Privacy in a Public Cloud

[This article was submitted for future publication on]
Remember the skepticism around onlineshopping and e-commerce sites back in the day when the web was young?Everyone was afraid of giving out their credit card information overthe Internet, for fear it would be intercepted. We eventually gotover that fear, thanks to encryption technologies such as SecureSockets Layer (SSL), which make e-commerce much safer today. Thatsame technology also plays a role in cloud security, and that is onething to consider, along with other security issues when moving yourapplication to the cloud.
Publiccloud versus on-premises
You basically have the same securityissues and considerations for deploying applications on the cloud asyou do for running them on premises. The difference is that on cloud,some of those issues are handled by your cloud service provider. Theimportant thing to consider is how far the cloud service provider’sresponsibilities extend, and where your responsibilities as theclient, or virtual machine (VM) instance owner, take over.
First, thoroughly investigate yourcloud service provider’s policies. Treat them like any otheroutsourced service. Check their references. Clearly define theservice level agreements (SLAs) in your contract. SLAs can coverthings like backups, up time, disaster recovery, change management,and so on. Audit your cloud provider or consider third-party auditsto ensure that those policies are enforced.
For example, the IBMSmartCloud Enterprise has many mechanisms in place to offer asafe and secure environment, such as:
  • Firewall and intrusion protection system (IPS) between guest VMs and the Internet
  • IP-filtering technology and multiple IP addresses per instance for enabling security zones
  • Optional virtual private network (VPN) and virtual local area network (VLAN) isolation of account instances
  • Encrypted connections: IBM is isolated from customer VMs through customer secure shell (SSH) keys and server passwords
  • Hypervisor-based (kernel-based virtual machine) isolation with client-configurable firewall rules
  • Public images patched and scanned regularly
  • Patch servers for private images
  • Root access for customers to guest virtual machines, allowing further hardening of VMs
  • No sharing of private images between accounts on the cloud
  • Access to the portal and APIs, which requires a user ID and password
Users must comply with IBM’s stringentsecurity policies, and are subject to regular security scans.
Not all cloud providers offer the samekind of protection, so do your homework!
Image— or instance — is everything
As a VM instance owner on the IBMSmartCloud, you have root access and control over that instance as ifit were one of your own on premises, and you are responsible forsecurity on the instance itself. That means that it is up to you toconfigure access to that resource, install and run anti-virussoftware on it, and so on. Treat it like any other client in yourenterprise; it is just as vulnerable to threats and attack. This blogpost lists several useful links to articles about securing andmanaging your instances.
Getstarted with the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise: This articledescribes how to securely connect to, configure the firewall of, andmanage (encryption) keys for your instances. You should take care ofthese tasks immediately upon creating your instances. Determine whowill need access to your instances, determine the firewall ports thatneed to be open or closed, and be prepared to use and manage keys foraccess.
Why key managementis important
IBM SmartCloud employs encryption soyou can control access to your applications and data in the cloud.However, encryption alone does not guarantee security. Keys must alsobe stored and managed properly.
Securemulti-user access to IBM Cloud instances with VNC and SSH:Provides a detailed description of how to configure cloud instancesand clients for secure access.
IBMSmartCloud Enterprise tip: Integrate your authentication policy usinga proxy: Describes how to create a proxy bridge between yourhomegrown applications and the IBM SmartCloud. This bridge can allowyou to implement finer-grained access control that cannot be directlyimplemented in the IBM SmartCloud portal. In other words, you can usethis technique to control not only who can access, but how, where, orwhen they can access data.
IBMSmartCloud Enterprise tip: Secure access for Android devices:Describes how to set up secure access to a cloud instance for Androidmobile devices.
Cloudsecurity considerations: This good general article is abouthigh-level cloud security concepts. This is just the tip of theiceberg, but it does give a very concise overview.
Extra credit
Model-drivencloud security:This article discusses the challenges of cloud application securitypolicy automation and describes how it can be achieved through amodel-driven security architecture and deployment.

About mirvpgh

Education developer for IBM with one foot in the cloud, and one foot in mobile, while doing a hand-stand on WebSphere. Based in Pittsburgh, PA. Opinions are my own. View all posts by mirvpgh

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