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Dyman Associates Risk Management: Fundamentals of cloud security [Oct. 2nd, 2014|09:37 am]
Dyman & Associates Projects

For many companies, security is still the greatest barrier to implementing cloud initiatives. But it doesn't have to be.

Organisational pressure to reduce costs and optimise operations has led many enterprises to investigate cloud computing as a viable alternative to create dynamic, rapidly provisioned resources powering application and storage platforms. Despite potential savings in infrastructure costs and improved business flexibility, security is still the greatest barrier to implementing cloud initiatives for many companies. Information security professionals need to review a staggering array of security considerations when evaluating the risks of cloud computing.

With such a broad scope, how can an organisation adequately assess all relevant risks to ensure that their cloud operations are secure? While traditional security challenges such as loss of data, physical damage to infrastructure, and compliance risk are well known, the manifestation of such threats in a cloud environment can be remarkably different. New technologies, combined with the blurring of boundaries between software-defined and hardware infrastructure in the datacentre, require a different approach.

One of the first steps towards securing enterprise cloud is to review and update existing IT polices to clearly define guidelines to which all cloud-based operations must adhere. Such policies implement formal controls designed to protect data, infrastructure, and clients from attack, and enable regulatory compliance. Government bodies such as NIST, the US Department of Commerce, and the Australian Government Department of Finance and Deregulation (PDF) have produced cloud computing security documents that outline comprehensive policies for their departments, which can be a useful starting point for implementing a corporate policy.

It is important to recognise that cloud security policies should provide protection regardless of delivery model. Whether building private, public, or hybrid cloud environments within the enterprise, cloud security is the joint responsibility of your organisation and any cloud service providers you engage with. When conducting due diligence on third-party cloud service providers, carefully review the published security policies of the vendor and ensure that they align with your own corporate policies.

A fundamental security concept employed in many cloud installations is known as the defence-in-depth strategy. This involves using layers of security technologies and business practices to protect data and infrastructure against threats in multiple ways. In the event of a security failure at one level, this approach provides a certain level of redundancy and containment to create a durable security net or grid. Security is more effective when layered at each level of the cloud stack.

When implementing a cloud defence-in-depth strategy, there are several security layers that may be considered. The first and most widely known protection mechanism is data encryption. With appropriate encryption mechanisms, data stored in the cloud can be protected even if access is gained by malicious or unauthorised personnel. A second layer of defence is context-based access control, a type of security policy that filters access to cloud data or resources based on a combination of identity, location, and time. Yet another popular security layer in cloud-based systems is application auditing. This process logs all user activity within an enterprise application and helps information security personnel detect unusual patterns of activity that might indicate a security breach. Finally, it is critical to ensure that all appropriate security policies are enforced as data is transferred between applications or across systems within a cloud environment.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for cloud security that can protect all of your IT assets. Nor is it wise to adopt a closed-perimeter approach. Organisations can no longer rely on firewalls as a single point of control, and security practices must expand beyond the datacentre to include key control points for endpoints accessing the cloud and edge systems. When incorporating third-party public and hybrid cloud solutions in your enterprise IT strategy, you cannot assume that the security policies of these service providers meet the standards and levels of compliance required. Make sure you spell out and can verify what you require and what is delivered. Read More