SaaS provider's purchase of Navajo Systems could help allay concerns of some cloud security skeptics, experts say

Salesforce.com has quietly snapped up an Israeli cloud security encryption firm and is expected to announce the acquisition at its Dreamforce conference next week in San Francisco, Dark Reading has learned. The move by Salesforce to add encryption to its portfolio goes to the heart of reservations about trusting cloud providers to protect their customers' data.

"The number one reason organizations don't adopt cloud computing more broadly is the lack of ability to protect information in the cloud," says Bob West, CEO of EchelonOne. "Salesforce itself doesn't encrypt information, but it does a pretty good job at protecting data [in general]."

One of the key elements to Navajo Systems' technology, a virtual private cloud encryption gateway that encrypts all data before it goes to the cloud including Salesforce.com, is that the customer controls the encryption keys. "The enterprise should be holding onto the encryption keys so if someone gains access to their information, they don't also have access to the keys," West says.

Salesforce isn't saying just yet how it will incorporate Navajo Systems' technology into its services, nor would a spokesperson for the SaaS firm reveal any details about the acquisition. Navajo Systems did not respond to press inquiries, and its website appears to have been taken down. A message on the site reads: "Navajo Systems has decided to pursue a different strategy," and it includes a contact name.

Security analysts say the acquisition of Navajo Systems by Salesforce could help reassure skeptical organizations looking for providers to offer encryption solutions for locking down their data in the cloud. "It's going to help for some medium-sized enterprises who can now check the box and say my data is encrypted at Salesforce," says John Pescatore, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

But large enterprises don't typically trust their cloud provider to both store their data and encrypt it, he says. "Larger companies don't want their data to ever be decrypted at Salesforce" or other cloud providers, he says. "They want to keep encryption separate from their SaaS."

Pescatore says it's possible that Salesforce could still offer Navajo like it does today as one of its application vendors, with the keys stored at the users' site for organizations that don't want Salesforce to do all of the encryption. "There will be plenty of choices for separate encryption-as-a-service," he says.

There are a handful of other companies that provide cloud encryption, and it's unclear just how Salesforce will or will not work with them in the wake of the Navajo acquisition.

But encryption is just one element of security for cloud services. "Encryption is the easy part. Key management is the hard part," Gartner's Pescatore says. "Wherever the keys are, that's the exposure. If the keys are managed by Salesforce and the data is stored by them, there's only a certain level of security. That's why many organizations want to keep encryption separate."

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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