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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Cloud Vendors Punt Security To Users

Nearly 80% of cloud computing providers say customers don't evaluate data security before selecting a vendor, according to a recent Ponemon survey.

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It looks like cloud computing users and vendors are not on the same page when it comes to data security.

Cloud computing vendors and users each say the other group has the primary responsibility for taking charge of data security in the cloud, according to a recent Ponemon survey of 127 cloud computing providers in the United States and Europe.

For example, 69% of cloud providers think that cloud users are most responsible for security, and only 16% think it's a shared responsibility. But according to a Ponemon study conducted last year, 33% of users see cloud security as a shared responsibility, and 32% think that the provider alone is most responsible. Only 35% of cloud users, meanwhile, think that users should be most responsible for cloud security.

Cloud providers' failure to take responsibility for data security is a problem, said John P. Pironti, president of IP Architects, in a phone interview. "Customers are looking for security, but they're expecting that the provider will be addressing it," he said.

Legally speaking, however, cloud providers really aren't responsible for data security, as long as they make some effort, according to their end user license agreements. "When you read the licensing agreements for cloud providers, they don't need to do anything with security--they take 'best effort,'" said Pironti. Best effort means that should a case come to court, "as long as they can show they're doing some effort, and not gross negligence, then they're covering themselves."

According to the Ponemon study, cloud providers make a minimal effort because they don't think that their data security practices will win them customers. Indeed, only 20% of providers think that customers evaluate data security before selecting a vendor. As a result, the report found that most cloud providers are focused on "delivering the features their customers want, such as low-cost solutions with fast deployment that improves customer service and increases the efficiency of the IT function," rather than security.

Perhaps because cloud providers often don't take primary responsibility for data security, they're relatively bullish on the safety of their offerings. For example, 61% of cloud users, versus 50% of cloud providers, think health information is too risky to store in the cloud, and 62% of users versus 47% of providers think financial data is too risky. Furthermore, 68% of users think intellectual property is too risky to store in the cloud, versus just 42% of providers.

As users' cloud perceptions reveal, there's still a great deal of caution over embracing the cloud. "That's why we've seen that most enterprises aren't open to public cloud models, and if enterprises are going for a hybrid model, even then, they're only putting low value-data in the cloud," said Pironti. He said that's the right approach. "We have to try and experiment and innovate, and in innovation comes challenge."

But one of those challenges is that concentrating large amounts of information in one location creates a single point of security failure, not unlike, say, cracking RSA SecurID. "Think of the cloud as concentrated data, assets, information, and the target profile increases dramatically in its attractiveness," said Pironti. "So [cloud providers] can't be doing it as good as everyone else, they need to be doing it exponentially better."

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