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Serious Price Tag Overshadows Cloud Computing

Cloud computing promises cost savings, increased flexibility and improved remote access to resources, but these advantages come at a cost, a researcher warned at the Black Hat Briefings security conference.

Data and application owners can lose control over their resources, the perimeter protecting them, and the access controls that allow their use, said Alex Stamos of iSEC Partners. Owners also can lose important legal protection by turning data over to a third-party host, he added.

Cloud computing is one of the big new things in computing. But the technology, the rules governing it and even the language describing it are not mature, Stamos said.

"The term 'cloud computing' is useless at this point," he said. It does not mean virtualization or remote backup. "Most stuff called cloud computing isn't. It is more of a marketing term now."

He defined cloud computing as distributed, general-purpose hosts holding applications and distributed data storage, with software tying it together to enable it all to move smoothly and reliably from one system to another.

Stamos predicted a cloud bubble burst as users discover that it does not necessarily provide all of the ease of use and returns being promised.

Although perimeter security is now recognized as inadequate IT protection by itself, its loss is a threat, Stamos said. "Making something a little harder" for hackers "has value."

Focusing on Software as a Service (SaaS), one element of cloud computing, he said most providers do not have the audit logs needed to recover from a serious breach. Access controls can be reclaimed to a degree by using a single sign-on scheme that returns control of policies and enforcement to the user, but this also eliminates some of the advantages of cloud computing.

One area often not considered in cloud computing is the possible exposure to legal liability. Most agreements with service providers relieve the host of any liability, but they also prohibit malicious traffic, which can prevent a data owner from conducting penetration testing of the systems holding the data.

Under current federal policy, there also is little protection to the data owner from law enforcement or regulatory search and seizure. Data can be seized without warrant and without notice to the owner if it is hosted by a third party, Stamos said.

"You have massively less protection if you are cloud computing than if you own your own machines," he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Aug 4, 2009 Kevin

The concept of cloud computing is still valid however the current pricing released by MS on their implementation makes it not viable for my needs.

Tue, Aug 4, 2009 Derik Pereira

It seems that we are looking at cloud or no cloud. There are indeed some types of applications and data that should never go into a cloud. This goes to back to a basic question ... how do I select candidate applications to migrate to a cloud? I remember when the same questions were addressed during the grid computing era. In fact, I pulled my old methodology paper and found that with a little tweaking I can perform such consulting for the cloud.

Tue, Aug 4, 2009 Dave

How do you select a SaaS provider that can consistently deliver sustainable service levels, secure infrastructure and business continuity?
Leading experts from public and private organisations will discuss this and other key industry issues at the Business Cloud Summit in December. More details here: http://www.businesscloud9.com/summit

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