The "Art of Cloud War" for Business-Critical Data

How business executives' best intentions may be negatively affecting security and risk mitigation strategies -- and exposing weaknesses in organizational defenses.

Greg Jensen, Senior Director of Security at Oracle Corporation

January 8, 2020

5 Min Read

Those who wish to do your business harm are hearing the famous words by Sun Tzu in the book The Art of War: "Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected." This is the typical philosophy adopted by modern cybercriminals to identify points of weakness and exposure, whether they are in business data centers or in the cloud. But in a move never imagined by Sun Tzu himself, today's defenses may even be circumvented and damaged by business executives themselves.

Historically, enterprises have used application deployment models that required finance, supply chain, and human resources system owners to work hand in hand with security leaders to ensure they can move past the barriers of the corporate firewall. With the introduction of cloud, these same teams are now able to stand up cloud-based platforms in a matter of days or establish cloud infrastructure services with a credit card. These activities can rapidly serve the growing pressures placed on these business executives to meet key deliverables in a timely manner. So, with all the simplicity cloud brings, including low-lift efforts to onboard new services, what is the risk everyone is worried about?

The "Pace Gap" Issue Created by the Cloud
Oracle's recent industry report on cloud threats illustrates the fast-paced efforts by business executives that are creating what is called a "pace gap" between organizations' business-critical services and the security, compliance, and risk programs designed to keep customers and data protected. Pace gaps occur when a key business application is suddenly onboarded and used by the executive without any orchestration from the security operations team. This creates risk around credential/identity management programs, regulatory compliance oversight, data protection programs and organizations' ability to detect anomalous behaviors and respond accordingly.

The Benefits of a United Security Front
Event and alert information from today's cloud applications can be very instrumental in identifying threats and attacks. For example, when effectively deployed, an ERP system can provide a plethora of information on suspicious behaviors in user transactions that might correlate with supply chain behaviors or even behaviors on other IT resources. Consolidating, correlating and responding to these events is critical to a modern defense strategy so they all work together for a common cause.

As Sun Tzu said, "If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them." Even back in 6th century B.C., Sun Tzu saw that a united front with no sunlight between overlapping defenses and infrastructure is the only way to defend against an attack. When there is unsanctioned application use inside any organization (by a business executive or user), this may be the daylight needed for an attacker to strike by exploiting misconfigured services or by taking advantage of limited monitoring and response capabilities.

The Need for Collaboration Between the Business and Security Operations
As this unsanctioned application usage illustrates, there are several reasons organizations may bypass and/or don't work more effectively with the security operations teams. For one, there is the concern that implementing the appropriate security controls will slow down deployment of a service the business executive wants for its customers. The other is that the security team itself may simply say "no" to rolling out the new service.

Both of these are issues that today's CISOs are working to overcome by changing the way they — and by extension, their IT and security teams — engage with the business executives. We are seeing CISOs making significant efforts to adopt new management styles to help them move past the old refrain of "no you can't" to the more inclusive approach of "yes you can… and here is a safe way to do that."

And what about the delay in service deployment? Eventually, the security operations, compliance, and data protection teams will catch up with services deployed that are misconfigured. In these situations, there is a real risk of suspension of services and a lengthy audit/remediation activity to bring this back in line with corporate policies.

I was once asked, "what is the most important step a business executive can perform to mitigate risk?" Simply put, buy your CISO a cup of coffee every other week. Help yourself by building a relationship and investing in the common goals you both share. Work with your CISO to understand your part of the shared responsibility security model between you and the cloud service provider. Your role as a business executive requires that you work effectively with your IT and security teams to ensure your company's role in securing data is addressed.

Public Cloud: An Organization's Closest Ally or Greatest Enemy 
Public cloud can be the most secure environment for your data with effective planning, or it can be your greatest risk without it. Ninety-one percent of security leaders feel that public cloud can provide an as-secure or more secure environment than one they can deliver in their own data center, but this requires organizations to take the advice of Sun Tzu and "be prepared."

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About the Author(s)

Greg Jensen

Senior Director of Security at Oracle Corporation

Greg Jensen is a Director of Security Strategy at Oracle Corporation addressing the risk and challenges to the hybrid-cloud. He is also the Senior Editor of the Oracle and KPMG Cloud Threat Report and Oracle CISO Report with a key focus on developing cloud security strategies. Prior to Oracle, Greg has had a colorful career developing groundbreaking technologies in security, risk, and threat mitigation.

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