Egregious 11 Meta-Analysis Part 1: (In)sufficient Due Diligence and Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy  

By Victor Chin, Research Analyst, CSA

On August 6th, 2019, the CSA Top Threats working group released the third iteration of the Top Threats to Cloud Computing report. This is the first blog post in the series where we analyze the security issues in the new iteration of the Top Threats to Cloud Computing report. Each blog post features a security issue that is being perceived as less relevant and one that is being perceived as more relevant.

 **Please note that the Top Threats to Cloud Computing reports are not meant to be the definitive list of security issues in the cloud. Rather, the studies are a measure of industry perception of key security issues.

The following security issues from the previous iteration (“The Treacherous Twelve”) appeared again in the latest report.

  • Data Breaches
  • Account Hijacking
  • Insider Threats
  • Insecure Interfaces and APIs
  • Abuse and Nefarious Use of Cloud Services

At the same time, five new security issues below made their debuts.

  • Misconfiguration and Insufficient Change Control
  • Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy
  • Weak Control Plane
  • Metastructure and Applistructure Failures
  • Limited Cloud Usage Visibility made their debuts.

The Overarching Trends

Throughout the three iterations of the report, one particular trend has been increasingly more prominent. Traditional cloud security issues stemming from concerns about having a third-party provider are being perceived as less relevant. Some examples of such issues are Data Loss, Denial of Service, and Insufficient Due Diligence. While more nuanced issues pertaining specifically to cloud environments are increasingly being perceived as more problematic. These include Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy, Weak Control Plane and Metastructure and Applistructure Failures.

Most and Least Relevant Security Issues

Over the next few weeks, we will examine and try to account for the trend mentioned earlier. Each blog post will feature a security issue that is being perceived as less relevant and one that is being perceived as more relevant. In the first post, we will take a closer look at Insufficient Due Diligence and Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy.

(In)sufficient Due Diligence

Insufficient Due Diligence was rated 8th and 9th in the first and second iteration of the Top Threats to Cloud Computing report, respectively. In the current report, it has completely dropped off. Insufficient Due Diligence refers to prospective cloud customers conducting cloud service provider (CSP) evaluations to ensure that the CSPs meets the various business and regulatory requirements. Such concerns were especially pertinent during the early years of cloud computing, where there were not many resources available to help cloud customers make that evaluation.

 Frameworks to Improve Cloud Procurement

Since then, many frameworks and projects have been developed to make cloud procurement a smooth journey. The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), for example, has several tools to help enterprises on their journey of cloud procurement and migration.

  • The CAIQ and CCM are further supported by the Security, Trust and Assurance Registry (STAR) program, which is a multi-level assurance framework. The STAR program makes CSP information such as completed CAIQs (Level 1) and third-party audit certifications (Level 2) publicly accessible.

Around the world, we see many similar frameworks and guidances being developed. For example:

  • The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) in the US
  • Multi-Tier Cloud Security (MTCS) Certification Scheme in Singapore
  • The European Security Certification Framework (EU-SEC) in the European Union.

With so many governance, risk and compliance support programs being developed globally, it is understandable that Insufficient Due Diligence has fallen off the Top Threats to Cloud Computing list.

Examining Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy

Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy was rated third in The Egregious Elven. Large organizations migrating their information technology stack to the cloud without considering the nuances of IT operations in the cloud environment are creating a significant amount of business risk for themselves. Such organizations fail to plan for the shortcomings that they will experience operating their IT stack in the cloud. Moving workloads to the cloud will result in organizations having less visibility and control over their data and the underlying cloud infrastructure. Coupled with the self-provisioning and on-demand nature of cloud resources, it becomes very easy to scale up cloud resources – sometimes, in an insecure manner. For example, in 2019, Accenture left at least 4 cloud storage buckets unsecured and publicly downloadable. In highly complex and scalable cloud environments without proper cloud security architecture and processes, such misconfigurations can occur easily. For cloud migration and operations to go smoothly, such shortcomings must be accounted for. Organizations can engage a Cloud Security Access Broker (CASB) or use cloud-aware technology to provide some visibility into the cloud infrastructure. Being able to monitor your cloud environment for misconfigurations or exposures will be extremely critical when operating in the cloud.

