penetration testing services

Regular Penetration Testing Services Reduce Risks in the Cloud

By Aviral Sharma, ERMProtect, Information Security Consultant

Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computing resources (such as storage and infrastructure), as services over the internet. It eliminates the need for individuals and businesses to self-manage physical resources themselves, and only pay for what they use. Cloud computing offers a range of benefits, including scalability, flexibility, cost savings, and more.

Businesses can move away from traditional on-premises IT infrastructure and adopt a more agile and scalable approach to IT. They can be more responsive to changing market conditions and customer needs, while also gaining access to the latest technologies and services, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, without heavily investing in expensive hardware and software. This has helped businesses to stay competitive and has enabled them to innovate more quickly. Cloud computing has also helped businesses break down geographical barriers and grow their customer base.

Risks Linked to Cloud Computing

But while cloud computing has many benefits, it also comes with many risks. Some of the most common risks associated with cloud computing include:

  • Security Risks: Cloud computing can be vulnerable to security breaches, data loss, and other cyber threats. Organizations need to ensure that they have adequate security measures in place to protect their data and applications.
  • Compliance Risks: Organizations that use cloud computing services must ensure they comply with relevant regulations and standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  • Vendor Lock-In: Organizations that use cloud computing services may become dependent on a single vendor, which can make it difficult to switch to a different provider if needed.
  • Lack of Control: Cloud computing services are managed by third-party providers, which means that organizations may have limited control over their data and applications.
  • Downtime: Cloud computing services can experience downtime, which can result in lost productivity and revenue for organizations.
  • Costs: While cloud computing can be cost-effective, it can also be expensive if not managed properly. Organizations need to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the costs associated with cloud computing and that they are able to manage those costs effectively.

The Security Risk Inherent in Cloud-Based Services

A security breach in cloud-based services can have a significant impact on businesses. According to the 2022 Thales Cloud Security Report, 45 percent of businesses had experienced a cloud-based data breach or failed an audit in the past several months, up 5 percent from the previous year. The negative outcomes of a data breach can include elements such as lost revenue, damage to brand image, adverse career impacts for key personnel, and reduced shareholder value.

A security breach can also lead to a loss of customer trust and reputational damage. Additionally, businesses that experience a security breach may also face legal and regulatory consequences, such as fines and lawsuits.

To avoid these adverse outcomes, organizations need to take appropriate security measures to protect their data and applications in the cloud. They must mitigate security by implementing appropriate security measures, such as conducting regular cloud penetration tests.

Cloud Penetration Tests Shift from Option to Necessity

Cloud penetration testing services are a simulated attack to assess the security of an organization’s cloud-based applications and infrastructure. It is an effective way to proactively identify potential vulnerabilities, risks, and flaws and provide an actionable remediation plan to plug loopholes before hackers exploit them.

There are several benefits to conducting cloud penetration testing. Some of the most important ones include:

  • Protecting Confidential Data: Cloud penetration testing helps patch holes in an organization’s cloud environment, keeping their sensitive information securely under lock and key.
  • Lowering Business Expenses: Engaging in regular cloud penetration testing decreases the chance of a security incident, which will save your business the cost of recovering from the attack.
  • Meeting Industry Regulations and Standards: Cloud penetration testing helps ensure that organizations are compliant with relevant regulations and standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  • Gaining Peace of Mind: By conducting cloud penetration testing, an organization can identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in its cloud infrastructure before attackers exploit them.
  • Improving Overall Cloud Security: Cloud penetration testing helps organizations improve their overall cloud security posture, avoid breaches, and achieve compliance.

Guidelines for Cloud Penetration Testing Services

There are various tools and methods available for conducting cloud penetration testing, including automated tools, manual testing, and hybrid approaches. Your organization can conduct the tests in-house or hire an experienced penetration testing company to perform them. Here is a high-level step-by-step guide to perform cloud penetration testing services:

Understand the policies of the cloud provider:

Public clouds have policies related to security testing. You or your penetration testing company must notify the cloud provider of impending penetration tests and comply with any restrictions on what can be done during the testing. Many public cloud providers have a specific process that needs to be followed. Not adhering to the provider’s rules could cause legal trouble.

Create a penetration testing plan:

Before starting the penetration testing, you or your penetration testing company should create a plan that outlines the scope of the test, the tools that will be used (e.g., NMAP, BURPSUITE, METASPLOIT, OWASP ZAP), and the methodology to be followed. The following are simple, but powerful tools used for a Cloud Penetration Test:

Nmap: Nmap is a free and open-source network scanning tool widely used by penetration testers. Using Nmap, cloud pen testers can create a map of the cloud environment and look for open ports and other vulnerabilities.

