SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Maria C. Horton, Andy Thurai, Zakia Bouachraoui

Blog Feed Post

Is Encryption the Solution to Cloud Computing Security and Privacy?

By Guest Blogger Erik Heels, Partner at Clock Tower Law Group, experts in Patent Law

Wikipedia defines "cloud computing" as "the logical computational resources (data, software) accessible via a computer network (through WAN or Internet etc.), rather than from a local computer.  Managing local computers is hard: there are security issues, computer lifecycle issues, accessibility issues.  Cloud computing, ideally, is easy: set it and forget it, access your data from anywhere, outsource your IT headaches to your service provider.  To end users, whether individuals or companies, "the cloud" is an abstraction, a computing environment that can expand to suit users' needs.

What's The Problem?

One problem with cloud computing is that both cloud computing providers and law enforcement agencies can access your files, usually more easily than if your stored the files on your own computer.

Also, security breaches, like the much-publicized Dropbox security breach, during which all Dropbox accounts were accessible to all users without any password protection, can occur in the cloud.

For users, it is important to know whether your data is secure, who can access it, and what happens when there is a security breach.

For service providers, it is important to comply with both US and non-US laws including (1) data retention laws, which are ostensibly designed to help law enforcement entities do their job and (2) data disclosure laws, which are ostensibly deigned to help users know when their private information has been compromised.

Is Encryption The Answer?

Most cloud computing providers (1) authenticate (e.g. transfer usernames and password) via secure connections and (2) transfer (e.g. via HTTPS) data securely to/from their servers (so-called "data on the wire"), but, as far as I can tell, none (3) encrypts stored data (so-called "data at rest") automatically.

So if you want your data to be secure in the cloud, then consider encrypting the stored data.  And don't store your encryption keys on the same server!  It is unclear whether a cloud computing provider could be compelled by law enforcement agencies to decrypt data that (1) it has encrypted or that (2) users have encrypted, but if the provider has the keys, decryption is at least possible.

I have used and abandoned both Microsoft's Encrypting File System (EFS) and Apple's FileVault for encrypting data on my desktop computers.  But desktop encryption is painfully slow! Perhaps cloud computing providers can leverage the power of their data centers to make the performance hit of encryption-decryption imperceptible to the user.  That would be cool.  And would make the benefits of cloud computing greatly outweigh the risks.

Here are three security questions you should ask of your cloud computing provider:

  1. Data on the Wire.  Are files transferred to/from cloud servers encrypted by default?
  2. Data at Rest.  Are files stored on cloud servers encrypted by default?
  3. Data Retention.  If files on cloud servers are encrypted and there is a request from law enforcement to decrypt the data, then what do you do?  Bonus question: What if you have the key(s)?

I searched for answers to these questions for four cloud computing providers (sourced in part from TechTarget's list of top cloud computing providers and Wikipedia's list of cloud computing providers) that are popular with small businesses like mine:

Simple Google searches of these providers' websites provided more questions than answers on the topic of encryption:

Cloud service providers need to do a much better job of communicating what is and what is not secure about their offerings.  For example, I would characterize Dropbox's security page as misleading at best:

"Your files are actually safer while stored in your Dropbox than on your computer in some cases. We use the same secure methods as banks and the military.... Like most online services, we have a small number of employees who must be able to access user data for the reasons stated in our privacy policy (e.g., when legally required to do so).  But that’s the rare exception, not the rule."

Just because your files are transferred securely to Dropbox does not mean they are stored in an encrypted format on Dropbox's servers.  And it is the "rare exception" that is, or should be, the concern of users.

For More Information

Summary

As more individuals and companies move their computer files and computer applications from local client computers (over which they have a great deal of control) to remote server computers (over which they have limited control), security becomes a bigger concern - both for users and for service providers.


