Database Dangers In The Cloud

Moving to a cloud-based database and virtual environment comes with plenty of benefits, but there's also a potential price to pay for security.
Moving to a cloud-based database and virtual environment comes with plenty of benefits, but there's also a potential price to pay for security.People are eager to take advantage of cheap storage in the cloud, but forget that many cloud vendors provide multitenant databases, archives, and audit trails. They want to enjoy the elasticity the cloud offers and be free of hardware constraints, but forget that their data backups are reliant on hardware-based encryption. They have established processes for patch, configuration, and vulnerability management, but they cannot audit the cloud vendor's environment to verify these same standards. They want to reduce administrative overhead, but vendors leverage super-user credentials that violate separation of duties and security practices.

If you're considering moving your database to the cloud, then here are some things to first consider:

Deployment: Many cloud providers do not allow common security technologies to be deployed at all. These technologies either violate your service contract or the infrastructure they provide doesn't accommodate them. For example, many providers don't support the use of penetration testing, while others can't deploy Web application firewalls. As is common, most databases are protected by SQL injection or buffer overflow attacks because the Web application screens for it, or a third-party tool detects and blocks the attack. If you are dependent on a WAF or if pen tests are part of your security strategy, then you need to verify that the cloud provider supports them.

Visibility: You may have in place evolved configuration, vulnerability, and patch management processes. So if you are moving to a database-as-a-service or pure SaaS model, make sure you have assessment and auditing options to verify that your provider is living up to your expectations. For platform-as-a-service, verify that the tools you use today will deploy and continue to function in the cloud, and that your provider does not have the ability to gain credentials to your database.

Co-Mingling Data: The recent example where Facebook users were unwittingly provided access to other users' accounts highlights how logic flaws or failures can expose data in multitenant environments. Look at application-layer encryption, removal of sensitive information, or a provider that can guarantee data segregation before adopting a solution. Expect additional costs for this, however. And if you have sensitive data, then the cloud may not be appropriate for you.

Service: Service-level agreements are a nifty way for vendors to give you the impression of security without always providing security. Ask for explanations on any service aspect that is unclear because what they offer is seldom what you expect to get. Make sure you have a way to verify vendor claims, that they will subject themselves to auditing, and that there are penalties for noncompliance. Prospective cloud customers often don't get a full understanding of the service -- don't fall into that trap.

Adrian Lane is an analyst/CTO with Securosis LLC, an independent security consulting practice. Special to Dark Reading.