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Safeguarding Management and Security in the Cloud

An exclusive Q&A with David Meizlik, Vice President of Marketing at Dome9 Security

"One of the greatest challenges to security in the cloud is management," noted David Meizlik, Vice President of Marketing at Dome9 Security, in this exclusive Q&A with Cloud Expo Conference Chair Jeremy Geelan. "With cloud computing," Meizlik explained, "the infrastructure is owned and maintained by a third party, so you can't just walk down the hall to get to your infrastructure."

Cloud Computing Journal: Cloud computing represents the advent of a global computing utility that transcends national boundaries. Is that what makes clouds a challenge from a security point of view?

David Meizlik: Globalization is more a challenge from a governance and compliance perspective. The greatest challenge to security in the cloud is that traditional security models don't apply. Take, for example, the firewall. Firewalls were designed to protect the perimeter. The cloud, however, is outside any perimeter, and thus a traditional enterprise IT approach to firewalling is simply not practical. Fundamentally, as we re-architect our infrastructure we need to re-architect our security. It's an opportunity and not just a challenge.

Cloud Computing Journal: What about other aspects of vulnerability; what are the other unique problems of cloud computing from a security standpoint?

Meizlik: One of the greatest challenges to security in the cloud is management. With cloud computing, the infrastructure is owned and maintained by a third party, so you can't just walk down the hall to get to your infrastructure. What's more, the infrastructure is extremely portable and elastic. This is a terrific challenge because at the end of the day if you can't scale your security to match your infrastructure, you've got gaps in your coverage.

Cloud Computing Journal: Is it really possible to automate firewall management clouds? For private clouds only or public ones as well?

Meizlik: Absolutely, and it's not just possible, it's critical. Cloud infrastructure (private, public, and hybrid) is highly elastic, and thus your security must be too. Now since the cloud doesn't have a perimeter, you have to deploy and manage firewalling at the cloud server. The only way to scale this efficiently, however, is through automation; specifically, time-based controls that, by default, close administrative ports like SSH and RDP and open them on demand, only when, for whom, and as long as is needed. This ensures your servers are always secure, and because your security is server side, your policies are always coupled with your infrastructure, however large and wherever present.

Cloud Computing Journal: How about companies that want to secure both their cloud and their on-premise assets, does a hybrid approach make security more difficult?

Meizlik: A hybrid approach to security is more complicated for two reasons: 1) 99% of traditional security doesn't extend to cover the cloud, and 2) the process for securing the cloud is different from on-premise infrastructure. The first is probably sufficiently evident to anyone that's read beyond page one of most security vendor's product brochures. The second, however, is more abstract, and sometimes difficult to discern. Let me illustrate by example: in the traditional enterprise, many server admin ports (e.g., SSH, RDP, etc.) are left open because the server sits behind a corporate perimeter where there's less risk and more internal controls. When you move that same server to the cloud, outside of the corporate perimeter, most of those internal controls are absent and the risk is much greater. Thus, a practice of leaving admin ports open now presents a great threat. So following the same process for the same server but in a different infrastructure presents a real problem.

Cloud Computing Journal: Is it really true that there are sysadmins in this day and age who, say, leave ports such as SSH, RDP, and MYSQL open so they can connect to and manage their cloud servers? Wouldn't that be sheer madness?

Meizlik: Yes; Admins do it every day for two simple reasons: 1) old habits die hard - they've done it for years inside their corporate network where they had a firewall perimeter and the risk wasn't as great, and 2) manually opening and closing server ports every time you need to work on a server is a real headache and simply not scalable.... Well, not scalable without automated firewall management. ;-)

Cloud Computing Journal: For an organization looking to deploy to the cloud and capture all the benefits the cloud has to offer, do you think there is anything MORE important than getting the security piece right?

Meizlik: No - security is, bar none, the biggest concern of cloud adopters. Getting it right is absolutely critical to successfully leveraging the benefits of cloud computing.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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