Security, Privacy and Compliance in the Cloud

I have been teaching Learning Tree’s Introduction to Cloud Computing Technologies course for almost two years now. I also teach the Cloud Security Essentials course. Each time I have taught these courses spirited discussions have arisen concerning the separate but related topics of Security, Privacy and Compliance.

For example students that come from a healthcare background have expressed interest regarding HIPAA compliance of various cloud providers. In addition people have expressed concerned about things like SAS 70, ISO 27001 and PCI.

As of June 24th, 2012, it appears that Microsoft Azure core services have established HIPAA compliance. This should come as welcome news to anyone considering cloud computing for healthcare applications. It seems that Microsoft have been upping the ante recently with regard to various certifications and compliance. It was not too long ago that Microsoft published their Cloud Security Assessment. Now with this latest announcement they have even taken it a step further. At a minimum these moves by Microsoft will force other cloud providers to step up their games. I expect this trend to continue as cloud providers respond to these concerns to achieve competitive advantage. This will definitely be a benefit to consumers of cloud services.

Fundamentally the issues of Security, Privacy and Compliance in the public cloud come down to trust. Do you, as a consumer, have confidence that the vendor will do what they say they will do to achieve the desired goals on your behalf? In many cases a cloud provider can actually do a much better job of securing your data and complying with regulatory standards than you can. This is particularly true if you are in an organization whose first priority is not IT. It is not always easy to convince people of this, however!

My esteemed colleague, Bob Cromwell, has made what I think is a very poignant illustration of this concept:

Figure 1 Cloud Security Concerns

Twenty years ago many people did not accept the idea that online banking would ever evolve to what it has now become. Ten years (or less!) from now people will wonder what the big deal was with regard to security in the cloud. It will just become accepted as a way in which things are done.

Are there risks? Of course! Have cloud providers ever been breached? Yes. Will hackers become more sophisticated and will there be more breaches in the future? Yes, almost certainly. Does this mean you should ignore what is happening on the public cloud? No!

Cloud computing is here to stay. In a few years, perhaps, people won’t talk about cloud computing as a separate concept in IT. It will just have become an accepted way of doing things to get the job done for the lowest cost. IT resources will have become a commodity. This was best said way-back-when by Nicholas Carr in The Big Switch. It continues to be true today and it will ultimately be proven in the days to come.

Kevin Kell

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