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Hazy Forecast For Cloud Computing Forensics

The security of cloud computing is an area I've been following at a distance because I don't currently have any clients who have seriously considered moving any of their data and services into the "cloud." Something caught my eye on Friday, however, that piqued my interest in how security and forensic investigators may handle incidents that involve data and systems in the cloud.
The security of cloud computing is an area I've been following at a distance because I don't currently have any clients who have seriously considered moving any of their data and services into the "cloud." Something caught my eye on Friday, however, that piqued my interest in how security and forensic investigators may handle incidents that involve data and systems in the cloud.Stephen Biggs posted on the ZDNet.co.uk community blog that he is currently researching the topic "Cloud Computing & The Impact on Digital Forensic Investigations," and has an accompanying research project named CLOIDIFIN. Since I don't follow the cloud computing topic closely, the impact on incident response and forensics is something I hadn't given much thought about until now.

During the weekend, I thought back to a few years ago when I was at an Altiris ManageFusion conference (now part of Symantec) and spoke to some of the vendors, which were pushing virtualized applications on-demand to enterprise desktops. When asked about the impact of the technology to forensics, they stared at me blankly. Pressing further, I received answers of "I don't know" to "You're kind of screwed because temp files and registry settings are virtualized and deleted when the program exits."

I don't know if this is true yet, but I get the feeling that customers of the cloud will end up in the same boat. Data that could end up being valuable evidence may get trampled on in a dynamic environment where data, logs, and services are spread across many servers and datacenters that could easily span state lines. There may be hope, though.

Craig Balding has an interesting post, titled "Assessing the Security Benefits of Cloud Computing," in which he looks positively on the IR and forensic impact. He discusses forensic readiness, decreased time to acquire evidence, reduction of server downtime, and more. It's an interesting perspective that mostly makes sense.

Cloud computing and its impact on all areas of security will continue to grow; it could become a huge headache for many of you out there. I'd love to hear how you went through the risk analysis process of determining whether you decided cloud computing was for your company and if the IR and forensic impact was part of the decision-making process.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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