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Should you trust a public cloud?

By Christian Verstraete


Security has been highlighted by CIO’s as the major barrier to cloud adoption for several years. Why is that the case? The lack of transparency of public cloud provider security measures, combined with T&C’s that push responsibilities back to cloud service users have left CIO’s with a lot of unanswered questions. “Don’t expect to peer into Google Cloud services security” just describes this frustration. And just stating “trust us, we are more secure than your data centre” does not do it.


In writing this, do I mean that public cloud services are not secure? Actually no, but not knowing the processes, procedures and technologies used by public cloud service providers means they cannot assess whether those are in line with their own processes and procedures. From the service provider standpoint, documenting their processes and procedures leaves them vulnerable to hackers and other cyber criminals. And some claim to have too many customers to be able to share their security measures with each, or to accept audits.


The issue is actually made even more complex by the lack of visibility of what I call the “services supply chain.” Indeed, when you subscribe a service, you know the company offering you the service, but you have no visibility on who actually delivers the service, in which environment it runs, who handles back-ups etc. Actually, many service providers do not even take responsibility if something happens to your account. For example, this is what Amazon writes in its AWS Customer Agreement (dating February 8th, 2011): “You are responsible for all activities that occur under your account, regardless of whether the activities are undertaken by you, your employees or a third party (including your contractors or agents) and, except to the extent caused by our breach of this Agreement, we and our affiliates are not responsible for unauthorized access to your account.”

The lack of trust is quite understandable. How could we overcome this? Well by addressing the concerns of the CIO’s in the first place. And, beyond recognizing the fact that Cloud Service Providers have responsibilities, two things need to be disclosed:


  • That the involved service providers have adequate policies, procedures and technologies to ensure appropriate levels of security in the delivery of their services
  • That the processes and procedures of all service providers involved in the delivery of a specific service ensure an appropriate level of end-to-end security for the service as a whole

So, for each service provider involved in the delivery of the service, their overall security procedures need to be looked into, addressing external intrusion as well as segregation of tenants and their assets within the environment. And then, for each service, the security of the interface points between the portions of the service delivered by each provider needs to be addressed.


How can we best do this? There are fundamentally two possibilities, either setting-up a certification process, or having an independent organization auditing, reviewing and rubberstamping the security measures implemented. Let’s look at the pros and cons of both.


A certification process would require a clear description of what is being certified and how it is being done. Cloud being a fast moving technology that has many different use cases, it will be difficult to clearly highlight the certification process. Also, a deep knowledge on cloud will be required to perform the certification process.


It may be more appropriate to have an independent entity focused on auditing cloud services and rubberstamping them. Ideally, one or a couple entities would be set-up worldwide to perform just that function, assessing the level of security of service providers and the services they propose. Whether those are linked to the US Federal Government and the EU, or whether they are set-up by the industry remains to be seen, but they should work in close relationship with key authorities to ensure alignment between government policies and industry capabilities. I would also argue that such entity should take advantage of the work already performed by teams focusing on cloud, including the Cloud Security Alliance, NiST, ENISA, ISO and a number of local entities, and link closely with them moving forward.

Establishing standards, certifying and auditing service providers are not enough however. We have a massive education job to do to explain users of public cloud services what can go wrong and why they should pay attention.

Word has gotten out that the latest Sony breach was actually initiated from Amazon Web Services, so not only do users feel exposed due to lack of transparency, it now appears that the humongous capacity available in public clouds facilitate cybercrime. Public cloud adoption requires this to be addressed.


This will be sorted out, but it will take time and require recognition by both politicians and the industry that something needs to be done. In the meantime, can public cloud clients find other platforms that provide them with what I talked about?


Our answer is yes. We call them “Enterprise Class Cloud Services.” These are services for which the security processes, procedures and technologies can be audited, that require the signature of a thorough contract with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and the definition of service level agreements. HP’s Enterprise class cloud service is called ECS-Compute. So, next time you are looking for a cloud service provider, keep this in mind.


Related blog posts:


 Get even more insights on cloud computing from me and my colleagues, by visiting the Grounded in the Cloud blog.

Tags: public cloud
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  • I’m a Global Strategist, a certified (PMI) Project Manager, specializing in business to IT alignment, agility consulting, Infrastructure Transformation and Strategic Architecture for Big Data, Mobility, Private Cloud, Unified Communications and Collaboration. I drive the strategy, vision and content of strategic consulting services in the Big Data IT Infrastructure services area at HP. As part of this, I meet with senior level customers to understand their challenges, conduct workshops to determine future vision and roadmaps as well as presenting at industry and analyst events.
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  • Having joined HP in 2003 Ian Jagger is the world-wide marketing and program manager for HP Technology Consulting's Strategic Consulting Services, Critical Facilities Services and Energy and Sustainability Management Services, as well as emerging IT services Prior to his current role, he served as the HP Services Marketing Manager for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, having joined HP in a similar role in the Middle East. Prior to HP Jagger had a 15 year international sales career, culminating in being Sales and Marketing Director for Steelcase Inc addressing Northern Europe before focusing more specifically on marketing. His initial focus was consultancy and interim marketing management, primarily for small to mid-sized customers based or looking to expand in the Middle Eastern region. Immediately prior to joining HP he was a strategic marketing consultant addressing investment targets for a technology fund. Born in Rochdale, United Kingdom, Jagger holds an honors bachelor of science degree in economics and a degree in social psychology from Loughborough University, England. He also holds a Masters Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a Chartered Marketer. He has one daughter and lives in Cary, North Carolina.
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  • Tari is a Distinguished Technologist with 30 years of IT and cyber security experience. He is dual board certified in information security/business continuity and is responsible for a wide range of management and technology consulting services encompassing information security, disaster recovery, privacy, and risk management. His problem-solving skills, knowledge of various technology platforms, compliance statutes, industries, as well as his experience in deploying defense-in-depth and InfoSec Program solution architectures is commonly applied when advising CIOs/CISOs as well as leveraged in numerous HP client engagements throughout the world. Tari has designed, built, and managed some of the world’s largest InfoSec programs allowing them to defend against even the most aggressive attackers.
  • I provide technical consulting services at all phases including analysis, planning, design and implementation. I have a wide range of experience in WAN and LAN technologies, as well as providing security solutions and deploying operating system infrastructure. Besides working directly with clients to deploy technology in their data centers, I also find myself architecting or discussing solutions with a business’s chief information officer, helping to lay out a roadmap for the coming years.
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