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How Secure is Cloud Computing?

Right now we are still in the early days of cloud computing

Technology Review has published an interview with cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie that is worth reading. I had the great pleasure of presenting to Whit down at the Sun campus. He is a great scientist and a gentleman.

In this interview, Diffie–who is now a visiting professor at Royal Holloway, University of London–draws an interesting analogy between cloud computing and air travel:

“Whitfield Diffie: The effect of the growing dependence on cloud computing is similar to that of our dependence on public transportation, particularly air transportation, which forces us to trust organizations over which we have no control, limits what we can transport, and subjects us to rules and schedules that wouldn’t apply if we were flying our own planes. On the other hand, it is so much more economical that we don’t realistically have any alternative.”

Diffie makes a good point: taken as a whole, the benefits of commodity air travel are so high that it allows us to ignore the not insignificant negatives (I gripe as much as anyone when I travel, but this doesn’t stop me from using the service). In the long term, will the convenience of cloud simply overwhelm the security issues?

The history of computing, of course, is a history full of such compromise. Right now we are in the early days of cloud computing, where all of us in the security community are sniping at the shortcomings of the technology, the process, the legal and regulatory issues, and anything else that appears suspect. But truthfully, this is the ultimate low hanging fruit. Identifying problems with the cloud is effortless; offering real solutions is considerably harder.

Not surprising, Diffie offers a real solution, which is to look hard at trusted platforms. In the end, convenience will sweep over us all, so it is important to quickly establish the best secure baseline we can. The secure base for cloud computing needs to become like aircraft maintenance schedules–something that is a given part of the process and an important component that allows us to reasonably invest trust in the system as a whole.

More Stories By Scott Morrison

K. Scott Morrison is the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Architect at Layer 7 Technologies, where he is leading a team developing the next generation of security infrastructure for cloud computing and SOA. An architect and developer of highly scalable, enterprise systems for over 20 years, Scott has extensive experience across industry sectors as diverse as health, travel and transportation, and financial services. He has been a Director of Architecture and Technology at Infowave Software, a leading maker of wireless security and acceleration software for mobile devices, and was a senior architect at IBM. Before shifting to the private sector, Scott was with the world-renowned medical research program of the University of British Columbia, studying neurodegenerative disorders using medical imaging technology.

Scott is a dynamic, entertaining and highly sought-after speaker. His quotes appear regularly in the media, from the New York Times, to the Huffington Post and the Register. Scott has published over 50 book chapters, magazine articles, and papers in medical, physics, and engineering journals. His work has been acknowledged in the New England Journal of Medicine, and he has published in journals as diverse as the IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow, and Neurology. He is the co-author of the graduate text Cloud Computing, Principles, Systems and Applications published by Springer, and is on the editorial board of Springer’s new Journal of Cloud Computing Advances, Systems and Applications (JoCCASA). He co-authored both Java Web Services Unleashed and Professional JMS. Scott is an editor of the WS-I Basic Security Profile (BSP), and is co-author of the original WS-Federation specification. He is a recent co-author of the Cloud Security Alliance’s Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing, and an author of that organization’s Top Threats to Cloud Computing research. Scott was recently a featured speaker for the Privacy Commission of Canada’s public consultation into the privacy implications of cloud computing. He has even lent his expertise to the film and television industry, consulting on a number of features including the X-Files. Scott’s current interests are in cloud computing, Web services security, enterprise architecture and secure mobile computing—and of course, his wife and two great kids.

Layer 7 Technologies: http://www.layer7tech.com
Scott's linkedIn profile.
Twitter: @KScottMorrison
Syscon blog: http://scottmorrison.sys-con.com

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