Is Cloud Computing Really Risk Transference?

The current buzz in the technology industry is all about this idea of Cloud Computing. It goes by many many names but we’ll just stick with this one to eliminate confusion. Sure, it’s a great idea and vendors are talking about “moving your data to the cloud” where someone else can manage your data, provide better uptimes, manage the patching process, etc. Unfortunately, as a security guy, I tend to look at the idea of cloud computing from a risk perspective…and it just isn’t fluffy cumulus clouds that I see…it’s more like the picture you see here.hurricane-francis

From the security perspective, it appears to be nothing more than a matter of risk transference, very similar to what any good insurance policy will do for you. Companies are trying to be quick to market with their Cloud Computing Security Strategies, but I’ve yet to hear anyone truly identify the risk that this will solve. At the end of the day, it comes down to two simple questions that either your CSO or Legal Department will most assuredly ask:

Who ends up being liable for the data that’s stored in the cloud when it’s breached?

Who’s name and signature is going to be at the end of the Breach Notification letter you’ll send to your customers?

I’ve been doing a lot of research on the topic of “cloud computing security” the last few weeks, as I prep for my session at TechEd North America 2009 entitled “Securing the Cloud”. I have to tell you, I don’t see a lot of companies agreeing to become liable if your data gets breached on their network. I’m not sure how this really differs from putting your money in a bank, rather than in your mattress. The bank (through the powers of the FDIC) ensure my money up to a certain amount. Will my cloud vendor do the same?

Of course, with all new things, old problems still exist.  How is that 3rd party auditors going to successfully conduct an external audit of your data, when the data and controls aren’t even on the premises? “Well, Mr... Sarbanes-Oxley Audit Master, I’d love to show the controls that we have in place to remain compliant with 404, but the data isn’t actually here. Perhaps you can contact our cloud provider to find out the controls they’re using to keep my customer data secure.” That probably isn’t go to go over to well. Remember, you can delegate authority, but not responsibility.

I just want to be sure that we are all really giving this a lot of thought before we start dumping our data up to some unknown entity in the clouds. There are plenty of positive things that cloud computing provides, but at what cost? I’ll take the extra time to patch my enterprise’s servers if it means keeping my data close.

As someone who travels extensively talking to security professionals, I learned long ago that I don’t have all the answers….and this is no exception. Let’s start a dialogue through the comments. What risks do you see with regard to moving to a cloud computing infrastructure and is your business headed that way?  

Also, before I forget….I’ve found a really great cloud computing security blog called Two thumbs up! Check it out.