The Curse of Cloud Security
Seventh Annual Global Information Security Survey: Companies are clamoring for services in the cloud. But the biggest problem from a security perspective is that few understand what they're dealing with. (Second of a four-part series)
By Bill Brenner , Senior Editor
October 27, 2009 — CSO —
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Virtualization and cloud computing let you simplify your physical IT infrastructure and cut overhead costs, but you've only just begun to see the security risks involved.
Putting more of your infrastructure in the cloud has left you vulnerable to hackers who have redoubled efforts to launch denial-of-service attacks against the likes of Google, Yahoo and other Internet-based service providers. A massive Google outage earlier this year illustrates the kind of disruptions cloud-dependent businesses can suffer.
That's one of the big takeaways from the seventh-annual Global Information Security survey, which CSO and CIO magazines conducted with PricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this year. Some 7,200 business and technology executives worldwide responded from a variety of industries, including government, health care, financial services and retail.
Jumping in, sans parachute
Given the expense to maintain a physical IT infrastructure, the thought of replacing server rooms and haphazardly configured appliances with cloud services is simply too hard for many companies to resist. But rushing into the cloud without a security strategy is a recipe for risk. According to the survey, 43 percent of respondents are using cloud services such as software as a service or infrastructure as a service. Even more are investing in the virtualization technology that helps to enable cloud computing. Sixty-seven percent of respondents say they now use server, storage and other forms of IT asset virtualization. Among them, 48 percent actually believe their information security has improved, while 42 percent say their security is at about the same level. Only 10 percent say virtualization has created more security holes.
Security may well have improved for some, but experts like Chris Hoff, director of cloud and virtualization solutions at Cisco Systems, believe that both consumers and providers need to ensure they understand the risks associated with the technical, operational and organizational changes these technologies bring to bear.
"When you look at how people think of virtualization and what it means, the definition of virtualization is either very narrow -- that it's about server consolidation, virtualizing your applications and operating systems, and consolidating everything down to fewer physical boxes -- or it's about any number of other elements: client-side desktops, storage, networks, security," he says. "Then you add to the confusion with the concept of cloud computing, which is being pushed by Microsoft and a number of smaller, emerging companies. You're left scratching your head wondering what this means to you as a company. How does it impact your infrastructure?"