Security, Risk & Compliance for Cloud Computing Model

IT has long struggled with the issue of securing the information and the underlying assets in tradition IT environments. There have been debates around how much security is enough. Over a period of time, various models have evolved to enable an enterprise get a grip over the information security issue. Most approaches encourage taking a risk based approach to measure adequacy of existing controls & identify areas of improvement to bring the risk to an optimum risk level.

Now, with the evolution & popularity of Cloud computing model in the recent time, it has added new dimensions to the concept of information security. There is a lot of discussion is taking place within the IT industry but there is still a haze around the security, risk & compliance issues. I believe that with time, a clearer picture is likely to emerge as Cloud service providers realize the importance to address concerns around information security and emergence & adoption of standards.

In my opinion, key issues around security, risk & compliance in Cloud computing model are:-

Governance – one of the concerns customers have expressed is the loss of governance over the service that is now provided in the Cloud. The control now resides with the Cloud service provider on issues like location of data, implementation of security controls and their functioning etc. This lack of overall control and hence over some of the topics that can potentially impact security, risk & compliance issues is a serious concern for the organizations exploring the use of Cloud based services.

Access Control – how do you control the access to the information residing in the Cloud? While models are emerging to control the end user access like OpenID etc, one of the key issues is around control access for the privileged users like administrators.

Data location within Cloud – this is another important concern since it has lot of regulatory & compliance issues. The location of data residing in Cloud also has implications on legal jurisdiction and implications of regional/country specific data privacy requirements.

For example – some of my customers especially in non-US geography have specifically expressed concerns around the implication of US patriot act on the Cloud computing services.

Securing Data at Rest – how secure is the information residing on the Cloud in a shared environment? Information segregation and encryption are key topics that are being discussed to address concerns around information assets in the Cloud.

Regulatory compliance – Organization do need to understand that while the responsibility of security the underlying assets may rest with the Cloud services providers, the responsibility & accountability to secure the information still rests with the enterprise. Traditional IT organizations are faced with lot of audit (internal & external) & security certifications like ISO27001/SAS 70 etc to demonstrate an acceptable level of presence & effectiveness of security controls. Similarly there will be a need for the Cloud service providers to accommodate their customers internal & external audit requirements along with an acceptable demonstration of presence of security controls within the Cloud services offered by them.

Incident Response & Forensics – another important point of concern is around support during incident response and forensics. Due to the shared nature of the Cloud based services and the fact that the service provider can host the data in any of the data centres, establishing log/audit trails to enable Incident Response and to support forensics can be a challenging task.

Organizations are realizing that when using a Cloud computing services, there is a limit to the security controls that can be implemented and enforced. One needs to rely on the controls that are implemented by the Cloud service provider and trust these controls are adequate and working the way they Ire designed. Similarly, there is also a limitation on how much audit information can be generated, collected in a tamper-proof format, retained and if that is adequate to satisfy an organizations audit requirements.

I believe that while enterprise will continue to use public Clouds, the IT spend on setting up private Clouds will increase over a period of time. Public Cloud services will be used to host non-critical services by the organizations while they will use the Cloud computing model within their organizational boundaries to benefit from the concept of Cloud computing while ensuring security, risk & compliance issues are within their control. I are most likely to see emergence of industry standards and also some guidance movement by government bodies on the topics of security, risk and compliance for Cloud services.

references:- http://www.enisa.europa.eu/act/rm/files/deliverables/cloud-computing-risk-assessment/at_download/fullReport; twitter feeds on cloud

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