For years, security has been one of the major concerns whenever data needs to be put online, and the emergence of cloud computing didn’t really do much to alleviate people’s apprehension. In fact, for many, it had the exact opposite effect.
This has to do with the fact that traditionally, many users and businesses are used to storing their data on-site. Even when they don’t have it on their premises, they want to know the exact location of the server that is responsible for hosting it.
In a cloud hosting scenario, users manage the data via a virtual server that fetches it from different locations, and many are left with the impression that they don’t have complete control over it. As we’ll find out in a minute, if strict security protocols are followed, these fears are unfounded.
Nevertheless, cloud hosting, just like any online service, must be designed and configured with security in mind. But what are the main considerations that need to be borne in mind when using the cloud for the hosting of an online project?
Who is responsible for keeping cloud-hosted websites secure?
First, we obviously need to look at who is responsible for ensuring the security of data stored in the cloud. Some of you might say that the security of a website is the sole responsibility of the hosting provider, while others will probably point out that the website owner is the one who should ensure that the business runs smoothly. The truth is, the responsibility must be shared between the service provider and the client.
For example, an easy-to-guess password can undo all the work a hosting company has put into making sure that the cloud server is as securely configured as possible. In much the same way, even clients who follow all the security best practices can find themselves in trouble if the hosting provider doesn’t monitor the servers properly. In other words, if the data is to remain safe, everyone must take security very seriously.
Cloud hosting security vs. traditional hosting security
There is a finite number of ways in which you can compromise a website’s security, and it must be said that most of them work regardless of whether or not the project is hosted in the cloud or on a physical server. The main difference between the two services is that in a cloud hosting environment, there is a virtualization layer that can have its security benefits. Other than that, the scenarios that need to be taken into account are pretty much the same.
Principal cloud hosting security considerations
Creating a safe hosting environment isn’t something that can be ticked off the to-do list. It’s a process that can’t and shouldn’t stop. The list of things that should be considered carefully is virtually endless, and the aspects you’ll see below are only a small drop in the ocean. They should be enough to give you an idea of how complex the job really is, though.
One of people’s primary concerns is the fact that when they hire a cloud hosting provider, they are effectively trusting it with their website. Although having the professionals handle a task as complicated as hosting a website is a good thing, it inevitably carries the risk of insider attacks.
Whether it’s an honest mistake or deliberate sabotage, hosting providers mustn’t underestimate the danger of losing data because of an employee. Implementing extensive training of new members of the team, more thorough checks when hiring new employees, and thinking of a detailed incident response plan can make such events less likely.
Virtual server isolation
Another thing users are often worried about is the fact that in most cases, multiple different projects use the same cloud. In that sense, it reminds them of a traditional shared hosting setup. To a large extent, the problem stems from the fact that people don’t understand the significant differences between the two services.
Traditional shared hosting means that all the accounts located on a server share its hardware resources. By contrast, although multiple virtual machines can reside on the same cloud, they act as individual servers. It’s a more secure setup, but the hosting provider must nevertheless ensure that the virtual machines are properly isolated from one another.
Hackers successfully compromise websites constantly, and one of the most common points of entry is outdated software that suffers from known security vulnerabilities. Website owners need to stay on top of their updates. New versions of popular open-source platforms like WordPress come out not only to improve the performance but also to ensure that any security issues found with the software are addressed.
Admittedly, updating an entire application or even a plugin can cause issues with the performance of the website, and in some extreme cases, it can even lead to downtime. Despite this, however, the security implications associated with running a website on an old platform are just too significant to be ignored, and hosting providers need to ensure that users have access to tools that can ease the process.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are extremely common because launching them is very easy and very cheap. DDoS attacks don’t even require any specialized technical skills. Usually, cybercriminals go to a hacking forum, hire a botnet (a network of PCs, servers, and IoT devices infected with malware), and simply set the target.
The botnet then floods the targeted website with traffic and tries to overload the hardware behind it. Because of the underlying architecture, DDoS attacks against cloud-hosted websites tend to be less effective compared to the ones hosted on traditional servers. Nevertheless, there are tools and products that can further protect clients, and hosting providers must implement them.
When it comes to network security, a firewall is the easiest tool to implement. It can see who wants to access the data stored on a website, and it can identify whether they’re authorized to do so.
Should the worst happen, the logs firewalls keep are often invaluable during the investigation, and they can help affected website operators avoid similar incidents in the future. A properly configured firewall is as important in the cloud as it is at home and in the office.
Over the years, we’ve seen more than a few major incidents that affected millions of people and prompted regulatory organs all around the world to create standards for implementing security tools and procedures. These standards apply to both hosting providers and website owners, and businesses that manage to comply with them often get stamps and badges that they proudly place on their website to advertise this fact.
