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CASE STUDY 11
CLOUD COMPUTING (IN)SECURITY
Cloud computing is reshaping enterprise network architectures and
infrastructures. It refers to applications delivered as services over the
Internet as well as the hardware and systems software in data centers that
provide those services. The services themselves have long been referred to
as Software as a Service (SaaS) which had its roots in Software-Oriented
Architecture (SOA) concepts that began shaping enterprise network
roadmaps in the early 2000s. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and PaaS
(Platform as a Service) are other types of cloud computing services that are
available to business customers.
Cloud computing fosters the notion of computing as a utility that can be
consumed by businesses on demand in a manner that is similar to other
services (e.g. electricity, municipal water) from traditional utilities. It has the
potential to reshape much of the IT industry by giving businesses the option
of running business software applications fully on-premises, fully in “the
cloud” or some combination of these two extremes. These are choices that
businesses have not had until recently and many companies are still coming
to grips with this new computing landscape.
Security is important to any computing infrastructure. Companies go to
great lengths to secure on-premises computing systems, so it is not
surprising that security looms as a major consideration when augmenting or
replacing on-premises systems with cloud services. Allaying security
concerns is frequently a prerequisite for further discussions about migrating
part or all of an organization’s computing architecture to the cloud.
Availability is another major concern: “How will we operate if we can’t access
the Internet? What if our customers can’t access the cloud to place orders?”
are common questions [AMBR10].
Generally speaking, such questions only arise when businesses
contemplating moving core transaction processing, such as ERP systems,
and other mission critical applications to the cloud. Companies have
traditionally demonstrated less concern about migrating high maintenance
applications such as e-mail and payroll to cloud service providers even
though such applications hold sensitive information.
Security Issues and Concerns Auditability is a concern for many organizations, especially those who must
comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and/or Health and Human Services Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations [IBM11].
The auditability of their data must be ensured whether it is stored on-
premises or moved to the cloud.
Before moving critical infrastructure to the cloud, businesses should do
diligence on security threats both from outside and inside the cloud
[BADG11]. Many of the security issues associated with protecting clouds
from outside threats are similar to those that have traditionally faced
centralized data centers. In the cloud, however, responsibility for assuring
adequate security is frequently shared among users, vendors, and any third-
party firms that users rely on for security-sensitive software or
configurations. Cloud users are responsible for application-level security.
Cloud vendors are responsible for physical security and some software
security such as enforcing external firewall policies. Security for intermediate
layers of the software stack is shared between users and vendors.
A security risk that can be overlooked by companies considering a
migration to the cloud is that posed by sharing vendor resources with other
cloud users. Cloud providers must guard against theft or denial-of-service
attacks by their users and users need to be protected from one another.
Virtualization can be a powerful mechanism for addressing these potential
risks because it protects against most attempts by users to attack one
another or the provider’s infrastructure. However, not all resources are
virtualized and not all virtualization environments are bug-free. Incorrect
virtualization may allow user code to access to sensitive portions of the
provider’s infrastructure or the resources of other users. Once again, these
security issues are not unique to the cloud and are similar to those involved
in managing non-cloud data centers, where different applications need to be
protected from one another.
Another security concern that businesses should consider is the extent
to which subscribers are protected against the provider, especially in the
area of inadvertent data loss. For example, in the event of provider
infrastructure improvements, what happens to hardware that is retired or
replaced? It is easy to imagine a hard disk being disposed of without being
properly wiped clean of subscriber data. It is also easy to imagine
permissions bugs or errors that make subscriber data visible to unauthorized
users. User-level encryption may be an important self-help mechanism for
subscribers, but businesses should ensure that other protections are in place
to avoid inadvertent data loss.
Addressing Cloud Computer Security Concerns Numerous documents have been developed to guide business thinking
about the security issues associated with cloud computing. Even NIST has
weighed in on these issues [BADG11]. NIST’s recommendations
systematically consider each of the major types of cloud services consumed
by businesses including Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a
Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). While security issues vary
somewhat depending on the type of cloud service, there are multiple NIST
recommendations that are independent of service type. Several of these are
summarized in Table C11.1. Not surprisingly, NIST recommends selecting
cloud providers that support strong encryption, have appropriate redundancy
mechanisms in place, employ authentication mechanisms, and offer
subscribers sufficient visibility about mechanisms used to protect subscribers
from other subscribers and the provider.
As more businesses incorporate cloud services into their enterprise
network infrastructures, cloud computing security will persist as an
important issue. Examples of cloud computing security failures have to
potential to have a chilling effect on business interest in cloud services and
this is inspiring service providers to be serious about incorporating security
mechanisms that will allay concerns of potential subscribers. Some service
providers have moved their operations to Tier 4 data centers to address user
concerns about availability and redundancy. Because so many businesses
remain reluctant to embrace cloud computing in a big way, cloud service
providers will have to continue to work hard to convince potential customers
that computing support for core business processes and mission critical
applications can be moved safely and securely to the cloud [HEAV11].
Discussion Points 1. Do some Internet research to identify businesses who have suffered
because of cloud security weaknesses or failures. What can companies who are contemplating cloud computing services learn from the negative experiences of these businesses?
- Do some Internet research on security mechanisms associated with