Cisco, Intel push 'trusted geolocation in the Cloud'

Idea of growing importance because many countries have laws about how data about their citizens can be moved outside the country

Cisco and Intel say that companies wanting to make use of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) clouds should be aware that controls exist for keeping virtual workloads on servers within country borders.

This idea of "trusted geolocation in the Cloud" is of growing importance because many countries have laws about how can data about their citizens can be moved outside the country if at all, and businesses have their own reasons to restrict movement of data to certain places.

Cisco solutions architect, Kenneth Stavinoha, and Intel senior enterprise technologist, Paul Yates, recently spoke on the topic during a panel discussion at the ISC2 Conference in Chicago, along with HyTrust CTO Hemma Prafullchandra. The three advocated one type of geolocation method that can be set up through the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security chip, which is based on a Trusted Computing Group standard.

"The decision to go to cloud is a risk," said Stavinoha, so there's a need for the enterprise to establish its own security controls. One way to do this is through hardware-based "root of trust" attestation via server-based TPM, he said.

TPM can be used to confirm the location of a host, the integrity of the hypervisor platform, and make sure workloads only get deployed to cloud servers with trusted platforms. Several vendors, including Dell, HP and IBM, have hardware-based TPM enabled today in their products, Prafullchandra pointed out.

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Intel's Yates told the security professionals at the ISC2 session that the Intel-based Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) approach related to use of TPM chips can enable "trusted geolocation in the cloud" with the user setting restrictions on where workloads can run based on location.

While this TPM approach to geolocation is still fairly new, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has published a proof-of-concept document about one pilot project of cloud clusters based on use of Dell PowerEdge servers with Intel-based based CPUs, VMware ESXi, Dell PowerVault MD32001 for storage, and assorted Dell and VMware-based management nodes. The NIST publication, open to comments through the end of the year, is described as a template for the general security community to address "selected security challenges involving Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud computing technologies and geolocation.

"A common desire is to only use cloud servers physically located within the same country as the organization," NIST states in its "Trusted Geolocation in the Cloud: Proof of Concept Implementation (Draft)."

The NIST document says geolocation calls for determining the appropriate physical location of an object, such as a cloud computing server. NIST says while this can be accomplished in "many ways, with varying degrees of accuracy," the "traditional geolocation methods are not secured and they are enforced through management and operational controls that cannot be automated and scaled, and therefore traditional geolocation methods cannot be trusted to meet cloud security needs."

NIST states in its document that the automated hardware-based root-of-trust method for enforcing and monitoring geolocation restrictions for cloud servers is based on the idea that the user organization can set up unique identifier and platform metadata stored in tamperproof hardware as a way of confirming the location of a host.

The NIST document details how to set up the Intel-based TXT hardware components as well as VMware ESX clusters along with the RSA Archer eGRC governance and compliance management console, which presents a dashboard view of "trusted pools" and "untrusted pools."

NIST says, "the ultimate goal is to able to use trusted geolocation for deploying and mitigating cloud workloads between cloud servers within a cloud."

The approach based on hardware-assisted geolocation means, for example, that "you can say the workload is required to remain in the U.S. as long as the environment can enforce those labels," said HyTrust CTO Prafullchandra. She noted it's a way to have platform integrity and workload classification and placement based on data jurisdictions around the world.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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