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Cloud Compromise Costs Organizations $6.2M Per Year

Organizations reported an average of 19 cloud-based compromises in the past year, but most don't evaluate the security of SaaS apps before deployment.

Cloud compromise is expensive, and its costs continue to rise. A new report finds compromised cloud accounts led to an average financial loss of $6.2 million for surveyed organizations, or an average of 3.5% of their total revenues over the past 12 months.

To learn more about how businesses protect confidential data in the cloud, the Ponemon Institute, commissioned by Proofpoint, surveyed 662 IT and IT security pros in the US. They discovered while cloud-focused attacks are expensive for victims, most lack processes for how cloud-based resources are evaluated for security or who is responsible for vetting them.

In addition to the hours spent responding to an incident, post-breach financial losses can stem from business process workaround, fines, legal fees, consultants and/or lawyers, managed security service providers (MSSPs), notifying the businesses and people whose information was exposed, loss of customers and business partners due to reputational damage, and application downtime. Organizations experience an average of 138 hours of application downtime per year.

Half of the respondents reported an increase in the frequency of cloud account compromises in the past year, and 53% saw an increase in the severity of these incidents. In the past year, respondents reported 19 cloud compromises, on average. When they led to exposure of sensitive data, these compromises could cause data theft, business disruption, and reputational damage.

Three-quarters of respondents said they believe the use of cloud apps and services without IT approval is a "serious risk," though many report this happens within their own organizations.

The IT team has very little control over corporate data in the cloud, researchers report. An average of 42% of corporate data is stored in the cloud, but IT controls only 27% of it. More than two-thirds of cloud services are deployed by departments outside corporate IT.

All the while, use of SaaS applications continues to grow. Nearly 80% of respondents said their organizations use SaaS; of these, 40% use it heavily, 23% reported moderate use, and 16% reported light use. On average, 36% of an organization's business-critical applications rely on SaaS versus on-premises software applications.

Greater reliance on SaaS demands applications are evaluated for security before they're deployed. While most respondents indicated this is important, 58% said their organizations do not check the security of SaaS apps before using them, and 20% don't know whether they're evaluated.

Similarly, only 44% of respondents said their organizations have created "clearly defined roles and accountability" for protecting confidential or sensitive data stored in the cloud. When it comes to protecting data in the cloud, they mostly rely on encryption, tokenization, and other tools (59%), cloud access service brokers (56%), and private data network connectivity (42%).

Researchers found there is no centralized accountability for securing SaaS apps: Thirty percent of respondents said the company's end users/lines of business are most responsible for securing SaaS applications, 24% said the responsibility is shared between the company and its cloud provider, 20% said their IT security team is most responsible, and 16% said the responsibility falls to the cloud provider.

"It is critical to put in place necessary processes to vet, to validate what is happening … what kinds of apps, what kinds of data is being uploaded into the cloud," says Tim Choi, vice president of product marketing at Proofpoint. 

Without a structured means of adopting and deploying applications, organizations will have potentially dangerous software rolling out.

Migration to Multicloud
Most respondents (68%) said their organizations have a multicloud architecture or strategy; on average, they have about four different clouds. Of the 32% that aren't yet multicloud, more than half will have it in six months, and 26% say they'll have it within the next year.

The responsibility for evaluating cloud providers' security is dispersed throughout the business: Twenty-three percent of respondents said information security is most responsible, 21% said the job falls to corporate IT, 19% said it is the end user's job, 7% said legal handles it, and 6% said physical security will do the job.

As multicloud becomes a reality, data security moves to the forefront. More than half of respondents said email messages present the greatest security risk when stored in the cloud. Other types of data considered risky include employee records (49%), intellectual property (43%), financial business data (41%), consumer data (33%), and health information (27%).

"That aspect needs to very much be taken into account," says Choi of the risks of specific kinds of data. "Who is data being shared with, who has access to it … understanding the content, context, and the threats that are happening around that data."

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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