3/1/2010
03:32 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary

RSA: Toward A Trusted Cloud

Moving toward ways to manage, verify, and trust cloud security was the prevalent theme today The Cloud Security Alliance Summit, held here in San Francisco as the RSA Security Conference 2010 gets underway.



Moving toward ways to manage, verify, and trust cloud security was the prevalent theme today The Cloud Security Alliance Summit, held here in San Francisco as the RSA Security Conference 2010 gets underway.Few would argue that cloud computing isn't going to play a pivotal role in how we consume and manage information. One of the stumbling blocks, however, is how data and transactions will be securely managed and maintained "in the cloud." How will data be held to the level of security and privacy mandated by enterprise security policies as well as many industry and government regulations? Variants and extensions of that question has been an unending source of debate during the past few years.

One of the biggest challenges in getting to a level of "trust" in the cloud requires visibility into the processes and technological controls used to secure data such as encryption, firewalls, vulnerability management, authentication, along with all of the other practices involved in managing IT risk. And that's true whether we are talking about public clouds, privately managed and hosted clouds, or so-called virtual private clouds (a private cloud hosted by a public cloud provider).

One of the largest challenges for enterprises, many security professionals contend, is attaining transparency into how public cloud providers are securing their infrastructure and customer clouds. How often are they patching? How is user and system access being segmented? How are identities kept straight? Is data encrypted?

Simple questions, for sure. Unfortunately, getting the answers certainly always isn't so simple. Currently, many cloud providers won't give their customers much more of an official answer than a SAS 70 certification. That's not always good enough. And two cloud security initiatives are just now getting underway that aim to bring more transparency to the cloud. They want to make it easier for the enterprise consumers of cloud services to understand a little more about what their providers are doing to secure their infrastructure and customer systems and data.

One effort, announced today, is the Trusted Cloud Initiative. The goal here is to help cloud providers build, based on industry recommendations, secure, and interoperable identity, access, and compliance practices in the cloud. Think of user provisioning and deprovisioning, authentication and federation, authorization and user profile management, and how such IAM practices support compliance in cloud environments.

The vendor neutral Trusted Cloud Initiative, led by the Cloud Security Alliance with initial additional leadership from eBay and Novell, will publish its version of what a cloud identity ecosystem will look like as well as private and public cloud identity guidance later this year. The group will also publish the initial draft of its Trusted Cloud Identity and Access Management certification criteria and an enterprise cloud identity roadmap.

Another initiative just getting underway is CloudAudit, conceived and initiated by Christofer Hoff, a technical adviser and founding member of the Cloud Security Alliance and director of cloud and virtualization solutions at Cisco Systems. CloudAudit hopes to create an open, extensible, and secure API that will automate many of the questions a security auditor may need to ask a cloud provider, such as the condition of security controls in place. This could include anything from the status of firewalls, vulnerability management processes, to SAS70 certification.

When I caught up with Hoff here at the conference, he explained that the benefit of CloudAudit will be to provide a simple and automated way to vet the security and compliance posture of cloud providers. Some of the names behind the initiative include Akamai, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, NetSuite, Rackspace, Savvis, Terremark, Sun, VMware, and among others.

I see both the Trusted Cloud Initiative and CloudAudit as an inflection point in the cloud security discussion. The industry is now moving beyond vague discussions and arguments surrounding the many security and regulatory compliance problems that arise from cloud computing - to taking concrete steps to address them.

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