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The Venerable, Vulnerable Cloud

A lot's now been done to bolster security and reduce the perceived risks associated with cloud deployments; but concerns remain

Ever since cloud computing burst onto the technology scene a few short years ago, Security has always been a top concern.  It was cited as the biggest hurdle in many surveys over the years and in 2010, I covered a lot of those in my CloudFucius blog series.  

A recent InformationWeek 2012 Cloud Security and Risk Survey says that 27% of respondents have no plans to use public cloud services while 48% of those respondents say their primary reason for not doing so is related to security – fears of leaks of customer and proprietary data.  Certainly, a lot has been done to bolster cloud security, reduce the perceived risks associated with cloud deployments and even with security concerns, organizations are moving to the cloud for business reasons. 

A new survey from Everest Group and Cloud Connect,  finds cloud adoption is widespread.  The majority of the 346 executive respondents, 57%, say they are already using Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, with another 38% adopting  Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions.  The most common applications already in the cloud or in the process of being migrated to the cloud include application development/test environments (54%), disaster recovery and storage (45%), email/collaboration (41%),  and business intelligence/analytics (35%).  Also, the survey found that cloud buyers say the two top benefits they anticipate the most is a more flexible infrastructure capacity and reduced time for provisioning and 61% say they are already meeting their goals for achieving more flexibility in their infrastructures.

There’s an interesting article by Dino Londis on InformationWeek.com called How Consumerization is Lowering Security Standards where he talks about how Mob Rule or the a democratization of technology where employees can pick the best products and services from the market is potentially downgrading security in favor of convenience.  We all may forgo privacy and security in the name of convenience – just look at loyalty rewards cards.  You’d never give up so much personal info to a stranger yet when a store offers 5% discount and targeted coupons, we just might spill our info.  He also includes a list of some of the larger cloud breaches so far in 2012.

Also this week, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) announced more details of its Open Certification Framework, and its partnership with BSI (British Standards Institution). The BSI partnership ensures the Open Certification Framework is in line with international standards.  The CSA Open Certification Framework is an industry push that offers cloud providers a trusted global certification scheme. This flexible three-stage scheme will be created in line with the CSA’s security guidance and control objectives. The Open Certification Framework is composed of three levels, each one providing an incremental level of trust and transparency to the operations of cloud service providers and a higher level of assurance to the cloud consumer.  Additional details can be found at: http://cloudsecurityalliance.org/research/ocf/

The levels are:

  • CSA STAR Self Assessment: The first level of certification allows cloud providers to submit reports to the CSA STAR Registry to indicate their compliance with CSA best practices.  This is available now.
  • CSA STAR Certification: At the second level, cloud providers require a third-party independent assessment.  The certification leverages the requirements of the ISO/IEC 27001:2005 management systems standard together with the CSA Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM).  These assessments will be conducted by approved certification bodies only.  This will be available sometime in the first half of 2013.
  • The STAR Certification will be enhanced in the future by a continuous monitoring-based certification.  This level is still in development.

Clearly the cloud has come a long way since we were all trying to define it a couple years ago yet, also clearly, there is still much to be accomplished.  It is imperative that organizations take the time to understand their provider’s security controls and make sure that they protect your data as good or better as you do.  Also, stop by Booth 1101 at VMworld next week to learn how F5 can help with Cloud deployments.

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More Stories By Peter Silva

Peter Silva covers security for F5’s Technical Marketing Team. After working in Professional Theatre for 10 years, Peter decided to change careers. Starting out with a small VAR selling Netopia routers and the Instant Internet box, he soon became one of the first six Internet Specialists for AT&T managing customers on the original ATT WorldNet network.

Now having his Telco background he moved to Verio to focus on access, IP security along with web hosting. After losing a deal to Exodus Communications (now Savvis) for technical reasons, the customer still wanted Peter as their local SE contact so Exodus made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. As only the third person hired in the Midwest, he helped Exodus grow from an executive suite to two enormous datacenters in the Chicago land area working with such customers as Ticketmaster, Rolling Stone, uBid, Orbitz, Best Buy and others.

Bringing the slightly theatrical and fairly technical together, he covers training, writing, speaking, along with overall product evangelism for F5’s security line. He's also produced over 200 F5 videos and recorded over 50 audio whitepapers. Prior to joining F5, he was the Business Development Manager with Pacific Wireless Communications. He’s also been in such plays as The Glass Menagerie, All’s Well That Ends Well, Cinderella and others. He earned his B.S. from Marquette University, and is a certified instructor in the Wisconsin System of Vocational, Technical & Adult Education.

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