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Onward Through the Cloud…Securely


Over the past couple years anything with the word “cloud” in it has been selling big. It’s been the ultimate buzzword in marketing and has completely clouded (pun intended) the understanding of what cloud-computing actually is these days. If you ask ten people today to explain what the cloud is you’ll most likely get seven different answers. This confusion behind what a cloud actually is has also confused people from a security perspective as to what they should be protecting. If you’re not sure what you’re getting into with cloud services how can you realistically secure it? In this blog we’ll speak about a few of the high points on security while in the cloud.

What’s Driving You To The Cloud?

Before you do anything, you’ll need to consider what type of cloud architecture you’re going to be building. Are you looking for a public cloud, private cloud or more of a hybrid/bare-metal service? This is really going to depend on a few things. Are you currently under some type of compliance requirements, like I don’t know, PCI? If the answer is yes, you’re going to find yourself moving towards more of a private or bare-metal cloud offering. It’s not going to fly on the public cloud from a security perspective or a compliance perspective, if you’re sharing resources with other clients. Also, what will you be putting in the cloud? Are you putting web servers, custom apps, file shares, etc? Depending on what you put in the cloud will determine the type of cloud you’ll need, but having a hybrid solution that allows you to keep data separate from other clients in the cloud is the most important security decision you can make regarding your cloud architecture.

Consider The Risks of Cloud Infrastructure

After you’ve decided what type of architecture you’ll be going to in the cloud, you need to consider what type of infrastructure you’ll be using. Many people that go into the cloud these days are using shared  resources, not only from a storage and virutalization perspective, but from a network perspective. If you have a private cloud or a bare-metal implementation it’s very possible that you’re still running on shared load balancers, routers, firewalls, IDS, etc. It’s here that you need to consider the risk of not owning your own infrastructure. Will this reduce cost? Absolutely. Will it add an area of risk to your network that you can’t control? Absolutely. If you’re on a shared load balancer or router and another client is to get attacked with a DDoS, or has greater than normal traffic hit their site, it’s very possible that you’re going to take a hit on your network due to their issues. This is something which you can’t protect and are at the mercy of the cloud provider to mitigate. If you end up using the current firewall that’s already in the hosting provider, be careful to review the SLA’s of change controls and firewall changes before moving to this type of solution. Even if it’s a hosted firewall that you have complete access of, it’s going to be hard to run rule reviews on these systems without having complete control. Long story short, be careful to buy into a hosted cloud infrastructure model without first reviewing the risks.

 Security First Mentality

Lastly, from a security perspective you need to understand what you’re gaining and what you’re losing by moving directly into the cloud. Are you gaining a more solid security architecture by moving to the cloud? Many companies that start off now would be starting from scratch without a current infrastructure and would be wise to review these cloud offerings. Moving to the cloud can enable better security for these companies, rather than buying all the equipment themselves. But for established companies that already have a security architecture in place, they need to determine what’s going to benefit them most from a security standpoint. If moving to the cloud means they have to limit themselves from performing security at a high standard, they need to determine how to keep the risk down.  Below are a few areas you should consider before jumping into the cloud (this is only a starter list):

  •  How cloud providers are perform DdoS mitigation? Do you own your internet connections (where there’s DDoS mitigation already built in, or do you have to provide a separate service?)
  •  What about IPS and WAF? Will you be able to bring your own, or will you be forced to use the cloud providers? If you do use their systems will you be able to customize them with the rules that you might be used to? Or what about log management?
  • Where are the logs going to be thrown to while in the cloud? Do these providers have the ability to collect logs and run queries on them? If the answer to these questions is “NO”, you need to consider the risk of moving your network to the cloud.
  • Who has physical access to the datacenter while your data’s being hosted elsewhere?Where are the backups stored? Does your data ever get sent off internationally for any reason? The privacy and breach laws are different once data is no longer domestic.

Even with all these concerns, its not impossible to have an secure network that’s cloud based. It does require a little more upfront planning, but moving to the cloud can be done securely if you think through all the pitfalls first. Just like anything else, there are pro’s and con’s and sometimes the pro’s out weigh the con’s. If you have a security first mindset that limits the risk of moving to the cloud, you can have a very flexible network that’s both secure and scalable to fit your ever growing business needs.

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