Risk
7/20/2010
07:41 PM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Slideshows

Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons

Securing your business in the cloud can offer substantial savings and resources balanced by large and unexpected risks. In this review of cloud security silver linings and storms warnings, we look at some of the brightest and darkest security clouds.




As more security vendors provide cloud-based security as a service (SaaS), more small and midsize businesses consider these offerings. With vendors broadening their security offerings to include backup-and-restore, end-point monitoring messaging security and more, the appeal of one-stop security shopping in the cloud continues to grow. The best cloud security vendors are beginning to fulfill the promise of bringing enterprise-level security to SMBs. This is a trend that's likely to grow, and to grow quickly, especially with big security providers gobbling up both smaller specialty service companies. If you don't have dedicated security staff, now might be prime time to get your security head in the clouds.


This one sounds like a no-brainer, but even a little brain-work will remind you that complete dependence upon the cloud -- whether for security services or anything else -- requires complete confidence in your business's ability not only to connect to the cloud but also to ensure that your connections are themselves secure. That's easier said than done, judging by ongoing concerns about security at the local business network level. So before moving to the cloud, a thorough, rigorous and absolutely aggressive review of your entire network security infrastructure -- and usage policies is a must.


If you build it, will they come to the cloud? Only if it's secure. Because security concerns always cause hesitation, cloud-based vendors of apps and services have addressed it constantly. And the security industry is itself getting involved, rolling out security certifications for cloud-based businesses. Check the security, reliability and reputation of cloud services before you commit portions of your business to them. In other words, make sure every cloud-based company you do business with protects its resources -- and yours -- with the full array of security tools, technologies and policies.


Secure connection to the cloud means constant, dependable and fast connections. All the security in the world isn't going to help you access the cloud if your connection is subject to frequent outages or slowdowns -- or if your bandwidth or capacity is limited by your IP, as with rural customers dependent upon satellite connections, for instance. Keep an eye on your ISP, your telecommunications provider and very other vendor whose availability -- or bandwidth pricing policies -- could have an effect on your cloud security or its cost. Be sure to have alternatives in place should your cloud connection go down, even briefly.


We're accustomed to expecting our security vendors to provide us with thorough, up-to-date defenses: anti-malware, constantly updated spam filters and more. But increasingly, security companies view protection of data, as well as defending the networks on which that data resides, as a core product. This is a good thing -- and its fullest flowering may take place in the cloud. When considering cloud-based security vendors and services, take a look at the protection -- backup, recovery and related services -- that they offer. (Just be sure to give serious thought to how you will maintain regularly updated local copies of the information you're entrusting to the cloud-based vendor. Just in case.)


Cloud-based storage, tools and apps have the potential to make mobile work more convenient and efficient than ever. But that same convenience applies to hackers and crooks, particularly considering the long-known and equally long-exploited vulnerabilities of coffee shop and other mobile hotspots and wireless access points, not to mention remote workers' computing practices. Make sure your mobile and remote workers are covered, protected and constantly updated by your cloud security provider.


Protecting your mobile and remote workers -- and your business's data that resides on their equipment -- has never been easier than with cloud-based security services. Working with a cloud security vendor whose services include all endpoints and locations in your business, you're able to put in place programs that deliver all necessary updates, patches and new security tools to your entire workforce essentially simultaneously, rather than waiting for individual remote workers to perform the updates, if they ever do. If you have even a single remote worker, looking into a cloud security service that covers remote equipment is well worth your time.


The more businesses shift resources to the cloud, the more the it becomes a criminal target. It's a 21st Century version the Willie Sutton's "It's where they keep the money" -- it's in the cloud. Whatever data, services or apps your business shifts to the cloud, make certain that not only your employees, but also the vendors and providers you've contracted with operate under the highest possible security levels


The great business success stories of the past few years have been cloud businesses. Google, Amazon and others have leveraged the cloud into what is arguably the 21st Century business platform. That's good news for SMBs. The bigbiz players have spent a lot of money proving the concept of the cloud; and for business, much of that proof involves security. While one huge scam or cybercrime score could bring back all of the old doubts about the cloud, and then some, so far the big scam hasn't happened. And as a result, many of the tools and techniques that big companies spent billions developing, are being ported and adapted and migrated to SMBs for, essentially, pennies.


The cloud offers distributed resources, but as a general principle it's good to bear in mind that those resources are no more or less invulnerable than any other resources. Cloud-based companies can suffer outages the same as ground-bound ones -- precisely because cloud-based firms, of necessity, are bound to the same sorts of resources as everyone else. Servers, connections, software, personnel can all be sources or causes of outages. Too much confidence in the cloud can make even occasional, brief outages a source of outrage, as witness recent Gmail glitches. Before committing to a cloud service or provider, be sure they've provided you with documentation detailing the availability rates they guarantee (less than 99+% is unacceptable), their remedies and remediation strategies should an outage occur and their responsibility for any liabilities your business might incur as a consequence of a cloud-outage.


While regional security and operational challenges tend to be the exception rather than the rule, some businesses do face seasonal challenges. Hurricane season, wildfire season, blizzard season can each present localized problems that, so long as the problems don't eliminate your connection, the cloud can help you overcome. While the cloud wasn't always referred to by that name when Katrina struck, a look at the role technology played in responding to that disaster can help you understand ways the cloud can support you should nature turn fierce in your area. As is often pointed out, that connection is the potential fly in the ointment. Should a weather or other natural disaster disrupt your ability to connect, all the cloud resources in the world won't be of much use to you. In other words, make sure your disaster recovery plan includes being able to connect with the cloud -- not just counting on the cloud.


One of the early business hesitations about cloud computing centered on concerns about cloud-based companies' viability What happens to your data, or your dependence upon SaaS services if the company fails? This remains a concern, though less of one as the cloud comes to be more and more dominated by well-established, well-funded companies. Still, you should apply the same due diligence to a cloud-based vendor or provider that you would to any business on whose existence your business depends even in part. Check references, get it in writing -- and be prepared for the worst.


Every one of the cloud caveats we've explored is countered, if not offset, by a cloud benefit. Perhaps the biggest benefit of all is the sheer momentum cloud computing now carries. Even stodgy, staid industries and businesses are looking to the cloud now. While conservative financial industries and businesses embrace of the cloud doesn't indicate that all security issues have been resolved, their presence does say that the cloud may be no more risky than ground-based computing and connection. That sounds like faint praise, and it may be. But the risks we live with on the ground are risks we also learn to manage and correct on the ground. The same is true in the cloud. Make sure your security protections and procedures are completely up-to-date. Limit access only to those who require access. Be sure you have non-cloud-based iterations of vital data stored in the cloud. Taking care with these and related issues will help see to it that your cloud-based experiences provide you with silver linings, rather than storms.

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