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Live @ IBM Pulse 2013: A Cloud Computing Security Roundtable

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At the IBM Cloud Security press roundtable, several IBM Security experts expounded on the issues and challenges organizations are facing as they work to better secure their cloud computing environments.

At the IBM Cloud Security press roundtable, several IBM Security experts expounded on the issues and challenges organizations are facing as they work to better secure their cloud computing environments.

If you’ve followed the headlines recently, you can’t help but notice the constant barrage of news concerning security break-ins at some of the most public cloud sites on the planet: Facebook, Google, Evernote…the list goes on and on.

Yet in spite of the looming cloud security concerns, enterprises and organizations continue to ramp up their investments in both public and private cloud infrastructure as a cost-effective, dynamic way to scale up their IT capacity.

At the IBM Cloud Security roundtable here at IBM Pulse 2013 yesterday in Las Vegas, several IBM security experts came together to discuss some of the challenges, best practices, and solutions to protect against threats and provide security-rich cloud computing environments.

Jack Danahy, director of security for IBM North America, hosted the panel before the gathered industry press, and offered up some prefacing comments to set the stage for the security discussion.

Jack began by stating that 9 out of 10 global CEOs say that cloud computing is critical to their business plans and “a way to increase their organizational productivity, but all also admit security is a lingering concern.”

Brendan Hannigan, the general manager for the IBM Security Division, explained that there are some key basic security concerns around cloud, including the safety of enterprise data, and whether or not it can be compromised or lost.

Hannigan explained: “Cloud is simply another computer upon which we can deploy capabilities for our customers, and we should be able to look at cloud security the same way we do across other domains.”  That includes giving organizations a single view of identity across their cloud environments.

Kris Lovejoy, general manager for IBM Security Systems, discussed some of the key inhibitors to organizations providing more effective cloud security measures, and explained that the cloud is actually inherently more securable than traditional IT infrastructure because of they way it’s designed and the manner by which you can replicate security controls.

So if the cloud is inherently more securable, why the seeming contradiction that nobody seems to be able to effectively secure it?

Because, Lovejoy explained, when you buy public cloud capability you typically have to buy the security features as an added extra, and may customers don’t do so.

“Think about the provider as being a hotel,” Lovejoy explained, “and in each hotel room they have a series of diseases. The provider must provide you good housekeeping to protect you from diseases in the other rooms, and yet so many cloud computing tenants don’t make that obvious investment to protect their cloud applications and data.”

When Danahy asked the panel about what can be done to make executives more comfortable with the idea of security investments in the cloud space, Hannigan chimed in, and explained the rationale comes down to a distinction in the type of data you’re working with, and delineating between the information that is critical and that which is less sensitive.

“When you have a specific application or data set,” Hannigan explained, “there are wonderful opportunities afforded by the cloud because in security, one of the biggest challenges is striking a balance between locking the infrastructure down and providing free and unfettered access to the that information customers and employees need.”

Lovejoy explained it was not dissimilar from the crazy notion of automakers selling cars without seatbelts or brakes. “You don’t want to suddenly discover you don’t have these features going 60 miles per hour down the interstate.”

Kevin Skapintez, program director of product strategy for IBM Security, said that the need for more cloud security standards reminded him of the late 1800s, when fire hydrants had different nozel sizes that required varying widths of connectors for the hoses.

“You have to have standards related to identity,” Kevin explained, “so you don’t have to build different registries per cloud!”

“More organizations needed to also heighten their log management regimes,” he explained, “so that they have improved visibility to see if they have the right controls in place and where incidents are occuring.”

Lovejoy explained that “most organizations have a pretty defined pathway to cloud success.” Many are using develop and test environments and are moving to non-core workloads, allowing a lot of applications to emerge and consolidate on the cloud.

At the same time, she explained, most companies are planning a security operations optimization and that the cloud is a remarkable opportunity. “As we consolidate,” she explained, “things get simpler. Companies need to think about this in the context of business transformation. You need to adopt the cloud in a safe and reliable manner while managing the risk.”

During the Q&A, I asked the panel whether or not all these very public public cloud security incidences we’ve seen in the headlines were driving any real productive conversation in terms of making cloud security more of a priority.

Lovejoy explained the scenario typically went something like this: A CEO would call up their provider, ask for an assessment, give them a threat briefing, then go to a third party standard to see if they matched the security checklist.

But that not enough of them were what she termed “security aware.”

Hannigan concluded, “It’s a classic dilemma with security spending. Security concerns are not specific just to the cloud, and clients are working about losing data, period. The question is, can they invest all the money necessary to adequately secure those environments?”

To date, the answer seems to largely be “no.”

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