In recent months a number of large profile data leaks have occurred which have made millions of customers’ personal details easily available to anyone on the internet. Three recent cases GOP, Verizon and WWE involved incorrectly configured Amazon S3 buckets (Amazon was not at fault in any way).

Even though it is unlikely you will ever find the URLs to Public Cloud storage such as Amazon S3 or Azure Storage Accounts, they are surprisingly easy to find using the search engine SHODAN which scours the internet for hidden URLs. This then allows hackers or anyone access to an enormous amount of internet-connected devices, from Cloud storage to web-cams.

Better understanding of the data that you wish to store in the Cloud can help you make a more informed decision on the method of storage.

Data Classification

Before you even look at storing your company or customer data in the Cloud you should be classifying your data in some way. Most companies classify their data according to sensitivity. This process then gives you a better understanding of how your data should be stored.

One possible method is to divide data into several categories, based upon the impact to the business in the event of an unauthorised release. For example, the first category would be public, which is intended for release and poses no risk to the business. The next category is low business impact (LBI), which might include data or information that does not contain Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or cover sensitive topics but would generally not be intended for public release. Medium business impact (MBI) data can include information about the company that might not be sensitive, but when combined or analysed could provide competitive insights, or some PII that is not of a sensitive nature but that should not be released for privacy protection. Finally, high business impact (HBI) data is anything covered by any regulatory constraints, involves reputational matters for the company or individuals, anything that could be used to provide competitive advantage, anything that has financial value that could be stolen, or anything that could violate sensitive privacy concerns.

Next, you should set policy requirements for each category of risk. For example, LBI might require no encryption. MBI might require encryption in transit. HBI, in addition to encryption in transit, would require encryption at rest.

The Mistake – Public vs Private Cloud Storage

When classifying the data to be stored in the Cloud the first and most important question is “Should this data be available to the public, or just to individuals within the company?”

Once you have answered this question you can now configure your Cloud storage whether Amazon S3, Azure Storage accounts or whichever provider you are using. One of the most important options available when configuring Cloud storage is whether it is set to “Private” or “Public” access. This is where the mistake was made in the cases mentioned earlier. In all of these cases the Amazon S3 buckets were set to “Public“, however the data stored within them was of a private nature.

The problem here is the understanding of the term “Public” when configuring Cloud storage. Some may think that the term “Public” means that the data is available publicly to all individuals within your company, however this is not the case. The term “Public” means that your data is available to anyone who can access your Cloud Storage URL, whether they are within your company or a member of the general public.

This setting is of vital importance, once you are sure this is correct you can then worry about other features that may be required such as encryption in transit and encryption at rest.

This is a simple error with a big impact which can cost your company or customer a lot of money and even more importantly their reputation.


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