Information Systems Infrastructure Case Study

CASE STUDY 11

CLOUD COMPUTING (IN)SECURITY

Cloud computing is reshaping enterprise network architectures and

infrastructures. It refers to applications delivered as services over the

Internet as well as the hardware and systems software in data centers that

provide those services. The services themselves have long been referred to

as Software as a Service (SaaS) which had its roots in Software-Oriented

Architecture (SOA) concepts that began shaping enterprise network

roadmaps in the early 2000s. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and PaaS

(Platform as a Service) are other types of cloud computing services that are

available to business customers.

Cloud computing fosters the notion of computing as a utility that can be

consumed by businesses on demand in a manner that is similar to other

services (e.g. electricity, municipal water) from traditional utilities. It has the

potential to reshape much of the IT industry by giving businesses the option

of running business software applications fully on-premises, fully in “the

cloud” or some combination of these two extremes. These are choices that

businesses have not had until recently and many companies are still coming

to grips with this new computing landscape.

Security is important to any computing infrastructure. Companies go to

great lengths to secure on-premises computing systems, so it is not

surprising that security looms as a major consideration when augmenting or

replacing on-premises systems with cloud services. Allaying security

 

 

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concerns is frequently a prerequisite for further discussions about migrating

part or all of an organization’s computing architecture to the cloud.

Availability is another major concern: “How will we operate if we can’t access

the Internet? What if our customers can’t access the cloud to place orders?”

are common questions [AMBR10].

Generally speaking, such questions only arise when businesses

contemplating moving core transaction processing, such as ERP systems,

and other mission critical applications to the cloud. Companies have

traditionally demonstrated less concern about migrating high maintenance

applications such as e-mail and payroll to cloud service providers even

though such applications hold sensitive information.

 

Security Issues and Concerns Auditability is a concern for many organizations, especially those who must

comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and/or Health and Human Services Health

Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations [IBM11].

The auditability of their data must be ensured whether it is stored on-

premises or moved to the cloud.

Before moving critical infrastructure to the cloud, businesses should do

diligence on security threats both from outside and inside the cloud

[BADG11]. Many of the security issues associated with protecting clouds

from outside threats are similar to those that have traditionally faced

centralized data centers. In the cloud, however, responsibility for assuring

adequate security is frequently shared among users, vendors, and any third-

party firms that users rely on for security-sensitive software or

configurations. Cloud users are responsible for application-level security.

Cloud vendors are responsible for physical security and some software

security such as enforcing external firewall policies. Security for intermediate

layers of the software stack is shared between users and vendors.

 

 

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A security risk that can be overlooked by companies considering a

migration to the cloud is that posed by sharing vendor resources with other

cloud users. Cloud providers must guard against theft or denial-of-service

attacks by their users and users need to be protected from one another.

Virtualization can be a powerful mechanism for addressing these potential

risks because it protects against most attempts by users to attack one

another or the provider’s infrastructure. However, not all resources are

virtualized and not all virtualization environments are bug-free. Incorrect

virtualization may allow user code to access to sensitive portions of the

provider’s infrastructure or the resources of other users. Once again, these

security issues are not unique to the cloud and are similar to those involved

in managing non-cloud data centers, where different applications need to be

protected from one another.

Another security concern that businesses should consider is the extent

to which subscribers are protected against the provider, especially in the

area of inadvertent data loss. For example, in the event of provider

infrastructure improvements, what happens to hardware that is retired or

replaced? It is easy to imagine a hard disk being disposed of without being

properly wiped clean of subscriber data. It is also easy to imagine

permissions bugs or errors that make subscriber data visible to unauthorized

users. User-level encryption may be an important self-help mechanism for

subscribers, but businesses should ensure that other protections are in place

to avoid inadvertent data loss.

 

Addressing Cloud Computer Security Concerns Numerous documents have been developed to guide business thinking

about the security issues associated with cloud computing. Even NIST has

weighed in on these issues [BADG11]. NIST’s recommendations

systematically consider each of the major types of cloud services consumed

 

 

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by businesses including Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a

Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). While security issues vary

somewhat depending on the type of cloud service, there are multiple NIST

recommendations that are independent of service type. Several of these are

summarized in Table C11.1. Not surprisingly, NIST recommends selecting

cloud providers that support strong encryption, have appropriate redundancy

mechanisms in place, employ authentication mechanisms, and offer

subscribers sufficient visibility about mechanisms used to protect subscribers

from other subscribers and the provider.

As more businesses incorporate cloud services into their enterprise

network infrastructures, cloud computing security will persist as an

important issue. Examples of cloud computing security failures have to

potential to have a chilling effect on business interest in cloud services and

this is inspiring service providers to be serious about incorporating security

mechanisms that will allay concerns of potential subscribers. Some service

providers have moved their operations to Tier 4 data centers to address user

concerns about availability and redundancy. Because so many businesses

remain reluctant to embrace cloud computing in a big way, cloud service

providers will have to continue to work hard to convince potential customers

that computing support for core business processes and mission critical

applications can be moved safely and securely to the cloud [HEAV11].

 

Discussion Points 1. Do some Internet research to identify businesses who have suffered

because of cloud security weaknesses or failures. What can companies who are contemplating cloud computing services learn from the negative experiences of these businesses?

2. Do some Internet research on security mechanisms associated with

virtualization. How can virtualization be used by cloud service providers to protect subscriber data?

 

 

 

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3. Choose one of the following cloud services categories: SaaS, IaaS, PaaS. Do some Internet research that focuses the security issues associated with the selected cloud service category. Summarize the major security risks associated with the cloud service category and identify mechanisms that can be used to address these risks.

Sources [ARMB10] Armbrust, M., Fox, A., Griffith, R, Joseph, A.D., Katz, R., Konwinski, A., Lee, G., Patterson, D., Rabkin, A., Stoica, I., and Zaharia, M. “A View of Cloud Computing.” Communications of the ACM, Vol. 53, No. 4, April 2010, pp. 50-58. [BADG11] Badger, L., Grance, T., Patt-Comer, R., and Voas, J. Draft Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendations: Recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Special Publication 800-146, May 2011. [HEAV11] Heavey, J. “Cloud Computing: Secure or Security Risk?” Technorati.com, November 28, 2011. Retrieved online from: http://technorati.com/technology/cloud-computing/article/cloud-computing- secure-or-a-security1/. [IBM11] IBM Global Technology Services. Security and Availability in Cloud Computing Environments, Technical White Paper, June 2011.

 

  • CASE STUDY 11
    • Security Issues and Concerns
    • Addressing Cloud Computer Security Concerns
    • Discussion Points
    • Sources

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