iCloud raises serious data security concerns

Apple's iCloud service will need to have solid data security protection in order to gain confidence of users and IT admins.

One of the biggest announcements from Apple at this week's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was the unveiling of iCloud. One crucial element was missing from the Apple magic show, though -- will the data be secure?

Apple's iCloud will wirelessly upload music, e-mail, contacts, calendars, and other data, and seamlessly sync and update all associated PCs and iOS devices. The functionality sounds awesome, but you don't have to dig far to find stories of wireless data being intercepts, or data stored online being hacked and compromised.

A simple phishing scam or socially engineered attack could easily dupe a user into surrendering username and password credentials that will expose the data stored in iCloud. In order for iCloud to be a success, Apple has to assure consumers and businesses that the data is protected.

Andrew Storms, Director of Security Operations for nCircle, warns, "Apple's iCloud announcement is missing enterprise security content, and we saw the same thing with the iPhone introduction. They left almost all of the enterprise level security and compliance questions about iCloud unanswered."

Apple has continuously improved the security of iOS, and it has developed tools to enable IT admins to enforce policies and exercise some control over remote iPhones and iPads. It hasn't yet caught up to RIM in terms of either security, or management tools, but it is getting there quickly. iCloud opens up the same old can of worms, though, and potentially puts Apple back at square one.

Storms wants Apple to disclose what security mechanisms will be in place for iCloud, whether or not the user can control what data gets synced with iCloud, and -- most importantly -- whether or not IT admins will be able to implement and enforce policies to absolutely block certain data from being stored in iCloud. Storms says, "It's all too easy to imagine a Sony-scale enterprise attack that leaves IT security teams holding the bag while iCloud 'grows into' enterprise security requirements."

Getting a Grasp on Security

The handling of the recent malware issues affecting Mac OS X illustrates how Apple doesn't seem to grasp security concerns or how to address them. Apple seems to have believed its own hype, and achieved some level of complacency resulting from the security by obscurity that Mac OS X has enjoyed. But, those days seem to be over.

Hugh Thompson, RSA Conference Program Committee Chairman, believes that transparency will be key for Apple when it comes to earning trust for iCloud. "As Apple moves forward in the cloud, it will find that the trend in this industry is toward an increased level of security transparency. This new visibility is becoming a must for cloud providers already established in the market. Apple won't get a pass on keeping a lower profile on security forever."

Thompson agrees with Storms that Apple has to share what it is doing in terms of security controls and tools in order to help both users and IT departments understand the risks associated with iCloud, and put customers in a position to make intelligent decisions about whether or not to use iCloud, or what policies to put in place regarding data stored in iCloud.

What Should User and IT Admins Do?

More and more businesses are allowing employees to use personally-owned devices for work. A question that any corporation should ask is what assurances are being given that business data is not being sent up and stored in the cloud during a sync?

Thompson paints a specific scenario that IT admins must consider. The convenience of having documents automatically synced to iCloud aside, what happens when the business wants to delete that information? If the file is removed on one platform, what assurances does the organization have that the file is also eradicated on other devices, and from iCloud itself?

Ultimately, responsibility for protecting data resides with the organization or individual. But, Apple needs to be transparent enough and disclose relevant details of iCloud security so customers can make informed decisions about whether, or how, to proceed.

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