Erik J. Heels is an MIT engineer; trademark, domain name, and patent lawyer; Red Sox fan; and music lover.  He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock 'n' roll at ErikJHeels.com.  His law firm, Clock Tower Law Group, represents cool companies such as CloudSwitch.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Ellen Rubin

Ellen Rubin is the CEO and co-founder of ClearSky Data, an enterprise storage company that recently raised $27 million in a Series B investment round. She is an experienced entrepreneur with a record in leading strategy, market positioning and go-to- market efforts for fast-growing companies. Most recently, she was co-founder of CloudSwitch, a cloud enablement software company, acquired by Verizon in 2011. Prior to founding CloudSwitch, Ellen was the vice president of marketing at Netezza, where as a member of the early management team, she helped grow the company to more than $130 million in revenues and a successful IPO in 2007. Ellen holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Harvard University.

Latest Stories
"At the keynote this morning we spoke about the value proposition of Nutanix, of having a DevOps culture and a mindset, and the business outcomes of achieving agility and scale, which everybody here is trying to accomplish," noted Mark Lavi, DevOps Solution Architect at Nutanix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), which enables organizations to seamlessly run in a hybrid cloud model (public + private cloud), is here to stay. IDC estimates that the software-defined networking market will be valued at $3.7 billion by 2016. Security is a key component and benefit of the SDDC, and offers an opportunity to build security 'from the ground up' and weave it into the environment from day one. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Reuven Harrison, CTO and Co-Founder of Tufin, ...
Historically, some banking activities such as trading have been relying heavily on analytics and cutting edge algorithmic tools. The coming of age of powerful data analytics solutions combined with the development of intelligent algorithms have created new opportunities for financial institutions. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Sebastien Meunier, Head of Digital for North America at Chappuis Halder & Co., discussed how these tools can be leveraged to develop a lasting competitive advantage ...
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
"We were founded in 2003 and the way we were founded was about good backup and good disaster recovery for our clients, and for the last 20 years we've been pretty consistent with that," noted Marc Malafronte, Territory Manager at StorageCraft, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In their Day 3 Keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, and Mark Lav...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settl...
According to the IDC InfoBrief, Sponsored by Nutanix, “Surviving and Thriving in a Multi-cloud World,” multicloud deployments are now the norm for enterprise organizations – less than 30% of customers report using single cloud environments. Most customers leverage different cloud platforms across multiple service providers. The interoperability of data and applications between these varied cloud environments is growing in importance and yet access to hybrid cloud capabilities where a single appl...
@CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX, two of the most influential technology events in the world, have hosted hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors since our launch 10 years ago. @CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX New York and Silicon Valley provide a full year of face-to-face marketing opportunities for your company. Each sponsorship and exhibit package comes with pre and post-show marketing programs. By sponsoring and exhibiting in New York and Silicon Valley, you reach a full complement of decision makers and buyers in ...
In today's always-on world, customer expectations have changed. Competitive differentiation is delivered through rapid software innovations, the ability to respond to issues quickly and by releasing high-quality code with minimal interruptions. DevOps isn't some far off goal; it's methodologies and practices are a response to this demand. The demand to go faster. The demand for more uptime. The demand to innovate. In this keynote, we will cover the Nutanix Developer Stack. Built from the foundat...
"Cloud computing is certainly changing how people consume storage, how they use it, and what they use it for. It's also making people rethink how they architect their environment," stated Brad Winett, Senior Technologist for DDN Storage, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Sold by Nutanix, Nutanix Mine with Veeam can be deployed in minutes and simplifies the full lifecycle of data backup operations, including on-going management, scaling and troubleshooting. The offering combines highly-efficient storage working in concert with Veeam Backup and Replication, helping customers achieve comprehensive data protection for all their workloads — virtual, physical and private cloud —to meet increasing business demands for uptime and productivity.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessio...
"NetApp's vision is how we help organizations manage data - delivering the right data in the right place, in the right time, to the people who need it, and doing it agnostic to what the platform is," explained Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate for NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
A look across the tech landscape at the disruptive technologies that are increasing in prominence and speculate as to which will be most impactful for communications – namely, AI and Cloud Computing. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Curtis Peterson, VP of Operations at RingCentral, highlighted the current challenges of these transformative technologies and shared strategies for preparing your organization for these changes. This “view from the top” outlined the latest trends and developments i...