The Danger in the Sky: Malware and Cloud Computing

The cloud is arguably the most significant advancement in computing in recent years. By moving data to the cloud, businesses and personal users improve the efficiency of their devices, gain freer and more flexible access to their information, and ensure enhanced protection against a physical disaster that would destroy their devices.

1However, physical accidents – like hot coffee on the keyboard or a precipitous fall down a staircase – aren’t the only possible sources of harm to one’s data. More and more, people better understand the hazards of digital threats maliciously engineered by cybercriminals. Thus, a serious question arises: Is the cloud a safe place to store data away from the greedy code of hackers? To answer that, we’ll have to delve into the long history of malware and cloud computing.

Why the Cloud Used to Be Safe

By far, the worst threat to data security is people. According to IBM, human error is the primary cause of 95 percent of successful cyberattacks. Therefore, one of the best strategies for keeping your data safe is to store it far away from human hands. That’s why we need the cloud.

The cloud developed slowly and in pieces, but the primary benefit of the cloud has always been its location. Because the cloud is not present on any one device, it is easier for users to share and manipulate but seemingly harder to steal or destroy. Data stored on a local device is susceptible to any number of disasters, from errant spills of coffee to physical theft.

Because non-cloud users tend to harbor insecure habits, like using unencrypted email which can be forwarded to anyone or crafting incredibly weak passwords like the ever-popular “1234456,” cybercriminals usually find it incredibly easy to infiltrate networks and steal information from local storage devices.

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Conversely, not too long ago, the cloud existed as an island in the computational sky. Users could restrict access to their information almost entirely, using cloud services as mere backups to their systems and software, and limiting human error almost completely.

Yet, as technology has improved, more and more users rely on the cloud for storage, and limitations on cloud access have decreased. Today, the cloud receives so much human interaction every hour – and shelters so much valuable data – that it is becoming an easy goldmine for cybercriminals.

Common Cloud-Based Malware

One of the most prominent innovations of the cloud is software-as-a-service (SaaS or on-demand software), which consists of a central host providing users with software licenses often in a subscription format. SaaS is inexpensive and convenient, especially for organizations already configured for cloud computing.

Unfortunately, the popularity of SaaS has spurred the creation of a malicious version, mockingly called malware-as-a-service, that only works to steal data and destroy lives.

Malicious developers can create cloud-based services companies like any other computing brand, but rather than offering legitimate tools like a normal SaaS business, they peddle access to types of malware, often called kits, to eager cybercriminals.

In turn, those criminals target users who often visit the cloud in the hope of gaining access to data-rich servers that will spread their malware quickly. Once criminals breach the cloud, they can wreak all sorts of havoc, including hijacking IT environments and causing networks irreparable damage.

Though cloud servers can be infected with viruses like any other computing device, malware-as-a-service is perhaps the biggest threat to cloud security to date – because it relies on good-old human error.

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How to Keep the Cloud (and Computers) Safe

2Fortunately, cloud users don’t have to downgrade to local storage devices to avoid this security threat. Much of the insecurity of the cloud is due to an ambiguity regarding responsibility – do cloud providers or users arrange for security?

The answer should be both, so users should always take precautions against threats regardless of their providers’ security suites.

Strong cybersecurity is incredibly similar for the cloud and traditional devices: For both, users need trustworthy security software, frequent security training, and effective protocols to address possible breaches. Encryption is an essential tool; it is by and large the best way to protect data no matter where it is.

Anyone with access to the cloud should understand potential security risks and be serious about protecting all information – which means maintaining strong passwords and understanding online safety rules.

The cloud can be a safe place for data – if we make it so. Cybercriminals will never stop developing malware as long as human error remains an exploitable resource. By being smart about cloud services, everyone can avoid that danger in the computing sky.

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