Metasploit: Metasploit calls itself “the world’s most used penetration testing framework.” Created by the security company Rapid7, the Metasploit Framework helps pen testers develop, test, and launch exploits against remote target machines.

Burp Suite: Burp Suite is a collection of security testing software for web applications, including cloud-based applications. Burp Suite can perform functions such as penetration testing, scanning, and vulnerability analysis.

OWASP ZAP: OWASP Zed Attack Proxy is an open-source web application security scanner that is widely used by security professionals and enthusiasts to find vulnerabilities in web applications during development and testing phases. ZAP provides a range of options for security automation and contains add-ons that have been contributed by the community.

Approach for penetration testing:

Black-box testing: The tester has no prior knowledge of the system being tested.

White-box testing: The tester has full knowledge of the system being tested. The tester has access to the source code, network topology, and security controls.

Gray-box testing: The tester has partial knowledge of the system being tested. The tester has some information about the system’s architecture, network topology, or security controls.

Map the cloud infrastructure:

The penetration tester should map the cloud infrastructure to identify the assets that need to be tested. This includes identifying the cloud service models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) and cloud providers.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This service model provides organizations with the basic building blocks for cloud IT. Typically, the penetration tester needs to assess the basic infrastructure such as networking features, computers (virtual hardware), and data stores. The penetration tester also must identify vulnerabilities in the operating systems of different devices in the cloud, as well as all applications in scope.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): This service model removes the need for organizations to manage the underlying infrastructure (usually hardware and operating systems) and allows them to focus on the deployment and management of their applications. Based on the scope, the pen tester might only get access to the applications and the underlying protocol configurations that the platform might offer.

Software as a Service (SaaS): This service model provides organizations with a completed product that is run and managed by the service provider. In most cases, people referring to Software as a Service are referring to end-user applications. In this case, typically the penetration tester is highly limited in scope to only the external part of the model, i.e., the interface or even just the web page.

Pinpoint critical assets:

Identifying critical assets and their functions is an important part of the reconnaissance that takes place before penetration testing is performed. This allows the pen tester to infer what kind of information could be exfiltrated during a successful breach. These assets include data, applications, and services.

Perform a penetration test:

During the actual penetration testing exercise, the pen tester identifies vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the cloud service. This is done by leveraging information gathered through reconnaissance and knowledge of known vulnerabilities in the target’s critical assets. In general, the core principle for the penetration testing practice is the same. The testing process includes testing the cloud provider’s security controls, network security, and application security.

The penetration tester must closely observe all responses from the test result. This could be the system’s automated responses or human responses based on the test and the target. The next step includes validating identified vulnerabilities in a second test and then removing vulnerabilities that were found to be false positives.

Documenting cloud services:

The final step is enumerating and documenting vulnerabilities.  The documentation should properly reflect every step of the testing process, the observation results, and the recommendations.

Some Suggestions for Cloud Penetration Testers

Cloud penetration testing services conducted in-house could leave a lot to be desired. Internal testing teams, no matter how skilled they are, can overlook something. They are too close to the action and too familiar with the software, which can lead to carelessness and errors. At least periodically, it is better to conduct cloud penetration testing from a neutral perspective.

It goes without saying that cloud penetration testers should always start with reconnaissance before “attacking” individual systems or applications within the cloud environment. It’s also important to remember that cloud- based services and environments are very dynamic and they change frequently. This means that penetration testers need to keep their cloud penetration test approach up to date with the most recent changes in cloud architecture, configuration management, etc.

To avoid accidental exposure or damage to live production data, cloud pen testers should create dedicated test accounts and use synthetic or test data during the penetration testing process. And, whenever possible, they should use non-destructive penetration testing techniques to avoid disrupting critical cloud services or data. If destructive tests are necessary, they must be done with extreme caution. In these cases, limit the scope and intensity of penetration testing activities to avoid any negative impact on the cloud environment’s availability, performance, or reliability.

We are Cloud Penetration Testers

ERMProtect has been conducting cloud penetration tests since its founding in 1998. We have the expertise and experience required to protect your data and applications in the cloud. Please contact Silka Gonzalez at [email protected], Judy Miller at [email protected] or call 305-447-6750 to set up a free consultation on the type of cloud penetration testing that would best protect your business.




Aviral Sharma is an Information Security Consultant at ERMProtect. He performs penetration testing and conducts risk assessments from company clients. He obtained his master’s degree in information security from Carnegie Mellon University.

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