Cloud security: time to smoke another one?

CSOonline embarks on a series about cloud computing risks and how to minimize them. Here's how you, the reader, can be part of the solution.

Chris Hoff, one of the most respected voices on the topic of virtualization and cloud security, once told me in an interview that people should shut up about securing the cloud because, in his opinion, there's no such thing as cloud security.

"The notion that we're all running out to put our content and apps in some common [and secure] repository on someone else's infrastructure is unrealistic," Hoff, now director of cloud and virtualization solutions at Cisco Systems, told me.

Ariel Silverstone, a frequent contributor to CSOonline, has written about the myriad challenges of cloud security -- see Cloud Security: Danger (and Opportunity) Ahead -- including the problem of direct control: "Instead of having direct control over our concept of 'defense in depth,' we now have marginal control at best. Many times, such as with Amazon's EC2 service we have virtually no control, no pun intended. We sometimes do not have even the basic notification of something about to go wrong or something that has."

And yet we plunge into the cloud anyway, risks be damned.

The benefits of cloud computing are clear. Given the expense to maintain a physical IT infrastructure, the thought of replacing server rooms and haphazardly-configured appliances with cloud services is simply too much for many companies to resist. You need not have expertise or control over the infrastructure when it's being offered as a service over the Internet. You just put everything in the so-called cloud and forget about it. The need to pay people to babysit a room full of servers and other equipment therefore diminishes.

But many companies have rushed into the cloud without a security strategy, and that's a recipe for trouble.

For the ultimate cautionary tale one can look to the massive outage Google suffered in May. Google content accounts for five percent of all Internet traffic, so when it went down, many who have come to rely on its myriad applications to conduct business were dead in the water. It also gave attackers an example of the damage they could cause if they worked at it.

Of course, the user often makes the attacker's job easier by configuring physical and cloud-based IT assets in such poor fashion that easy-to-find-and-exploit flaws are left behind. The right IT training is a must, as is having a security strategy. But both are often lacking.

In the coming weeks, I will endeavor to piece together a checklist of dangers to be aware of, essential elements of any cloud security strategy, and tales from the trenches of those who are dealing with the issue in their own IT environments, for better or worse.

I've done extensive interviewing already, but need to hear from more of you. I'm not looking for the vendor spin, but accounts of what is and isn't working from the IT security practitioners tasked with doing more in the cloud.

So let's talk. Those interested can reach me at

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