Is cloud insecurity making you yearn for the Good Old Days?

Hackers and outages have certainly made sure it has rained on the cloud parade in recent months. Repeated attacks on Sony’s Playstation network have rekindled the debate about the security of the cloud as have cloud failures at Amazon, Google and Microsoft.So, has the padlock come off? Is the cloud inherently insecure? Should we go back to the old days?

The answer is no, no and no.

The Cloud approach continues to offer a unique opportunity to business. Managing and maintaining complex hosting environments in-house can be time consuming and costly so handing that over to a company that specialises in hosting services not only reduces a big burden on management, it can also be an effective way of reducing costs.

The key comes when that handover takes place. Like handing over your new born baby to someone else for the first time, can you trust them to protect it from harm?

Good cloud services are intrinsically secure

They are built by experts from the ground up with scalability and reliability at the fore. Security plays a big part in that built environment. What we need to do is reassure and educate our end users and work with them to create trust around the cloud. The key to this is “shared responsibility” between cloud providers and cloud users, according to organisations like the Cloud Security Alliance.

Industry analysis suggests there are six perceived risks around the cloud that need to be addressed:

1. Vendor trust

If a business is seeking cast iron guarantees over the security and location of its data assets then it needs its cloud provider to meets those requirements via the Service Level Agreement and contract.

You need to seek out cloud providers who only deal with suppliers who provide best of breed hardware and software layers backed by the most stringent Service Level Agreements. You can then engage with a cloud supplier offering a SLA, with the confidence that their suppliers are singing from the same hymn sheet.

2. Legislation and compliance

Retention of data within geographical boundaries is becoming far more important so there is a need to comply with local standards. In the UK, ISO accreditations give clear signs to customers about the management of data and the physical infrastructure being used.

3. Distributed infrastructure

The key issue here is that customers must be convinced that all architecture is engineered with no single point of failure. Maintaining resilient infrastructure for all areas of the service across the data centres and cloud platforms provided is vital.

4. Web threats

These can only be countered with appropriate access control and management at the network and hypervisor level. What weakens defences is clients with code issues or poor internal policies on the storage and utilisation of critical system information.

5. Data leakage

This should be handled by Hypervisor technology. Guest operating systems within the hypervisor should be kept separate through the fundamental aspects of the hypervisor technology itself.

6. Shared infrastructure

There is an additional onus on service providers to ensure proper segregation of user data in other shared technologies such as the SAN and backup platforms.

Recent research by Pearlfinders has shown a big increase in the number of ICT decision-makers showing an interest in buying cloud-based solutions. For all that the Industry can do to reassure businesses though, they must realise that they have a responsibility to ensure that their own internal systems and processes are safe and secure and comply with the regulatory and audit requirements of their own sectors.

As Tier1, the US-based technology research specialist, concludes: “Moving to the cloud does not absolve an organization of its responsibility to defend itself against the inherent risks of pushing workloads beyond its own walls.”

The rules and policies for data protection don’t change because a company opts for using the cloud over other methods. By demonstrating that we can provide a safe environment and emphasising to customers that they share that responsibility, we can banish the storm clouds and make hosting in the cloud a more attractive proposition over the next few years.

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Phil Worms is the director of corporate communications for iomart Group, one of Europe’s largest providers of managed hosting, cloud computing and business continuity services. Having spent 25 years working in the IT industry he is recognised as one of its brightest thinkers. He regularly contributes internet and "new media" related features for trade publications and national newspapers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an advocate of social media using it for both business and charitable causes. Phil has sat on several national advisory committees ranging from the provision of broadband access to online safety initiatives. He is now heavily involved in the debate surrounding the greening of IT with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction a particular topic of interest. In his spare time Phil is dedicated to raising money in an attempt to bring a new arts and music centre to his hometown of Helensburgh. It is this venture that has given him his finest moment – being mentioned on David Bowie’s official website when he organised a mass community recording of the classic song Heroes!