Cloud security 101: Is data safer in the Cloud?

How secure is the Cloud?

Security, as any vendor will tell you, has proven to be one of the biggest inhibitors for people wanting to adopt public Cloud technology.

One need only look at the April Amazon Elastic Computer (EC2) Cloud outage and the Sony PlayStation Network hack to begin to understand people’s concerns about data security.

This article is part of a Computerworld Australia series looking at the issues surrounding Cloud security and reliability.

Are Cloud providers reliable?

Vendor lock-in in the Cloud

Sophos Asia Pacific head of technology, Paul Ducklin says these two incidents highlight a “murky and stormy time” for the use of Cloud and prime examples of companies hosting data that betrayed the trust of customers.

“For all the assurances that large companies may give you about the Cloud, sometimes you need to decide just how far you are going to take those assurances,” he says.

“My advice to businesses is that you need to identify what penetration testers call your ‘trophy data’.

This is the data that, if extracted, would defeat a company.” In addition to outside attacks and outages, there’s the question of the rogue system administrator inside your Cloud provider who can do just as much damage.

“If there is a rogue insider or a hack service than the forensic side of it might be a bit difficult to identify in the Cloud,” Ducklin says.

“Traditionally we had physical devices that were sitting in data centres and where necessary we could isolate and see what was on the disk. In the Cloud we are talking about a virtual machine where that machine might be locked on.”

This means the disk may have been overwritten and the company may have no idea what processes are running.

“They really have nothing to go on and that is going to make the forensic side of things difficult,” he says.

“This is where the use of security tools becomes important.”

Ducklin also warns that a Cloud data breach could be more than just an embarrassing public relations exercise if a competitor, law enforcement agency or even someone working for another country, saw the information.

“It might be something that lands you in court,” he says. “It could be information that you have a very strict legal duty not to reveal and suddenly it gets out there.”

Gartner research director, Rob McMillan, says organisations need visibility of the security controls being applied to data in the Cloud to see whether data security is being well managed.

“If you have an auditor or regulator who works through the door after an attack and they say `prove it’ than it’s no defence to say the system admin was in charge,” he says.

“There needs to be higher visibility about what is going on.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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