Cloud control

I had the pleasure of sharing the stage at the Cloud Leadership Forum with John Howie. Howie is the newly minted chief operating officer for the Cloud Security Alliance. He came to the CSA after a tenure at "a large cloud provider"--very large indeed--and was able to address both my questions and those from the audience in excellent, useful detail.

And "detail" seems to be the key word when it comes to securing cloud computing. Between technical issues, governance questions, and the ever-present contractual challenges, you really have to get out your magnifying glass and scrutinize a lot of fine print to ensure that your business can get all of cloud's benefits without taking unexpected risks.

What's been the area of greatest progress in cloud security over the past 12 months? Identity and access management (IAM), Howie said. New products from a variety of vendors, including Symantec and Intel, promise to make it easier to extend fine-grained identity management into cloud services. You'll be able to not only activate new cloud services more quickly, but to do so with better control over access levels across your workforce.

What areas need more attention? Here Howie pointed to several issues. One is the use of "free cloud" services and their lack of contractual rigor. When your employee stores data on Dropbox or Google Drive, his usage is governed by an end user licensing agreement. If the employee leaves, who owns that data and how can it be used?

Another concern is how cloud services can be layered. You may purchase a cloud service from one vendor that is in fact using Amazon Web Services' public cloud as its infrastructure. If Amazon experiences a hiccup, your service goes down as well (surprise!). Do you know exactly where your data will live in each cloud engagement? And do you also know what local or international regulations might apply to your data in those locations?

And how about documentation and attestation of security controls--do you understand the nuances of the different versions of SSAE 16?

In this issue of the magazine, another cloud expert, John Kinsella, contributes a piece looking at five of cloud's biggest security challenges. We're several years into the emergence of cloud computing, and certainly not flying blind on its attendant security and risk issues. But even for those issues that appear to have been addressed, whether by vendors or alliances or someone else, your attention to detail is still very much required.

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