Want government cloud? Rethink security!

Welcome to mixed trust, no boundaries, self-protecting data

Governments wanting to take full advantage of cloud computing must completely rethink security, attendees of Trend Micro's Canberra Cloud Security Conference were told yesterday.

"It doesn't matter whose chart you look at, security tops the list of reasons why people are not moving to cloud," said Trevor Gerdes, VMware's senior systems engineer for security and compliance in Asia-Pacific and Japan.

IT managers are worried about controlling information access, governance, privacy and where the information is stored, he said. This is of particular concern in a virtualised environment — and virtualisation is at the heart of a true cloud strategy — because virtual machines can be copied and moved.

"That causes a problem, more than anything else, around security," Gerdes said. "If my security models are about my information being in this location, what happens when it's in a different location tomorrow? All my security models are now broken."

Policies can't be built around a specific IP address, for example, and must instead be translated into virtual policies that make sense even when the physical location is outside the organisation's direct control.

"When I don't have blue cables that create physical segmentation, how do I know that my policies are being adhered to?" Gerdes said.

"We've got to start taking those things that physically bind our environment, physically put up the walls around our environment, and make them virtual. Make them software constructs that can be moved from one location to another as easily as a virtual machine can."

Due diligence is key, according to Rob Livingstone, principal of Rob Livingstone Advisory Pty Ltd.

"The definition of cloud is, to a certain extent, opacity — and that includes to the perimeter," he said. "You could scale it up or down to anywhere."

"Provided you do extensive due diligence on your specific installation, for your specific requirements, and go deep behind the provider layer, and go through all the stack, and do your due diligence rigorously, that's where you'll find the black holes and the issues."

One difficulty for Australian government cloud users is the Defence Signals Directorate's prohibition of virtualisation across different security classification domains.

"I've got to put boundaries around my different security domains. And to really take advantage of cloud, you are going to have to maybe start looking to push the boundaries of that in the future," Gerdes said.

"Are we going to have, as an organisation, four different clouds that I'm going to subscribe to, to run different classifications of applications? Interesting conundrum."

Gerdes said that the UK issued guidance in September to allow data classified at levels below "protected" to co-exist on the same VMware platform, something he describes as a "significant milestone".

"If we can start building mixed-trust zones, we can start opening up the choices that are available to us," he said.

But according to Trend Micro's chief technical officer Raimund Genes, "Very soon we will not have boundaries any more [and] the data has to protect itself."

"I think it is unavoidable [although] in the government space you could stick to it longer," he said.

Genes also thinks it's "totally absurd" that companies and moving existing applications into the cloud as-in when the technology is at such an early stage of the hype cycle — although governments are less likely to do this.

"Somebody at the board decided, or the CIO, 'Hey, we could do it cheaper outside.' They just took their application from an internal data centre where they have been able to offer five-nines to Amazon Elastic Cloud. And then earlier this year Amazon had an outage and 'Oops, I lost all my data'," Genes said.

"It's not so much about putting the data into a cloud, it's about 'Is your application, is your business model, ready to support public cloud?'"

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