ghost in the data center

Cloud computing still haunted by security fears

As agencies migrate their systems to the cloud, security professionals are working to shore up the security of these computing and storage solutions.

“If we’re going to move successfully to the cloud, then we’re going to have to change security in some significant ways,” SallieMae's Chief Security Officer Jerry Archer told a crowd at the Cyber Security R&D Showcase hosted by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate

To ensure the security of cloud environments, layered solutions must be considered. This includes instituting resilient operations, continuous monitoring, highly granular access control and incident response. It also means better encryption. Data should be always be encrypted, Archer said: while it's being analyzed, while it's at rest and while it's moving.

The way security professionals think about the network is also changing as organizations move to the cloud. “We’re going to change the scope of where we are as a perimeter,” he said. “We have to know where we are in order to protect ourselves.”

Additionally, security features offered by large cloud providers would be hard to incorporate into older environments. Retrofitting legacy systems with security that meets the same standards as what’s offered by the large cloud providers is “almost impossible,” he said.

While Archer has concerns, he said he isn’t shying away from cloud technology and has full confidence in its security abilities.

“I think what we’ll see is we can create security in the public cloud that is better than any security I can create in a current infrastructure,” he said.

Large cloud providers have created security capabilities that would be hard to build into distributed systems that are, at this point in their life, legacy systems. Retrofitting legacy systems with security system that meet the same standards as what’s offered by the large cloud providers is “almost impossible,” he said.

Northrop Grumman Chief Information Security Officer Michael Papay offered a qualification.

“I think the technology for security in the cloud could rival the security in the current infrastructure, but it only will if people remember to turn it on and use it correctly,” he said.

Alma Cole, the CISO at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, agreed.

“I think it is good that when you look at the major cloud providers they do have lots and lots of secure capabilities. But it certainly still is your responsibility to figure out how you architect security both in that environment and then how you spread that out in a hybrid environment or something else,” Cole said.

For Archer, the notion that having to remember to “turn it on and use it correctly” is a barrier to better security. “You can’t fix stupid," he said. "If you can’t turn it on, then you shouldn’t be there to begin with."

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

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