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Is cloud security really different than data center security?

October 30, 2009 7 comments

Almost every conversation I have had over the past year or so always comes back to security in the cloud.  Is it really secure? Or we are thinking about implementing the cloud but we are worried about security.  There are, of course, good reasons to plan a cloud security strategy. But in a sense, it is no different than planning a security strategy for your company. But it is the big scary cloud! Well, before I list the top then issues I would like to say one thing: if you think you need an entirely different security strategy for the cloud, you may not have a comprehensive security strategy to start with.  Yes, you have to make sure that you cloud provider has a sophisticated approach to security. However, what about your Internet service provider? What about the level of security within your own IT department? Can you throw stones if you live in a glass house (yes, that is a pun…sorry)?  So, before you start fretting about security in the cloud, get your own house in order.  Do you have an identity management plan? Do you ensure that one individual within the data center can’t control all of the data within a single environment to minimize risks? If you don’t have a well executed internal security plan, you aren’t ready for the cloud.  But let’s say that you have fixed that problem and you are ready to really plan your cloud security strategy. So, here five of the issues to consider. If you have others, let’s start a conversation.

security police

1. You need to start at the beginning with understanding the characteristics of your cloud provider. Is the company well funded? Is its data center designed with security at the center? Your level of scrutiny will also depend on how you are using the cloud. If you are using Infrastructure as a Service for a short term project there is less risk than if you are planning to use a cloud to store important customer data.

2. How is your cloud provider implementing security in a multi-tenant environment? How do they ensure that one customer’s data doesn’t impact another customer’s data?

3. Does your cloud provider give you the ability to monitor security of your data in the cloud? This will be important both for compliance and to keep track of your own security policies.

4. Does your cloud provider encrypt your critical data? If not, why not?

5. Does your cloud provider give you the ability to control who is allowed to access your information based on roles and authorization? Does the cloud provider support federated identity management? This is basic security best practices.

Now you are probably saying to yourself that this isn’t rocket science. These are fundamental security approaches that any data center should follow. I recommend that you take a look at a great document published by the Cloud Security Alliance that details many of the key issues surrounding security in the cloud. So, I guess my principle message is that cloud security is not different than security in any data center.  But the market does not seem to understand this because the perception is that a cloud is somehow not a data center that can be secured with regular old security. I think that we will see something interesting happen because of this perception: cloud vendors will begin to charge a premium for really good security.  In fact, this is already happening.  Vendors like Amazon and Salesforce are offering segregated implementations of their environments to customers who don’t trust their ordinary security approaches.  This will work in the short term primarily because during this early phase of the cloud there is not enough focus on security. Long term, as the market matures, cloud vendors will have to demonstrate their ability to provide a secure environment based on basic security best practices. In the meantime, cloud vendors will rake in the cash for premium secure cloud services.