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Risk

4/29/2009
11:57 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Cloud Security Needs Its Rainmaker

The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) made its inaugural splash at last week's RSA Security Conference 2009 in San Francisco. The group kicked off an ambitious white paper that attempts to define everything from the architecture of cloud services to the impact of cloud services on litigation and encryption. It was a herculean effort to try to get this off the ground. And there is still much more work to do -- especially in the one area the group left out.

The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) made its inaugural splash at last week's RSA Security Conference 2009 in San Francisco. The group kicked off an ambitious white paper that attempts to define everything from the architecture of cloud services to the impact of cloud services on litigation and encryption. It was a herculean effort to try to get this off the ground. And there is still much more work to do -- especially in the one area the group left out.Last night, I finally had a chance to read the CSA's paper Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing. To say it is a colossal task to attempt to define and demark the various flavors of cloud computing, plus explain the impact the cloud models will have on IT architecture, governance and enterprise risk management, compliance, BC/DR, portability of data, identity and access management, encryption and key management -- is an absurd understatement. Name the technical aspect of cloud computing: and this paper takes a swing at it.

The overarching goal of this paper is to not only help to bring some sense to cloud computing terminology (which currently consumes the first 30 minutes of any attempt at in-depth discussion on the subject), but also help guide service providers and application developers as to what they need to do to ensure they're providing a sustainable, secure, regulatory friendly platform or service.

Overall, this paper is an excellent kick-off for discussion, and lays the groundwork for the solid technological and governance decisions and goals that will need to be made and achieved if cloud computing is to reach its potential.

While there are a number of minor issues I'd question in this paper, these are all fixable challenges -- and will be strengthened in time, I'm certain. It's that, despite its comprehensiveness, what is not in this paper that disappointed.

There is no overarching vision in this paper. There is no call to action for the IT community: whether it be the builders, providers, or consumers of cloud services. There's no inspiration to motivate broad community involvement. This is no small oversight.

Selling the importance of doing cloud computing right from the beginning is the most "critical area of focus" of all.

Consider, generally and historically, how IT security has been approached from the humble beginnings of the PC revolution. In the 1980s no one cared about PC, network, or application security. And there wasn't much of a price to be paid for this neglect. PCs were limited to "information workers," networks were typically siloed within the organization (no Internet), and there was no Internet to launch attacks against poorly built applications.

In the early 1990s, this started to change as the Internet evolved and networks become more inter-connected across wide area networks. Still, throughout the mid to late 1990s security events started popping up, and new products such as Firewall-1, Gauntlet, SATAN and Internet Scanner came to the market to try to protect networked systems. Also, (for good and bad) more important data was beginning to be liberated on the network. Now, some in the industry had begun to realize that security had become a problem. But it was too late, and the network effect too fast. And we've not caught up as an industry since.

The problem, now, is that the race to catch up has sped exponentially. As more applications and systems became networked, with greater availability to more data and increased inter-connectedness -- security vulnerabilities and threats alike grew exponentially. And, for the most part, business leaders simply didn't care. It was about pushing more applications and services out as fast as possible to maintain competitive growth. This was true of the builders, implementers, and buyers of technology.

We ended up creating a connected hodgepodge of poorly designed applications and data controls that was simply too unwieldy to bolt security onto after the fact, yet too important to slow down to do right. And we now have the hacks, breaches, identity theft, fraud, and the hailstorm of regulatory compliance as a result.

Today, business leaders understand -- more than ever before -- the importance of a secure and sustainable IT infrastructure. What they might not be aware of is that if the industry doesn't approach cloud computing with an eye toward security from the jump -- we could all end up in a much hotter vat of security and privacy soup than we swim today.

If you think it's tough managing identities, devices, malware, exploit attacks, mitigating software vulnerabilities, and conducting meaningful audits today -- you haven't seen anything yet compared to what's coming with the hyper-connected nature of data, people, infrastructure, devices, and applications in "The Cloud."

Explaining and selling this important fact to business leaders, IT vendors, service providers, and convincing corporations that they're better off to pay a little now for much better security -- than to pay much more later on for much less security -- is perhaps the CSA's most important and ambitious task.

I ask you to join the debate on Twitter hashtag #csaguide

Or, follow my tech and security observations on Twitter.

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