How Safe is The Cloud?


By Zack Sanders, NetEqualizer Guest Columnist

There is no question that cloud-computing infrastructures are the future for businesses of every size. The advantages they offer are plentiful:

  • Scalability – IT personnel used to have to scramble for hardware when business decisions dictated the need for more servers or storage. With cloud computing, an organization can quickly add and subtract capacity at will. New server instances are available within minutes of provisioning them.
  • Cost – For a lot of companies (especially new ones), the prospect of purchasing multiple $5,000 servers (and to pay to have someone maintain them) is not very attractive. Cloud servers are very cheap – and you only pay for what you use. If you don’t require a lot of storage space, you can pay around 1 cent per hour per instance. That’s roughly $8/month. If you can’t incur that cost, you should probably reevaluate your business model.
  • Availability – In-house data centers experience routine outages. When you outsource your data center to the cloud, everything server related is in the hands of industry experts. This greatly increases quality of service and availability. That’s not to say outages don’t occur – they do – just not nearly as often or as unpredictably.

While it’s easy to see the benefits of cloud computing, it does have its potential pitfalls. The major questions that always accompany cloud computing discussions are:

  • “How does the security landscape change in the cloud?” – and
  • “What do I need to do to protect my data?”

Businesses and users are concerned about sending their sensitive data to a server that is not totally under their control – and they are correct to be wary. However, when taking proper precautions, cloud infrastructures can be just as safe – if not safer – than physical, in-house data centers. Here’s why:

  • They’re the best at what they do – Cloud computing vendors invest tons of money securing their physical servers that are hosting your virtual servers. They’ll be compliant with all major physical security guidelines, have up-to-date firewalls and patches, and have proper disaster recovery policies and redundant environments in place. From this standpoint, they’ll rank above almost any private company’s in-house data center.
  • They protect your data internally – Cloud providers have systems in place to prevent data leaks or access by third parties. Proper separation of duties should ensure that root users at the cloud provider couldn’t even penetrate your data.
  • They manage authentication and authorization effectively – Because logging and unique identification are central components to many compliance standards, cloud providers have strong identity management and logging solutions in place.

The above factors provide a lot of piece of mind, but with security it’s always important to layer approaches and be diligent. By layering, I mean that the most secure infrastructures have layers of security components that, if one were to fail, the next one would thwart an attack. This diligence is just as important for securing your external cloud infrastructure. No environment is ever immune to compromise. A key security aspect of the cloud is that your server is outside of your internal network, and thus your data must travel public connections to and from your external virtual machine. Companies with sensitive data are very worried about this. However, when taking the following security measures, your data can be just as safe in the cloud:

  • Secure the transmission of data – Setup SSL connections for sensitive data, especially logins and database connections.
  • Use keys for remote login – Utilize public/private keys, two-factor authentication, or other strong authentication technologies. Do not allow remote root login to your servers. Brute force bots hound remote root logins incessantly in cloud provider address spaces.
  • Encrypt sensitive data sent to the cloud – SSL will take care of the data’s integrity during transmission, but it should also be stored encrypted on the cloud server.
  • Review logs diligently – use log analysis software ALONG WITH manual review. Automated technology combined with a manual review policy is a good example of layering.

So, when taking proper precautions (precautions that you should already be taking for your in-house data center), the cloud is a great way to manage your infrastructure needs. Just be sure to select a provider that is reputable and make sure to read the SLA. If the hosting price is too good to be true, it probably is. You can’t take chances with your sensitive data.

About the author:

Zack Sanders is a Web Application Security Specialist with Fiddler on the Root (FOTR). FOTR provides web application security expertise to any business with an online presence. They specialize in ethical hacking and penetration testing as a service to expose potential vulnerabilities in web applications. The primary difference between the services FOTR offers and those of other firms is that they treat your website like an ACTUAL attacker would. They use a combination of hacking tools and savvy know-how to try and exploit your environment. Most security companies  just run automated scans and deliver the results. FOTR is for executives that care about REAL security.

2 Responses to “How Safe is The Cloud?”


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