Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: AppDynamics Blog, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Kevin Benedict, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Cloud Security, @CloudExpo

Cloud Security: Article

The Cloud Challenge: Security

It's the end-user’s duty to understand what processes and methodologies the cloud vendor is using

Cloud Security on Ulitzer

Safeguarding a cloud infrastructure from unmonitored access, malware and intruder attacks grows more challenging for service providers as their operations evolve. And as a cloud infrastructure grows, so too does the presence of unsecured privileged identities – those so-called super-user accounts that hold elevated permission to access sensitive data, run programs, and change configuration settings on virtually every IT component. Privileged identities exist on all physical and virtual operating systems, on network devices such as routers, switches, and firewalls, and in programs and services including databases, line-of-business applications, Web services, middleware, VM hypervisors and more.

Left unsecured, privileged accounts leave an organization vulnerable to IT staff members who have unmonitored access to sensitive customer data and can change configuration settings on critical components of your infrastructure through anonymous, unaudited access. Unsecured privileged accounts can also lead to financial loss from failed regulatory audits such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOX and other standards that require privileged identity controls.

One of the largest challenges for consumers of cloud services is attaining transparency into how a public cloud provider is securing its infrastructure. For example, how are identities being managed and secured? Many cloud providers won’t give their customers much more of an answer than a SAS 70 certification. How can we trust in the cloud if the vendors of cloud-based infrastructures neglect to implement both the process and technology to assure that segregation of duties are enforced, and customer and vendor identities are secured?

The Cloud Vendor’s Challenge: Accountability
Cloud computing has the potential to transform business technology, but it brings security issues that IT organizations should consider before trusting their sensitive data to the cloud. These issues should cause security experts and auditors to rethink many fundamental assumptions about Privileged Identity Management in terms of who is responsible for managing these powerful privileged accounts, how they manage them, and who exactly is in control.

Historically, IT data centers have always been in secured physical locations. Now, with cloud computing, those locations are no longer maintained directly by the IT organization. So the questions are these: how do you get accountability for management of physical assets that are no longer under your physical control, and exactly what control mechanisms are in place? Can you trust your cloud vendor to secure your most sensitive data? Moreover, if there’s a security breach in the cloud, who is to blame? Is it the cloud vendor that disclaims all legal liability in its contract, or an enterprise that relinquishes control of its sensitive data in the first place?

Cloud computing promises to make IT more efficient and deliver more consistent service levels. However, there’s a paradox that when it comes to security (and control over privileged identities in particular) cloud services are often among the least efficient. Many cloud service providers’ processes – based on ad-hoc techniques like scripting of password changes – are slow, expensive and unreliable. And that’s dangerous.

Fortunately the industry is starting to move beyond paralyzing discussions about the security and compliance problems that arise from cloud computing to address them head on. One example is the Trusted Cloud Initiative, which was launched at RSA Security Conference 2010. The goal of the initiative is “to help cloud providers develop industry-recommended, secure and interoperable identity, access and compliance management configurations, and practices.” However, only time will tell if it will help standardize cloud computing or turn out to be a technology certification of little use.

Several major cloud vendors and ISPs have begun the task of integrating security solutions that are capable of managing the large number of privileged identities that make up their infrastructure (hardware, VM hosts, VM Image OS, application stacks). This has really broken the fundamental model of IT being in control of security and has started to blur the lines between vendor and customer when it comes to the management of security.

Today, some privileged identity management frameworks are capable of managing “from iron to application,” giving cloud customers a full measure of control over credentials used in each physical and virtual layer of the stack and the potential to gain full visibility into who has access. In contrast, scripts and other ad-hoc methods to manage privileged identities can no longer keep pace or meet regulatory requirements in fast-changing and highly virtualized cloud computing environments.

In addition, cloud vendors must move to become identity providers of authentication services, multi-tenancy control, and X.509 certificate issuance for applications, end-points, users, and encrypted sessions. It is inappropriate for cloud vendors to expect their customers to use disconnected and third party providers of certificate services for what should be an inherent and integrated feature of every cloud vendor’s offering.

