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Cloud Computing: Is the Sky Really Falling?

Provocative Comments from Security Expert May Confuse the Issue

"It's long weeks to short months at best before there's a security meltdown," Thus spake Brian Snow, the former technical director of the Information Assurance Directorate of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and a prominent critic of Cloud Computing.

His remarks were part of a presentation he delivered at a university talk in Alberta, Canada. This was not the first time he's offered such an opinion. He had noted his distrust of the Cloud earlier this year at the RSA Security Conference, noting that "you don't know what else is cuddling up next to it."

This is not some random Chicken Little trying to panic everybody off of Facebook and into the streets: according to his biography, Brian "spent much of his early NSA career in research - developing cryptographic components and systems. Many of his algorithms are used today in cryptographic systems serving the U.S. government and military. These systems provide capabilities not previously available, and span a range from nuclear command and control to tactical radios for the battlefield. He has garnered patents and many awards and honors attesting to his creativity."

But the idea that a major cyber-meltdown is imminent does give one pause. It seems to me that with respect to the Cloud, he's talking along the lines of something like the famous Blackberry blackouts, only on a bigger scale; perhaps something will go drastically wrong with Yahoo mail or gmail, or God forbid, Farmville. Is he as concerned about the numerous Cloud installations that are in essence virtualized, offisite datacenters?

It is here that pesky semantics once again raise their head. What is the difference between the public cloud and the private cloud? Just when you thought a private cloud, for example, was an on-site datacenter that has been virtualized and perhaps charges departments only for their usage, a Fujitsu crops up and offers an outsourced private cloud. Just one example.

We've shot off a note to Mr. Snow over the week-end, asking for some expansion and clarification of the comments he made in Alberta.

Specifically, we've asked him:

* Do you believe therre will be a meltdown this soon?

* Would it be in the nature of the Blackberry outages we've seen in the past, or something more catastrophic?

* What would be behind such a meltdown: criminal activity, cyberwarfare, or plain old incompetence?

* What should individuals and businesses be doing to either thwart or obviate such a meltdown?

It's a holiday week in the US, so we didn't expect answers to come immediately. If and when he responds, we'll let you know.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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