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How Cloud Security Balances Risk Versus Reward

Moving beyond the concept of security as a cost center

I spend a great deal of my day thinking about security. How it affects the enterprise; how to best position and protect assets. How it shapes risk management and how it delivers potential benefits through smoother operations, enhanced trust and loss prevention.

At its core, security is about risk versus reward. It’s no great secret that many executives look at security as a cost center. Compounded by the requirements of compliance, the expansion of technology, and the nature of the modern enterprise, no one doubts the need to secure the enterprise…but to what degree? Securing your IT environment is not free, but there are best practices and technology options designed to mitigate costs while still providing a strong, manageable and proactive defense. While many companies still would rather spend capital on commodity assets, many CIOs recognize that information security is an important business driver. Many more still are looking to the cloud for security solutions to further reduce resource reliance.

In the end, it is a question each company must answer on its own. I can talk until I am blue in the face about the bogeymen of hacking, slipshod employees opening suspect emails, the exposure of a company’s most precious data, but the needs of the company—how it interacts with customers, the access it provides third parties, employee productivity processes, compliance requirements and all the other moving parts of an active organization--must create and prioritize the roadmap based on understood vulnerabilities and available resources.

However, therein lies the problem…understood vulnerabilities. This decision is based on assumptions, resource limitations and previous experience. But security issues are a moving's more about knowing what you don't know. Obviously a bank or medical management facility is at more risk than a local dog grooming company, but that doesn’t mean it is any less vulnerable. In fact, the modest company might be at greater risk because even a small breach of customer data can devastate a company. A large company may be able to absorb (although painful) the fines, lawsuits and the loss of proprietary assets, but the impact on a small or mid-sized company is magnified. The damage to the trust factor alone could put them out of business.

This is not meant to be some sort of scare tactic, but the reality of doing business in the 21st century means every company must take some level of action to protect itself beyond filtering emails. However understanding investments in CapEx, resource and personnel expenditures, hardware and software management, this might be untenable for every company. This is where the CIO earns his keep. How much time and capital is necessary to invest versus the real threats to the network/assets (is a barking dog enough to chase away robbers, or do you need bolt locks, motion sensors, round-the-clock-sentries, gun turrets, etc…)

This is why cloud security (security managed from the cloud) provides the necessary balance in the risk versus reward quotient. Not only does it support a unified platform (PaaS or REACT), but eliminates many of the costs that throw the equation out of balance. A smaller company no longer has to decide to invest in virus sweepers OR access management, identity credentialing OR intrusion detection. A larger organization can reallocate important resources towards key revenue drivers and core competencies. A unified/centralized approach from the cloud provides all the capabilities with no additional capital expenditures. In the fact that it centralizes all the activity under a centralized pane of glass not only makes an organization response ready, but also automates a great deal of what compliance regulators are demanding.

What about the risk? Are organizations exposing or ceding control of their data in order to save a few bucks? Is a Pandora’s Box opening because functionality and reporting is virtualized? Of course not. Yet, with all business initiatives, there are risks. However, by applying such best practices as 24/7/365 monitoring, event correlation across multiple silos, and fostering interactive communication between functions closes the vulnerability gap significantly. But to harness all those capabilities a company would need to invest in SIEM, Access Management, Log Management, IDM and other security solutions. Before the cloud, this combined initiative was only an option available to Fortune 500 enterprises. Even applying some cloud-based tools, each of the referenced solutions typically works in parallel. What is needed is the ability to centralize and have each of the solutions leverage one another.

Now cloud security solutions and applications are two different animals when it comes to the all important data ownership and information liability. Security manages the data wherever it is stored-cloud or some locked server room in the basement of a fortified campus. It is the fence, not the animals held within. If there is a break in the fence, or the rancher hires irresponsible cowboys, then the herd is at risk. But if the foreman is vigilant about riding the perimeter and managing his employees, then there should be as many cows in the barn as there were the day before.

This is not to say data is unassailable every time the sales guy accesses the product demo site to present to a prospect via online third party collaboration software, but if the tools are in place, properly automated and integrated and the policies (access rules, credentialing, web authorization, monitoring etc…) are sound, risk goes down and reward goes up.

On Wall Street there is a “measurement” called the Sharpe Index. Essentially it characterizes how well the return of an asset compensates the investor for the risk taken. Part of the complex equation analyzes the variables to get to a positive return. Applied to finance the axiom typically means the greater the risk, the greater the return. When applied to security, and more pointedly, cloud-based security, the variables line up so that there doesn’t have to be a high trade off of risk and return Considering the lower investment, the faster deployment, the reduction of personnel and computing resources against an expanded enterprise toolset, improved capabilities, continuous and centralized alerts, security-as-a-service support and enhanced visibility across the organization, the path to realize rewards and ROI point to the cloud.

Bottom line, cloud-based security functionality is as trustworthy, as powerful and as comprehensive as any on-premise deployment. Because it is infinitely more affordable, flexible and manageable, it allows you to increase the layers of security around your enterprise for a fraction of the hard and soft costs. It allows you to concentrate on priorities, policies and core competencies to ensure your perimeters are safe and the cattle can always come in from the fields. Each company is unique in terms of its needs and security comfort level and its concept in determining risk versus reward. Yet biggest risk, in terms of security, is standing still.

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.

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