Data stored in the Cloud safer than desktop: Google US

Director of security sees a future where more data will be Cloud-based

Google Apps US director of security, Eran Feigenbaum

Google Apps US director of security, Eran Feigenbaum

More enterprises will shift data into the Cloud as the service becomes more secure and physical data continues to be compromised, according to Google Apps US director of security, Eran Feigenbaum.

Feigenbaum told Computerworld Australia that according to research conducted by Google in the US, 60 per cent of data still resides on unprotected laptops and desktops despite one in every 12 laptops being lost or stolen within the first 12 months of purchase, which could be avoided by using a Cloud service.

"We have zero scheduled downtime for our services and in fact, in 2010, Gmail was available about 99.94 per cent of the time,” he said.

“So far in 2011 it’s been 99.99 per cent and if you compare that to an on-premise server offering that is down every month for servicing, that’s a pretty good percentage.”

Based on conversations with chief information security officers, Feigenbaum said that what bothers them the most is that software patching is still a huge problem.

"Most organisations have a very heterogenous environment with multiple different operating systems, different applications, user stores and different version," he said.

"As we all know, software vendors issue security patches on a regular basis. It is now their job to consume those patches and understand if they are applicable and get them deployed, all before the bad guys reverse engineer those patches."

Citing security research from Microsoft US, Feigenbaum said that companies take between 25 and 56 days to deploy an operating system once they’ve been released, which is a “scary number to have an open, known vulnerability”, but he said moving into the Cloud could prevent such a problem because there are no more servers to patch.

He also said that unlike some Cloud service providers, Google stipulates in its contract that it will contact customers if there is an outage and indeed, Google had been the subject of a number of outages and attacks.

"About four years ago, there was a documents incident which affected about 0.1 per cent of [Google] documents and we notified customers with as much information as possible," he said.

There was also the Aurora incident in June, where Google announced it had disrupted a targeted phishing campaign which it claimed was the work of Chinese hackers.

The campaign was designed to hijack Gmail accounts belonging to senior US and South Korean government officials, military personnel, Chinese activists and journalists.

Feigenbaum said that attack used sophisticated malware, with a number of Gmail accounts affected.

He added that Google was prepared for attacks on its data centres and can switch operations from New York to California, as well as overseas locations such as Zurich in Switzerland on a daily basis.

While he jokingly acknowledged that security professionals "don't sleep at all", Feigenbaum said he slept better now that he had a team of 250 security staff, including penetration testers and malware specialists who were keeping a vigilant eye on operations.

However, one thing that keeps him awake at night is advanced persistent threats (APTs) on the company.

"There are some very sophisticated APTs around so we’ve put in technologies and people to address that,” Feigenbaum said.

When asked how safe customers' data was in the Cloud, given that the company employs penetration testers, he said that getting hired by Google was a "rigorous process."

“Getting hired at Google is a rigorous process and my staff still don’t understand how I got past it," he joked.

"We practice what we call role based security and privileged access. Our security staff only get access to parts of the system related to their role. If my job is to be a penetration tester, than I don’t have access to customer data.”

Prior to joining Google in 2007, Feigenbaum was the US chief information security officer for assurance, tax and advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Feigenbaum could not comment on the security aspects of Google's latest acquisition, smartphone manufacturer Motorola Mobility, as the acquisition was still going through due process.

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at idg.com.au

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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