The Cloud Security Paradox

This blog post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Nowadays it seems like any discussion about enterprise security inevitably becomes a discussion about cloud security.  Last week, as I was listening to John Dodge and Bob Gourley discuss recent top cloud security tweets on Enterprise CIO Forum Radio, the story that caught my attention was the Network World article by Christine Burns, part of a six-part series on cloud computing, which had a provocative title declaring that public cloud security remains Mission Impossible.

“Cloud security vendors and cloud services providers have a long way to go,” Burns wrote, “before enterprise customers will be able to find a comfort zone in the public cloud, or even in a public/private hybrid deployment.”  Although I agree with Burns, and I highly recommend reading her entire excellent article, I have always been puzzled by debates over cloud security.

A common opinion is that cloud-based solutions are fundamentally less secure than on-premises solutions.  Some critics even suggest cloud-based solutions can never be secure.  I don’t agree with either opinion because to me it’s all a matter of perspective.

Let’s imagine that I am a cloud-based service provider selling solutions leveraging my own on-premises resources, meaning that I own and operate all of the technology infrastructure within the walls of my one corporate office.  Let’s also imagine that in addition to the public cloud solution that I sell to my customers, I have built a private cloud solution for some of my employees (e.g., salespeople in the field), and that I also have other on-premises systems (e.g., accounting) not connected to any cloud.

Since all of my solutions are leveraging the exact same technology infrastructure, if it is impossible to secure my public cloud, then it logically follows that not only is it impossible to secure my private cloud, but it is also impossible to secure my on-premises systems as well.  Therefore, all of my security must be Mission Impossible.  I refer to this as the Cloud Security Paradox.

Some of you will argue that my scenario was oversimplified, since most cloud-based solutions, whether public or private, may include technology infrastructure that is not under my control, and may be accessed using devices that are not under my control.

Although those are valid security concerns, they are not limited to—nor were they created by—cloud computing, because with the prevalence of smart phones and other mobile devices, those security concerns exist for entirely on-premises solutions as well.

In my opinion, cloud-based versus on-premises, public cloud versus private cloud, and customer access versus employee access, are all oversimplified arguments.  Regardless of the implementation strategy, technology infrastructure and especially your data needs to be secured wherever it is, however it is accessed, and with the appropriate levels of control over who can access what.

Fundamentally, the real problem is a lack of well-defined, well-implemented, and well-enforced security practices.  As Burns rightfully points out, a significant challenge with cloud-based solutions is that “public cloud providers are notoriously unwilling to provide good levels of visibility into their underlying security practices.”

However, when the cost savings and convenience of cloud-based solutions are accepted without a detailed security assessment, that is not a fundamental flaw of cloud computing—that is simply a bad business decision.

Let’s stop blaming poor enterprise security practices on the adoption of cloud computing.

This blog post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.


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