Security Considerations in Cloud Computing

M. R. Pamidi, Ph. D.

Introduction

Cloud Computing (CC) is gaining momentum and mindshare from enterprises as a way of controlling IT costs. At the same time, there are many issues preventing many organizations from fully embracing CC. Security appears to be the top issue among those evaluating CC, the concerns being whether others, including your competitors, can access your data and how safe is your data in the cloud. The recent China-Google incident has raised even more concerns about cloud security. This blog discusses various security concerns and what is being done by vendors and standards bodies to mitigate these.

Top Security Risks

Despite firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and other security measures, CC is not 100% secure. This is akin to your home: You may live in a gated community, have a lock on your front gate, padlock on your front door, guard dogs, AND an electronic security system installed in your home. Each layer of security makes your home more secure, not fully secure.  However, this doesn’t prevent you from living in your home. Similarly, many organizations will embrace CC, knowing the risks and rewards involved.

Following are some of the top security concerns:

  1. Phishing: No security system is impregnable. Many SaaS and PaaS claimed their systems are secure, yet salesforce.com had a phishing attack in 2007; Google Gmail was attacked in October 2009; and Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail was attacked in October 2009, just to mention a few.
  2. Data Privacy: HIPAA, California SB1386, 201 CMR 17.00, and similar regulatory requirements protect individuals’ privacy; yet, many organizations, especially in the U. S., don’t seem to take these seriously and often pay heavy fines for data breaches. For instance, whereas the EU favours strict protection of privacy, laws such as the U. S. Patriot Act in the U. S. grant government and other agencies with virtually limitless powers to access information, including that belonging to companies—all in the name of national security.
  3. Data Location: Many countries require that information used there must stay there. So, it behooves to be aware of local laws and regulations.
  4. User Access: If enterprise data resides outside with a cloud vendor, how can you ensure only authorized users are accessing it?
  5. Data Separation/Segregation: Some organizations worry that their data in cloud may reside next to their competitors’. This fear is valid and your cloud vendors should provide the necessary safeguards.
  6. Data Recovery: If your cloud vendor’s site crashes, does your vendor have provisions for data backup and replication, disaster recovery, and data integrity?
  7. Vendor Viability: Do you feel safe with your current vendor? Do you have contingency plans if your CC vendor goes out of business?

What are the vendors doing?
Cisco, EMC, IBM, SAP, and several other leading technology companies announced in March 2009 that they had created an Open Cloud Manifesto calling for more consistent security and monitoring of cloud services. Notably, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce.com are not members of this organization. Cloud Security Alliance is another organization whose membership includes Cisco, Dell, HP, and Microsoft. However, Amazon, Google, and IBM are absent from this organization. Other standards include ISO/IEC 27001, addressing third-party audits governing security of information and network systems, and SAS70 for auditing.

We expect most end users to embrace private clouds first, considered safe and secure, before adopting public and hybrid clouds. For its part, Microsoft at the Professional Developers Conference announced in November 2009 Project Sydney that creates a virtual network that ties together pieces of an application or processes running in various places so they all look like one logical system. Sydney addresses security in virtualized, multi-tenant environments in which customers are typically sharing datacenter resources. In addition to embedding greater security into the public cloud, Microsoft is planning to help customers build private cloud networks within their own datacenters, using the same software Windows Azure is based on. This appears to be Microsoft’s answer to customers seeking answer to the question, “Where can we get a private cloud?”

How can Vikroon Systems help you?
If you are a cloud user, Vikroon will:

  • Evaluate your cloud vendors to determine where your data is kept and that your vendor is aware of the data protection laws in various jurisdictions where they operate.
  • Establish your risk appetite and see if your vendor can fill your diet.
  • Insist on your vendor providing you an independent third-party security audit.
  • Thoroughly evaluate QoS and SLAs and examine penalty-reward systems.
  • Working with you, review your vendor’s security policies on a regular basis (semi-annually, annually) and that you are notified immediately of any security breaches.
  • Help you review your cloud vendor for interoperability to ensure a safe “exit strategy” in case you decide to move to another cloud vendor for whatever reason.
  • Examine your vendor’s disaster recovery, data protection, and contingency policies.
  • Find out which third parties your vendor deals with and if they have to access your data.
  • Explore whether your provider will accommodate your own security policies, which might be more stringent than theirs.

If you are a cloud vendor, Vikroon will help you:

  • Establish and publish your security policies
  • Document your disaster and contingency planning
  • Maintain regular security audits
  • Publicize your QoS and SLAs
  • Justify prices for your products and services, so customers can achieve realistic ROI
  • Define your portability and interoperability goals
  • Not oversell Cloud Computing and know its benefits and limitations
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