The End User’s Challenge: Transparency
In my opinion, the cloud is a really good, compelling idea. It can reduce the cost of IT dramatically. Given that cloud computing is available, the idea of building new data centers these days seems like a last-century way of doing things. And since many organizations lack the appropriate personnel to manage the IT resources they have, they’re willing to forego seeing and touching their own systems in their secured data centers – and the corresponding feeling of control – and have turned to outsourcing. Cloud computing is essentially the next generation of outsourcing, so we’re not only reducing manpower but also getting rid of our hard assets entirely. By moving these services to data centers anywhere on the planet we’re offered the potential for service delivery that costs far less than the alternatives. And the idea of outsourcing security and liability is extraordinarily compelling.

However, enterprises should ask the right questions of their cloud providers before taking the leap into the cloud and blindly assuming that their data is safe there. You should ask your cloud service provider to meet every point of compliance that your IT organization is required to meet, and should ask your cloud service provider every question that your IT auditors ask you.

Auditors, too, share a responsibility to verify that client organizations are able to track the usage and control of their data and resources inside the cloud. In keeping with major regulatory mandates, auditors are obligated to confirm segregation of duties and the enforcement of “need to know” and “need to access” policies. And, potential cloud customers should ask what provisions have been made to provide the required trail of access to the user’s auditors on demand – and what provisions are in place to allow the sharing of privileged control between cloud vendor and user for appropriate reporting and verification.

Because today’s cloud vendors offer literally no transparency and little information, don’t be surprised if you don’t like the answers you get. Most cloud vendors would say that for security purposes, it’s on a “need to know” basis and you don’t need to know. Others state that they’re SAS 70 compliant, but that’s really just a self-certification. And because each measure of security adds to cloud vendor costs, it is appropriate for consumers of cloud services to demand to know precisely what measures are in place – and what auditing processes are supported – as part of the service agreement.

Be persistent. What kind of security does the cloud service provider have in place to protect your privileged accounts and most sensitive data? Do they have Privileged Identity Management technology in place? How do they control privileged accounts used in cloud infrastructure to manage sensitive systems and data? How do they manage cloud stacks at the physical layer and application stack layers ? What is your access to audit records?

Whatever regulatory standards your organization must meet, so too must your cloud vendor. So if you think that by venturing into the cloud you’re saving yourself from regulatory headaches, think again.

Conclusion
Security is the greatest barrier towards adoption of the cloud, and it’s no great surprise that cloud security was a major theme at this year’s RSA Conference. Unfortunately, improvements in cloud security won’t be seen as a priority until a major breach has a significant impact on one or more cloud service vendors and their customers. This needs to change. When it comes to cloud security, it is the end-user’s duty to understand what processes and methodologies the cloud vendor is using to protect the customer’s most sensitive assets.

More Stories By Philip Lieberman

Philip Lieberman is President & CEO of Lieberman Software. You can reach him and learn more about Privileged Identity Management in the cloud by contacting Lieberman Software

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
douglas.barbin 03/31/10 06:09:00 PM EDT

Philip,

Very good article and very comprehensive view of the assurance issues surrounding identity management in the cloud. One clarification (and I could see what you were getting at so its not as if you misconstrued) but I wanted to clarify that SAS 70 is not a self-certification.

First, SAS 70 is not a certification at all although I agree with you that technology marketers love to issue press releases saying that it is. Second, you are correct in that there are no prescriptive standards and that what is being tested are the control activities and objectives set by the provider.

That said, the two do have to interrelate for a CPA to render an unqualified opinion. For instance, if the (high-level) control objective provides reasonable assurance against unauthorized access and the (detailed) control activities tested by the auditor were only paper-based (policies) with no technical preventive or detective controls, the result would likely be a qualified or adverse opinion on that objective if not the broader controls.

The bottom line is while yes, the cloud provider dictates what the objectives and activities are, you won't get an unqualified (some refer to as clean) opinion if the controls are not suitably designed and/or fairly presented.

