Three major risks of Cloud computing

Global services firm Ernst & Young says the three major risks for companies investing in the Cloud include data leakage, the loss of data visibility and unauthorised access to data

IT professionals looking to place data in the Cloud should be aware of three major risks, including data leakage, the loss of visibility or control of the data, and unauthorised access to data, according to global services firm Ernst and Young.

The firm’s senior manager, Pieter Danhieux, told attendees of IDC’s Cloud for Business Conference 2011 that while Cloud service providers are often talking about scalability, availability, cost reductions, efficiency and effectiveness, they had not addressed Cloud security as a business enabler.

According to Danhieux, data leakage is of the biggest concern for IT managers and CIOs, as Cloud often uses virtualisation, entailing hypervisors and virtual systems.

“One of the risks that exist here is you want to remove some data you’re your system because it might not be relevant anymore, you send a command through the hypervisor to delete it… Anyone with a little bit of IT background knows that if you delete data from a disk it’s not actually deleted, the index to that certain location on the disk is deleted but the actual data is still there,” he said.

“What could happen is, if I’m on the same virtual or on the same physical hardware I could actually ask the hypervisor to give me that piece of hard disk and I can read it, at that moment I’m actually able to read some of the data out of your system.

“The same is true for network interfaces when, for example your assistant communicates around the world with another system, it goes through the hypervisor and to the network interface so all the data is transferred through this network interface.

"What can go wrong is if the permissions on my system on the hypervisor are not correct, I will be able to talk to the network interface and read everything which is going out of that interface.”

Although these attacks are technical, said Danhieux, it has been proven that they work.

“One thing you should ask yourself is whether the virtualisation technology my Cloud service provider is using hasn’t been tested for security and is it secure?”

The second largest risk is losing visibility or control of data, as when using Cloud services, organisations don’t know where the information is being stored or processed.

As a result of this, organisations must ask themselves a number of questions before investing in the Cloud, said Danhieux.

“You need to know when you’re putting data into the Cloud, first of all, am I allowed to store this data outside of Australia?" he said. “Private data and flight information data can not usually be stored outside of the country of origin, you must ask, what are the legal implications?

“Another crucial question is, what if I lose this data? What will be the impact for my business? Will I go bankrupt? Ask yourself this question before you actually consider going into the cloud.”

Thirdly, unauthorised access to data occurs when organisations put data into the Cloud. Despite having an Australian-based Cloud service provider, once the data is in the Cloud, organisations have no idea where it is located.

“When you put data in the Cloud you have poor visibility on where your data is going and China, Russia and Brazil, they are not the countries with the best reputation for taking care of private information,” Danhieux said.

According to Danhieux, when pulling data into the Cloud, companies have no idea where it is actually going which is a big risk.

“Don’t think the data from your company is not valuable to others, because it could be valuable to your competitors, it could be valuable even to other governments,” he said.

“For enterprise, the questions to ask yourself when doing Cloud computing is firstly what type of data are you putting into the Cloud because if it’s data which is irrelevant, you can put it into the Cloud without any security risks, if you’re putting valuable trade secrets into the Cloud then you might question yourself as to whether your Cloud service provider provides the best security control.

“Secondly, you need to know how critical this information is for your organisation or for your government, and you need to ask yourself can I put restrictions on in which countries this data is actually stored.”

Danhieux left attendees with a final thought, noting that the “bad guys” can also use Cloud computing, which can be used to do password hacking faster and much more easily.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

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