs in protecting exposed surfaces or sensitive data which reduces financial investment significantly.

Reduced administration: Cloud adopts a shared responsibility model for security which results in reduction of time and resources investment by an organisation in administering security. The cloud provider undertakes significant amount of responsibility such as securing the system infrastructure and physical infrastructure.

Increased reliability: A well-known cloud service provider offers cutting edge software and hardware to secure your data and protect application from immediate threats and vulnerabilities.

Incident response plans and procedures: The cloud security testing services have an incident response plan in place in case of an attack which helps in attack prevention and better damage control.

Cloud penetration testing scope

The cloud perimeter, internal cloud environments, and on-premise cloud management, administration, and development infrastructure are the areas that will be typically examined by the testers. The following are the three stages:

Evaluation: In this method, the cloud environments are evaluated and discovery activities such as existing risks, security needs, potential vulnerabilities, and gaps are detected.

Exploitation: Using the data from the first stage of evaluation, the cloud penetration testers decide on the methodologies and focus on exploiting the vulnerabilities and gaps. This step helps in determining the resilience of the system to attacks, the coverage of security monitoring, and the system’s threat detection capabilities.

Remediation and Mitigation: Based on recommendations, the cloud testers perform a follow-up assessment to ensure all security and risk mitigation steps are successfully and accurately implemented. This also helps in determining that the gaps have been filled and the organizations’ security posture is in line with the best industry practices.

 Steps to be taken before Pentest

Performing a Pentest on the cloud infrastructure requires planning and expertise. The preparation steps before a Pentest are:

1.  Defining the scope of the pen test on the cloud environment in general and on the target systems.

2.    Understand the working of shared responsibility models

3.    Run your own preliminary

4.    Determine the type of pen test to be conducted (for ex: black box, white box)

5.  Defining the expectations and risks involved for both stakeholders and the pen testing company.

6. Establishing a timeline for the technical assessment, receiving formal reports, and potential remediation and follow-up testing

7.  Developing protocols and rules of engagement if the pen test reveals the client is already under attack or if the data is breached.

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