Stop The #1 Cloud Threat: Excessive Permissions
Frederik Bussler

Frederik Bussler

May 31, 2022 · 5 min read

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In early 2014, a Yahoo employee clicked on an inconspicuous link sent by a hacker, opening the door to the worst data breach in history, in which all 3 billion accounts were compromised.

Hackers take advantage of unnecessary permissions across all levels, not just cloud administrators. These privileges can be used to exploit vulnerabilities, escalate privileges, and exfiltrate data.

According to Reposify, 97% of multinational cybersecurity vendors have exposed assets in their AWS environments. And it's not just data at risk—these privileged accounts can be used to launch attacks on other parts of an organization's infrastructure. The costs of excessive permissions can be devastating, both in terms of financial damage and loss of reputation.

The Costs Are Staggering

IBM regularly analyzes the costs of data breaches, and the latest findings show that the average cost of a data breach has reached $4.62 million. It's not just direct costs that need to be considered—there are indirect costs as well.

For example, First American Financial Corporation was hit with nearly a half-million-dollar SEC penalty for failing to disclose a data breach on time. Meanwhile, Pearson plc had to fork over a full $1 million following a 2018 cyberattack.

There are also reputational costs to take into account—IBM's report discusses the costs of customer churn, downtime, new business acquisition costs, post-breach response costs, notification costs, and more.

Prevention Tips

The key to preventing excessive permissions is to follow the principle of least privilege—only granting entities the bare minimum amount of access they need to do their jobs. This can be a challenge, particularly in large organizations, but there are some steps that can be taken to make it easier.

  1. Centralize user management
  2. Implement role-based access controls
  3. Use least privilege wherever possible
  4. Monitor and audit privileged access

Let's take a look at each of these prevention tips in turn.

Centralize user management

With so many different users and systems in a large organization, it can be difficult to keep track of who has access to what. Centralizing user management makes it easier to see who has access to which resources, and to revoke or grant permissions as needed.

Consider the case of an employee who is leaving the company. If that employee's permissions are not revoked in a timely manner, they could continue to have access to sensitive data long after they've left the organization. By centralizing user management, it's easier to ensure that permissions are properly revoked when an employee leaves the company.

Even for stellar employees who are staying with the company, there's always the possibility that their credentials could be compromised. By centralizing user management, it's easier to detect when an account has been compromised and take appropriate action.

Implement role-based access controls

Role-based access control (RBAC) is a type of access control in which permissions are based on an individual's role within the organization. For example, a human resources manager would have different permissions than a marketing manager.

RBAC can make it easier to manage permissions, because you can assign permissions to groups of users rather than individually. And if a user's role changes, their permissions can be updated accordingly. This is much more efficient than managing permissions individually.

Use least privilege wherever possible

The principle of least privilege (also known as the principle of least authority) states that an entity should have only the bare minimum amount of access necessary to do its job. This is good advice for both individuals and organizations.

When it comes to organizational data, it's important to remember that not everyone needs access to everything. It's often better to err on the side of caution and restrict access to sensitive data. That way, even if an account is compromised, the damage will be limited.

Monitor and audit privileged access

Organisations need to continuously monitor and audit all user activity related to their cloud infrastructure. This includes both administrators and non-privileged users. By understanding who has access to what data and how that data is being used, organisations can better identify and mitigate potential risks.

In addition to auditing user activity, organisations should also have a process in place for revoking privileges when they are no longer needed. When combined with strong authentication and access controls, this will help further reduce the risk of abuse or misuse of privileges.

The challenges associated with managing privileged access in the cloud are not going away anytime soon. However, by taking a proactive approach and implementing the appropriate safeguards, organisations can significantly reduce their exposure to privilege-related threats.

The Bottom Line

When granting any entity access to data—whether it's an individual user or a cloud service —it's important to follow the principle of least privilege. Giving entities too much access can lead to devastating consequences, both in terms of financial damage and loss of reputation.

Usage.AI helps organizations save up to 57% on their AWS costs, and when doing so, asks only for the permissions it needs— no more and no less. This ensures that customer data is safe and organizations are only paying for the resources they actually use.


The Author

Frederik BusslerContent Marketer
Frederik Bussler
Content Marketer

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Frederik is a content marketing consultant with experience across startup, mid-market, and enterprise companies, helping them to develop and execute long-term strategies.

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