This past year, the US federal government announced a "Cloud First" initiative (PDF) across all of federal computing. The goal is to reduce the government's IT service delivery and federal data center infrastructure costs by some 30%, this article in Fierce Government IT reports.
The US government, as well as commercial and state government, view cloud computing as a way to save money and to improve IT security. The belief is that cloud service providers are much better and more capable at IT security than their customers, if you read this Wall Street Journal article. As a result, computing in the cloud offers a safe computing haven.
Well, that belief may be more than a bit misplaced.
"The majority of cloud computing providers surveyed do not believe their organization views the security of their cloud services as a competitive advantage. Further, they do not consider cloud computing security as one of their most important responsibilities and do not believe their products or services substantially protect and secure the confidential or sensitive information of their customers."
"The majority of cloud providers believe it is their customer’s responsibility to secure the cloud and not their responsibility. They also say their systems and applications are not always evaluated for security threats prior to deployment to customers."
"Buyer beware - on average providers of cloud computing technologies allocate 10 percent or less of their operational resources to security and most do not have confidence that customers’ security requirements are being met."
"Cloud providers in our study say the primary reasons why customers purchase cloud resources are lower cost and faster deployment of applications. In contrast, improved security or compliance with regulations is viewed as an unlikely reason for choosing cloud services."
So, apparently from a cloud provider perspective, it is the cloud computing users' fault that cloud providers aren't making cloud security a high priority. If their customers don't demand it, cloud providers say they aren't going to provide it.
But this belief seems to be undercut by the result of the survey: "... [while] 69 percent of cloud providers see the cloud user as most responsible for security, ... only 35 percent of users believe they are most responsible for ensuring security."
This leads to a situation, the survey notes, where "... neither the company that provides the services nor the company that uses cloud computing seem willing to assume responsibility for security in the cloud."
Hackers must be laughing all the way to the bank. However, as a customer of those companies using cloud computing services, I don't like particularly being put at risk because of the discord.
The eWeek article reports that the researchers conducting the survey were surprised by the results. However, given the long history of IT security being bolted on instead of being built into vendor products from the beginning, no one really should be.
Words of advice to potential cloud customers: Caveat emptor.
For customers of companies using clouds: Check your credit score often.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.