Policy is key for protection in the cloud era

Today, companies host mission-critical systems such as email in the cloud, which contain both customer details, company-confidential information and without which, company operations would grind to a halt. Although cloud providers were forced to reconsider their security and continuity arrangements after the large cloud outages and security breaches last year, cloud users still have a number of challenges. Unless organisations work with a small, specialist provider, it is unlikely that they can guarantee where their data is stored, or the data handling policies of the cloud provider in question.

Organisations frequently forget that their in-house data policies simply will not be exported to the cloud with their data. Authentication, authorisation and accounting services (AAA) are often cited as major concerns for companies using cloud services. Organisations need assurance of due process of data handling, or else a way to remove the problem so that they lose no sleep over cloud.

Aside from problems with location, one of the main problems with cloud is that it does not lend itself to static security policy. For example, one of the most popular uses of cloud is cloudbursting, where excess traffic is directed to cloud resources to avoid overwhelming in-house servers, to spread traffic more economically or to spread the load when several tasks of high importance are being carried out at once. Firm policies about what kind of data can be moved to the cloud, at what capacity threshold, and any modifications which need to be made to data all need to be considered in a very short space of time.

All of this needs to be accomplished whilst keeping data secure in transit, and with minimal management to avoid overloading IT managers at already busy times. Furthermore, organisations need to consider AAA concerns, making sure that data is kept in the right hands at all times.

Organisations need to secure applications, regardless of location, and to do this, they need to be able to extend policy to the cloud to make sure that data stays safe, wherever it is. Using application delivery control enables companies to control all inbound and outbound application traffic, allowing them to export AAA services to the cloud. They should also make sure that they have a guarantee of secure tunnelling (i.e. via VPNs) which will make sure that data is secure in transit, as well as confirming that only the right users have access to it. Using some kind of secure sign on such as via two-factor authentication can also make sure that the right users are correctly authorised.

In future, organisations may begin to juggle multiple cloud environments, balancing data between them for superior resilience, business continuity and pricing offers – often referred to as ‘supercloud’ - and this can be extremely complex. As company usage of cloud becomes more involved, managing and automating key processes will become more important so that cloud is an asset, rather than a millstone around the neck of IT departments.

Published Sep 24, 2012
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