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What are the Greater Risks of Cloud Computing?

 

There have been countless numbers of articles, blogs and whitepapers written on the subject of security in the cloud and an even greater number of opinions as to the number of risks associated with a move to the same.  Five, seven, ten, twenty-seven?  How many risks are associated with you or your company’s move to the cloud?  Well, in the best consultant-speak, it depends.

One could say that it depends on how far “up the stack” you’re moving.  If, for instance, you are moving from an essentially stand-alone, self-administrated environment to a cloud-based presence, you most likely will be in for the security-based shock of your life.  On the other hand, if you, in the corporate sense, are moving a large, multi-national corporation to the cloud, chances are you’ve already encountered many of the challenges, such as regional compliance and legal issues, which will also be present in your move to the cloud.

The differentiator?  There are three; scale, complexity and speed.  In the hundreds of clients we have helped migrate to the cloud, not once have we come across a security issue that was unique to the cloud.  This is why the title of this article is “What are the Greater Risks of Cloud Computing?” and not “What are the Unique Risks of Cloud Computing?”  There simply aren’t any.  Let’s be clear – this isn’t to say any of these risks aren’t real. They simply aren’t unique, nor are they new.  It is just a case of a new bandwagon (the cloud) with a new crew of sensationalists ready to jump on that bandwagon.

Let’s take a few of the most popularly-stated “risks of cloud computing” and see how this plays out.

Shared Technology

This often makes the list as though it is a unique problem to the cloud.  What about companies utilizing colo’s?  And before that, what about companies using time shared systems – can you say payroll systems?  Didn’t they pre-date the cloud by some decades?  While there might not have been hypervisors or shared applications back in the day, there just as surely could have been shared components at some level, possibly network components or monitoring.

Loss of Data/Data Breaches

In looking at some of the most widely touted data breaches – Target, Ashley Madison, Office of Personnel Management and Anthem to name just a few – the compromises were listed as “result of access to its network via an HVAC contractor monitoring store climate systems,” “unknown,” “contractor’s stolen credentials to plant a malware backdoor in the network,” and “possible watering hole attack that yielded a compromised administrator password.”  Your first thought might be, “Do these hacks even involve the cloud?”  It’s not clear where the data was stored in these instances, but that doesn’t stop articles from being written about the dangers of the cloud and including references to the instances.  Conversely, there is an excellent article in Business Insurance on the very opposite viewpoint.  Perhaps the cloud can be a bit safer that traditional environments for one very good reason – reputation. We have seen customers move to the cloud in order to modernize their security paradigm.  The end result is a more secure environment in the cloud than they ever had on premise.

Account or Service Traffic Hijacking

Now we have a security issue that really makes use of the cloud in terms of scale and speed.  Let’s clarify what we’re talking about here.  This is the hacking of a cloud provider and actually taking over instances for the use of command and control for the purpose of using them as botnets.  The hijacking of compute resources, whether they be personal computers, corporate or cloud resources, continues to this day.

Hacking a cloud provider follows the simple logic of robbing a bank vs. a taco stand in more ways than one.  Where there’s increased reward, there’s increased risk, to turn an old saying around a bit.  If you’re going to hit a lot of resources and make it worth your while, the cloud is the place to go.  However, know that it’s going to be a lot harder and that a lot more eyes are going to be on you and looking for you.  Interestingly, the most recent sightings of this type of activity seem to about the 2009-’10 timeframes as Amazon, Microsoft, Google and the other providers learned quickly from their mistakes.

If you were to continue down the list of other cloud security issues – malicious insiders, inadequate security controls, DDoS attacks, compromised credentials, and the list goes on – it becomes pretty evident that there simply aren’t any out there that are unique.  We’ve seen them before in one context or another, but they just haven’t been as big an issue in our environment.

The next time you see an article on the dangers of the cloud, stop for a moment and think, “Is this truly a problem that has never been seen before or just one that I’ve never encountered or had to deal with before?”

-Scott Turvey, Solutions Architect

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