Is your Cloud (Computing) Secure?

In my previous postings, I have talked about what cloud computing is, some pros and cons and a sample of vendors who claim they offer cloud computing. This posting will talk about one specific issue, namely security for the cloud.  This issue, unlike some of the other topics not only has generated more discussions but also can have a tremendous impact on your information and even your company’s goodwill.

 In Forrester’s article titled “ A Close Look At Cloud Computing Security”  by Chenxi Wang, Ph.D. Wang states “While cloud computing is able to deliver many benefits, organizations should not jump on the "cloud" wagon without a compelling business driver and a clear understanding of the security, privacy, compliance, and legal consequences. An effective assessment strategy covering these items will help you reach the ultimate goal: Make the cloud service work like your own IT security department and find ways to secure and optimize your investments in the cloud.”

Forrester includes data protection, disaster recovery, and identity management as some of the areas under security and suggest that an audit of the potential cloud provider to see what level of security is actually provided.

As for compliance, the user should analyze how the cloud may or may not impact one’s compliance requirements.

For legal and contractual issues, Forrester advises that one understands who owns/is responsible for what, between the user and the provider (the data, the infrastructure, etc.)

Another article by Network World’s Jon Brodkin titled “Gartner: Seven Cloud – Computing Security Risks” he talks about seven security risk areas.

1. Privileged user access, sensitive data processed outside the enterprise.

2. Regulatory compliance, how does the cloud provider match your guidelines?

3. Data location, where exactly is your data housed?

 4. Data segregation, understand that your data is “sitting” next to other’s data

 5. Disaster Recovery, what happens when there is an outage?

6.  Investigating inappropriate or illegal activity may be impossible in cloud computing,

7. Long-term viability, what happens if your provider “goes away”?

Another article in Network World that reported on the RSA conference, and stated that the former technical director of NSA, Brian Snow is very concerned about vendors offering cloud computing from a security point of view. He is concerned about vendors not addressing current security issues and about new issues that cloud computing will create.   Ironically another panelist was concerned about “Big Brother” listening in on cloud computing and how this might impact enterprises’ privacy and compliance issues.

So to wrap up, the internet has security issues, and since cloud computing is in the internet, cloud computing will have those security issues, ones listed above, and ones yet to be discovered. It comes down to the risk profile for your corporation; what level of risk is right for your company relative to investing in cloud computing? Obviously part of the risk assessment depends on your type of company.  If you are a financial advisor or in stock management where your intellectual property is basically the company then cloud computing as we currently know it is not right for you at any cost savings. If you resell ping -pong balls (no offense to ping- pong ball resellers) than the risk is relatively low and the savings from cloud computing outweigh the security and other considerations. 

Have you conducted an adequate risk assessment before deciding to move to cloud computing?

RHL 03/10/10

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