GigaOm’s Alistair Croll on Cloud Security: The Sky Is Falling!…and So Is My Tolerance For Absurdity
I just read the latest blog of Alistair Croll from GigaOm titled "Cloud Security: The Sky Is Falling!" in which he suggests that we pillow-hugging security wonks ought to loosen our death grips on our data because not only are we flapping our worry feathers for nothing, but security in "the Cloud" will result in better security than we have today.
I don’t believe that clouds themselves will cause the security breaches and data theft they anticipate; in many ways, clouds will result in better security. Here’s why:
- Fewer humans – Most computer breaches are the result of human error; only 20-40 percent stem from technical malfunctions. Cloud operators that want to be profitable take humans out of the loop whenever possible.
- Better tools – Clouds can afford high-end data protection and security monitoring tools, as well as the experts to run them. I trust Amazon’s operational skills far more than my own.
- Enforced processes – You could probably get a co-worker to change your company’s IT infrastructure. But try doing it with a cloud provider without the proper authorization: You simply won’t be able to.
- Not your employees — Most security breaches are committed by internal employees. Cloud operators don’t work for you. When it comes to corporate espionage, employees are a much more likely target.
- It takes humans to operate the cloud infrastructure. These human operators, despite automation, still suffer from the same scale and knowledge limitations as those in the real world. Further the service governance layers that translate business process, context and risk into enforceable policy across a heterogeneous infrastructure aren't exactly mature.
- The notion that better tools exist in the cloud that haven't as yet been deployed in the larger enterprise seems a little unbelievable. Again, I agree that this may be the case in the SME/SMB, but it's simply not the case in larger enterprises. Given issues such as virtualization (which not all cloud providers depend upon, but bear with me) which can actually limit visibility and reach, I'd like to understand what these tools are why we havent' heard of them before.
- The notion that you can get a co-worker to "…change your company's IT infrastructure" but you can't get this same event impact to occur in the cloud is ludicrous. Besides the fact that the bulk of breaches result from abuse or escalation of privilege in operating systems and applications, not general "infrastructure," and "the Cloud," having abstracted this general infratructure from view. leaves bare the ability to abuse the application layer just as ripely.
- Finally, Alaistair's premise that the bulk of attacks originate internally is misleading. Alistair's article was written a few days ago. The Intranet Journal article he cites to bolster his first point substantiating his claim was written in 2006 and is based upon a study done by CompTIA in 2005. 2005! That's a lifetime by today's standards. Has he read the Verizon breach study that empirically refutes many of his points? (*See Below in extended post)
As "the Cloud" provider adds customers, the capability to secure the infrastructure and the data transiting it, ultimately becomes an issue of scale, too. The more automation that is added, the more false positives show up, especially in light of the fact that the service provider has little or no context of the information, business processes or business impact that their monitoring tools observe. You can get rid of the low-hanging fruit, but when it comes down to impacting the business, some human gets involved.
*You might be interested in this summary of the Verizon Breach Study:
Some of the findings may be contrary to widely held beliefs, such as that insiders are responsible for most breaches. Key findings include:
- Most data breaches investigated were caused by external sources. Thirty-nine percent of breaches were attributed to business partners, a number that rose five-fold during the course of the period studied.
- Most breaches resulted from a combination of events rather than a single action. Sixty-two percent of breaches were attributed to significant internal errors that either directly or indirectly contributed to a breach. For breaches that were deliberate, 59 percent were the result of hacking and intrusions.
- Of those breaches caused by hacking, 39 percent were aimed at the application or software layer. Attacks to the application, software and services layer were much more commonplace than operating system platform exploits, which made up 23 percent. Fewer than 25 percent of attacks took advantage of a known or unknown vulnerability. Significantly, 90 percent of known vulnerabilities exploited had patches available for at least six months prior to the breach.
- Nine of 10 breaches involved some type of "unknown" including unknown systems, data, network connections and/or account user privileges. Additionally, 75 percent of breaches are discovered by a third party rather than the victimized organization and go undetected for a lengthy period.
- In the modern organization, data is everywhere and keeping track of it is an extremely complex challenge. The fundamental principle, however, is quite simple – if you don't know where data is, you certainly can't protect it.