Cloud Hijacking

DEFINITION of 'Cloud Hijacking'

The breaking into or taking over of the cloud account of an individual, business or other organization by an unauthorized user. Cloud hijacking can be accomplished by stealing a user’s login credentials or by hacking. Cloud systems are an attractive target for cybercriminals since they contain so much information in a single location. This information can be used to steal money, commit identity theft and expose company trade secrets. It can also be used to spread malicious software or send users to spoofed websites.

BREAKING DOWN 'Cloud Hijacking'

Cloud-based services have many points of vulnerability. An individual user’s account can be hacked through the theft of a device like a laptop or smartphone or by first compromising the individual’s email account or computer. An entire cloud service can also be hacked, at great expense to businesses and their customers. After hijacking a cloud account or system, criminals may manipulate or steal data and eavesdrop on company activities.

Cloud-based services are also vulnerable to service traffic hijacking where a hacker can redirect customers to a fraudulent site or a competitor’s site, and to denial of service (DoS) attacks that prevent users from accessing their accounts. In addition, hijacked cloud accounts can be used to install malware on other systems. Session hijacking, where an attacker pretends to be an authorized user and accesses his or her account, is one of the top cloud computing threats. Hijacking is not always immediately detectable, either, which can result in protracted losses.

Software that steals session cookie data can allow attackers to pretend to be authorized users and hijack a cloud-based account. And purposely embedded malicious code can steal a user’s session data and send it to an unauthorized user. Cloud hijackers can even use the data they steal to hold sensitive data ransom. Public networks where data transmissions are insecure increase the risk of cloud hijacking.

Users of cloud services can limit their exposure to cloud hijacking in several ways. HTTPS encryption that lasts for the duration of a user’s session can help protect against cloud hijacking. So can choosing a reputable cloud storage provider that uses strong security measures. Such measures might include conducting background checks on employees, requiring strong authentication measures for cloud users, continuously monitoring data, securely backing up data and encrypting sensitive data. However, some of these protective measures are also potential weaknesses; for example, encrypted data becomes inaccessible if the encryption key is lost, and multiple backups of cloud data mean more opportunities for it to be stolen. It’s also important to ask about a prospective cloud service provider’s history of breaches, data losses and downtime.