Security specialists, however, say that the value of these badges is often overrated. The standards do provide guidance on what can improve the security of the service and the website, but users and businesses make the costly mistake of assuming that once they’re compliant with a specific standard, their job is done.
As we mentioned already, securing a server or a hosting account is a never-ending process. The threat landscape is evolving constantly, and so are the best practices recommended for achieving better security. Security experts argue that the standards that businesses strive for aren’t updated nearly as often as they should be, which means that achieving compliance with a specific standard is far from enough to give you any confidence that the website you run or the service you provide is secure.
In other words, when you see that a website (regardless of whether it’s hosted in the cloud or on a traditional hosting plan) is compliant with a specific standard, this means that its owners have put some effort into improving its security. It doesn’t mean, however, that it can’t be hacked.
Is cloud hosting secure?
In the early days of cloud computing, many people were worried about the idea of using it to host their websites because of the potential problems with virtualization software. Back then, the concept of virtualization was still fairly new, and the concerns were founded to some extent. Many years have passed since then, however, and the state of cloud security has come leaps and bounds.
In fact, you can now say that the virtualization that once worried people so much is the thing that makes cloud hosting more secure than the traditional alternative. There is a difference in the way a virtual machine’s operating system interacts with the underlying hardware, and this thwarts some of the hackers’ moves. Nevertheless, the security benefits will be visible only if the virtualization software is properly configured. Additional tools and security protocols can help too.
Scala Hosting’s cloud hosting security tools
Our managed cloud servers come with SPanel, a proprietary control panel that lets you manage all aspects of your hosting account without the need to pay for additional license fees. It comes with numerous security features, including an easy-to-use backup system and free Let’s Encrypt certificates that are automatically installed and configured for all the websites you create on your account.
Managed cloud hosting customers also get SShield, our in-house developed security product. Unlike traditional security solutions that detect malicious activity using vast databases full of hashes of known malware samples, SShield uses artificial intelligence to monitor all processes running on your hosting account. It can block 99.8% of all attacks, and if it sees any malicious activity, it immediately alerts you so that you can take appropriate actions.
WordPress users can also take advantage of our SWordPress management platform. With it, you can install the world’s most popular content management system with a single click, and you can also configure automatic updates, reset the admin password, and set up a clever feature called Security Lock.
If Security Lock is turned on, it will lock all the files and folders of your website so that they can’t be modified. That way, even if a hacker manages to exploit a vulnerability and compromise your website, they will not be able to tamper with your data.
The security of a hosting environment is dependent on a very wide array of different aspects. Speaking in general terms about security and proclaiming that one type of hosting is more secure than the other is never a good call because a poorly configured cloud server can be a much easier target for the hackers than a properly secured physical machine and vice versa. And even the most robustly secured hosting environment can be broken into if the user protects their account with an easy-to-guess password.
With that being said, the cloud gives both website owners and hosting providers the ability to create a truly safe hosting environment. All we need to do is take advantage of it.
Q: How secure is my cloud-hosted website?
A: Cloud hosting relies on virtual machines that are isolated from one another, which means that if they are properly configured, the compromise of one website won’t affect its neighboring accounts, a common security concern with shared hosts. In addition to this, the virtualization layer can stop some of the malicious activity if the virtual server is securely set up. Ultimately, however, the security of any given online asset is dependent on such a wide range of different aspects that it’s not really possible to give a one-word definitive answer to this question.
Q: What are the main threats to my cloud-hosted website?
A: The attacks aimed at cloud-hosted websites don’t differ too much from the ones targeting projects hosted on traditional physical servers. The distributed infrastructure does mitigate the threat of DDoS attacks to some extent, but the danger is not completely eliminated.
Q: What can I do to better protect my website?
A: Boosting the security of your website might be easier than you believe. You must make sure that all available security patches and updates are installed in a timely manner. Pay more attention to your passwords, and if you’re running a business with multiple people accessing the same data, make sure your access control policy is carefully thought through.
Q: Do I need additional tools to protect my website?
A: They certainly won’t do you any harm. Before you choose which ones you’re going to use, you need to think about which attacks you’re most likely to be targeted by. Your threat model must be a primary consideration in all security-related decisions you make.
Q: How can Scala Hosting help me protect my website?
A: Every managed cloud server offered by Scala Hosting comes with SPanel. This means a backup system and free SSL certificates that are automatically installed and configured on all your websites. In addition to this, you also get SShield, our proprietary security system that uses artificial intelligence to scan your website for any malicious activity, and SWordPress, a WordPress manager that helps you boost the security of your WordPress website.
What is a VPS – Everything you need to know!