On a different note, the fact that a Lack of Cloud Security Architecture and Strategy is high up in the Top Threats to Cloud Computing is evidence that organizations are actively migrating to the cloud. These nuanced cloud security issues only crop up post-migration and will be the next tranche of problems for which solutions must be found.

Continue reading the series…

Read our next blog post analyzing the overarching trend of cloud security issues highlighted in the Top Threats to Cloud Computing: Egregious 11 report. Next time we will take a look at Shared Technology Vulnerabilities and Limited Cloud Usage Visibility.

Uncovering the CSA Top Threats to Cloud Computing with Jim Reavis

By Greg Jensen, Sr. Principal Director – Security Cloud Business Group, Oracle

For the few that attend this year’s BlackHat conference kicking off this week in Las Vegas, many will walk away with an in depth understanding and knowledge on risk as well as actionable understandings on how they can work to implement new strategies to defend against attacks. For the many others who don’t attend, Cloud Security Alliance has once again developed their CSA Top Threats to Cloud Computing: The Egregious 11.

I recently sat down with the CEO and founder of CSA, Jim Reavis, to gain a deeper understanding on what leaders and practitioners can learn from this year’s report that covers the top 11 threats to cloud computing – The Egregious 11.

(Greg) Jim, for those who have never seen this, what is the CSA Top Threats to Cloud report and who is your target reader?

(Jim) The CSA Top Threats to Cloud Computing is a research report that is periodically updated by our research team and working group of volunteers to identify high priority cloud security risks, threats and vulnerabilities to enable organizations to optimize risk management decisions related to securing their cloud usage.  The Top Threats report is intended to be a companion to CSA’s Security Guidance and Cloud Controls Matrix best practices documents by providing context around important threats in order to prioritize the deployment of security capabilities to the issues that really matter.

Our Top Threats research is compiled via industry surveys as well as through qualitative analysis from leading industry experts.  This research is among CSA’s most popular downloads and has spawned several translations and companion research documents that investigate cloud penetration testing and real world cloud incidents.  Top Threats research is applicable to the security practitioner seeking to protect assets, executives needing to validate broader security strategies and any others wanting to understand how cloud threats may impact their organization.  We make every effort to relate the potential pitfalls of cloud to practical steps that can be taken to mitigate these risks.

(Greg) Were there any findings in the Top Threats report that really stood out for you?

(Jim) Virtually all of the security issues we have articulated impact all different types of cloud.  This is important as we find a lot of practitioners who may narrow their cloud security focus on either Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS), depending upon their own responsibilities or biases.  The cloud framework is a layered model, starting with physical infrastructure with layers of abstraction built on top of it.  SaaS is essentially the business application layer built upon some form of IaaS, so the threats are applicable no matter what type of cloud one uses.  Poor identity management practices, such as a failure to implement strong authentication, sticks out to me as a critical and eminently solvable issue.  I think the increased velocity of the “on demand” characteristic of cloud finds its way into the threat of insufficient due diligence and problems of insecure APIs.  The fastest way to implement cloud is to implement it securely the first time. 

(Greg) What do you think are some of the overarching trends you’ve noticed throughout the last 3 iterations of the report?

(Jim) What has been consistent is that the highest impact threats are primarily the responsibility of the cloud user.  To put a bit of nuance around this as the definition of a “cloud user” can be tricky, I like to think of this in three categories: a commercial SaaS provider, an enterprise building its own “private SaaS” applications on top of IaaS or a customer integrating a large number of SaaS applications have the bulk of the technical security responsibilities.  So much of the real world threats that these cloud users grapple with are improper configuration, poor secure software development practices and insufficient identity and access management strategies.

Greg Jensen, Sr Dir of Security, Oracle

(Greg) Are you seeing any trends that show there is increasing trust in cloud services, as well as the CSP working more effectively around Shared Responsibility Security Model?

