RSA Conference 2012: Former NSA director says secure Clouds can't come fast enough

"The economics of the cloud are so compelling they can't be denied"

At the third annual Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) summit today, Michael McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, urged the audience of 1,200 security experts to do what they can to help build trusted cloud computing systems.

"I've a message. Drive this technology, and drive the standards to force change. The economics of the cloud are so compelling they can't be denied. We have to get the security aspects right," McConnell said.

Also see "The cloud security survival guide"

"The threat is well known in this room," he said. "Let me put it in context. There isn't an entity on the globe that is safe from penetration. Not one. The organization that I left has a great legacy. In World War II we were breaking and reading codes before the Nazi field commanders. Think about the magnitude of that during a global conflict," he said.

McConnell then painted a picture of a world in a global economic battle, with cyber-economic espionage as a front line. And, he said, the U.S. is suffering R&D and trade secret loss on a regular and consistent basis. "The U.S. does not have, as a policy, economic espionage, other nations do," he said.

"We are moving, as a nation very, very slowly to engage these threats," he said.

McConnell needed to look no further for validation of his position than the very next CSA panel, "National and International Security Standards -- The Viability of Cross-Jurisdictional Solutions," where, during the session, moderator Tim Mather, advisory director, KPMG, and panelists -- including Marc S. Crandall, senior manager of global compliance enterprise, Google; Baber Amin, senior director of product management, CA Technologies; Chris Wysopal, CTO, Veracode; and Ashvin Kamaraju, VP product development at Vormetric -- spent the better part of an hour hashing the nuances of privacy and data protection regulations and standards.

Most of the talk had to do with issues such as federated identity-management in the cloud and cross-border data sharing regulations; and not much to do with the nitty-gritty of protecting cloud-based applications and infrastructure from attack. Regulations discussed -- and currently in some state of flux -- included FedRAMP, or Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, and the European Union's proposed new General Data Protection Regulation, as well as the U.S. PATRIOT Act.

"Right now we may have data privacy regulations in those countries, but you need the underlying security to make any of that work," said Veracode's Wysopal. "Security is what makes maintaining that data privacy possible."

No doubt, according to the former director of the NSA, there isn't much actual security in place out there at all. "The NSA is doing better in its mission today than at any other time in its history. For that to be true, it just shows you the level of vulnerabilities in even protected environments," McConnell said.

George V. Hulme writes about security and technology from his home in Minneapolis. You can also find him tweeting about those topics on Twitter at @georgevhulme.

Read more about cloud security in CSOonline's Cloud Security section.

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