Best Regards,
Doug

@CloudExpo Stories
We all know the latest numbers: Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from last year, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. We're rapidly approaching a data production of 40 zettabytes a day – more than we can every physically store, and exabytes and yottabytes are just around the corner. For many that’s a good sign, as data has been proven to equal money – IF it’s ingested, integrated, and analyzed fast enough. Without real-ti...
"We view the cloud not really as a specific technology but as a way of doing business and that way of doing business is transforming the way software, infrastructure and services are being delivered to business," explained Matthew Rosen, CEO and Director at Fusion, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"Software-defined storage is a big problem in this industry because so many people have different definitions as they see fit to use it," stated Peter McCallum, VP of Datacenter Solutions at FalconStor Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
With 15% of enterprises adopting a hybrid IT strategy, you need to set a plan to integrate hybrid cloud throughout your infrastructure. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Steven Dreher, Director of Solutions Architecture at Green House Data, discussed how to plan for shifting resource requirements, overcome challenges, and implement hybrid IT alongside your existing data center assets. Highlights included anticipating workload, cost and resource calculations, integrating services on both sides...
"We provide DevOps solutions. We also partner with some key players in the DevOps space and we use the technology that we partner with to engineer custom solutions for different organizations," stated Himanshu Chhetri, CTO of Addteq, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Yoseph Reuveni, Director of Software Engineering at Jet.com, will discuss Jet.com's journey into containerizing Microsoft-based technologies like C# and F# into Docker. He will talk about lessons learned and challenges faced, the Mono framework tryout and how they deployed everything into Azure cloud. Yoseph Reuveni is a technology leader with unique experience developing and running high throughput (over 1M tps) distributed systems with extre...
"We are a well-established player in the application life cycle management market and we also have a very strong version control product," stated Flint Brenton, CEO of CollabNet,, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Actian Corporation has announced the latest version of the Actian Vector in Hadoop (VectorH) database, generally available at the end of July. VectorH is based on the same query engine that powers Actian Vector, which recently doubled the TPC-H benchmark record for non-clustered systems at the 3000GB scale factor (see tpc.org/3323). The ability to easily ingest information from different data sources and rapidly develop queries to make better business decisions is becoming increasingly importan...
"Operations is sort of the maturation of cloud utilization and the move to the cloud," explained Steve Anderson, Product Manager for BMC’s Cloud Lifecycle Management, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Enterprise networks are complex. Moreover, they were designed and deployed to meet a specific set of business requirements at a specific point in time. But, the adoption of cloud services, new business applications and intensifying security policies, among other factors, require IT organizations to continuously deploy configuration changes. Therefore, enterprises are looking for better ways to automate the management of their networks while still leveraging existing capabilities, optimizing perf...
Security, data privacy, reliability and regulatory compliance are critical factors when evaluating whether to move business applications from in-house client hosted environments to a cloud platform. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Vandana Viswanathan, Associate Director at Cognizant, In this session, will provide an orientation to the five stages required to implement a cloud hosted solution validation strategy.
The cloud competition for database hosts is fierce. How do you evaluate a cloud provider for your database platform? In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Chris Presley, a Solutions Architect at Pythian, gave users a checklist of considerations when choosing a provider. Chris Presley is a Solutions Architect at Pythian. He loves order – making him a premier Microsoft SQL Server expert. Not only has he programmed and administered SQL Server, but he has also shared his expertise and passion with b...
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...
Unless your company can spend a lot of money on new technology, re-engineering your environment and hiring a comprehensive cybersecurity team, you will most likely move to the cloud or seek external service partnerships. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security, revealed what you need to know when it comes to encryption in the cloud.
What are the successful IoT innovations from emerging markets? What are the unique challenges and opportunities from these markets? How did the constraints in connectivity among others lead to groundbreaking insights? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Carmen Feliciano, a Principal at AMDG, will answer all these questions and share how you can apply IoT best practices and frameworks from the emerging markets to your own business.
Basho Technologies has announced the latest release of Basho Riak TS, version 1.3. Riak TS is an enterprise-grade NoSQL database optimized for Internet of Things (IoT). The open source version enables developers to download the software for free and use it in production as well as make contributions to the code and develop applications around Riak TS. Enhancements to Riak TS make it quick, easy and cost-effective to spin up an instance to test new ideas and build IoT applications. In addition to...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
Many private cloud projects were built to deliver self-service access to development and test resources. While those clouds delivered faster access to resources, they lacked visibility, control and security needed for production deployments. In their session at 18th Cloud Expo, Steve Anderson, Product Manager at BMC Software, and Rick Lefort, Principal Technical Marketing Consultant at BMC Software, discussed how a cloud designed for production operations not only helps accelerate developer in...
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...