(Jim) The market growth in cloud is a highly quantifiable indicator that cloud is becoming more trusted.  “Cloud first” is a common policy we see for organizations evaluating new IT solutions, and it hasn’t yet caused an explosion of cloud incidents, although I fear we must see an inevitable increase in breaches as it becomes the default platform.

We have been at this for over 10 years at CSA and have seen a lot of maturation in cloud during that time.  One of the biggest contributions we have seen from the CSPs over that time is the amount of telemetry they make available to their customers.  The amount and diversity of logfile information customers have today does not compare to the relative “blackbox” that existed when we started this journey more than a decade ago.

Going back to the layered model of cloud yet again, CSPs understand that most of the interesting applications customers build are a mashup of technologies.  Sophisticated CSPs understand this shared responsibility for security and have doubled down on educational programs for customers.  Also, I have to say that one of the most rewarding aspects of being in the security industry is observing the collegial nature among competing CSPs to share threat intelligence and best practices to improve the security of the entire cloud ecosystem.

One of the initiatives CSA developed that helps promulgate shared responsibility is the CSA Security, Trust, Assurance & Risk (STAR) Registry.  We publish the answers CSPs provide to our assessment questionnaire so consumers can objectively evaluate a CSP’s best practices and understand the line of demarcation and where their responsibility begins.

(Greg) How does the perception of threats, risks and vulnerabilities help to guide an organization’s decision making & strategy?

(Jim) This is an example of why it is so important to have a comprehensive body of knowledge of cloud security best practices and to be able to relate it to Top Threats.  A practitioner must be able to evaluate using any risk management strategy for a given threat, e.g. risk avoidance, risk mitigation, risk acceptance, etc.  If one understand the threats but not the best practices, one will almost always choose to avoid the risk, which may end up being a poor business decision.  Although the security industry has gotten much better over the years, we still fight the reputation of being overly conservative and obstructing new business opportunities over concerns about security threats.  While being paranoid has sometimes served us well, threat research should be one of a portfolio of tools that helps us embrace innovation.  

(Greg) What are some of the security issues that are currently brewing/underrated that you think might become more relevant in the near future?

(Jim) I think it is important to understand that malicious attackers will take the easy route and if they can phish your cloud credentials, they won’t need to leverage more sophisticated attacks.  I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about sophisticated CSP infrastructure attacks like the Rowhammer direct random access memory (DRAM) leaks, although a good security practitioner worries a little bit about everything. I try to think about fast moving technology areas that are manipulated by the customer, because there are far more customers than CSPs.  For example, I get concerned about the billions of IoT devices that get hooked into the cloud and what kinds of security hardening they have.  I also don’t think we have done enough research into how blackhats can attack machine learning systems to avoid next generation security systems.

Our Israeli chapter recently published a fantastic research document on the 12 Most Critical Risks for Serverless Applications.  Containerization and Serverless computing are very exciting developments and ultimately will improve security as they reduce the amount of resource management considerations for the developer and shrink the attack surface.  However, these technologies may seem foreign to security practitioners used to a virtualized operating system and it is an open question how well our tools and legacy best practices address these areas.

The future will be a combination of old threats made new and exploiting fast moving new technology.  CSA will continue to call them as we see them and try to educate the industry before these threats are fully realized.

(Greg) Jim, it’s been great hearing from you today on this new Top Threats to Cloud report. Hats off to the team and the contributors for this year’s report. Has been great working with them all!

(Jim) Thanks Greg! To learn more about this, or to download a copy of the report, visit us at

CSA on This Millennium Alliance Podcast

By Cara Bernstein, Manager/Executive Education Partnerships, The Millennium Alliance

top threats interview image

This podcast episode features The Millennium Alliance partner, The Cloud Security Alliance. We sat down with Vince Campitelli, Enterprise Security Specialist, and Jon-Michael C. Brook, Principal, Guide Holdings, LLC, and co-chair of CSA’s Top Threats Working Group, to discuss the work of CSA, the top threats people need to be concerned about and how to best develop an expert cyber team.

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