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Security The Internet IT

Security In the Ether 93

theodp writes "Technology Review's David Talbot says IT's next grand challenge will be to secure the cloud — and prove we can trust it. 'The focus of IT innovation has shifted from hardware to software applications,' says Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson. 'Many of these applications are going on at a blistering pace, and cloud computing is going to be a great facilitative technology for a lot of these people.' But there's one little catch. 'None of this can happen unless cloud services are kept secure,' notes Talbot. 'And they are not.' Fully ensuring the security of cloud computing, says Talbot, will inevitably fall to emerging encryption technologies."
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Security In the Ether

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  • by bschorr ( 1316501 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:26PM (#30564006) Homepage
    Part of the problem is that with Cloud Computing you have a much broader set of "enemies" to secure your data from. It's naturally in the interests of cloud/SaaS providers, who are selling an increasingly commodity product, to look for ways to cut their costs. They have price pressure from consumers and competitors so like any business you can bet they're looking for the cheapest providers they can for the services they require. Unfortunately that cost-cutting and corner-cutting will lead to new and different security challenges.

    For example: all but the largest will be outsourcing their data centers. And when they outsource that storage will they find the same sort of pricing structures, perhaps on a different scale, that everybody else does - it is attractive, from a price perspective, to off-shore that data to places where it's just cheaper to run. One of the strengths of the Internet is how it shrinks the planet in that regard. But there has recently been a big debate about whether or not the 4th Amendment in the U.S. protects hosted e-mail from search and seizure by the U.S. government. What does the 4th Amendment in Malaysia protect against?

    What if your biggest competitor in your particular industry is a Chinese company and your Cloud provider decides to store your data on a server located in China. Do you suppose the Chinese gov't might be able to access (or monitor) your data and provide any of it to their company?

    Even if your data stays on a domestic server and your business is entirely legitimate - most Cloud providers are multi-tenant (that's the economy of scale that helps them keep prices down). What if one of the other tenants on that server is doing something naughty and the government decides to seize the server to go after them. Will your data be safe and protected? They're the government, right? OF COURSE your data will be handled properly. :-) Uh huh.

    Another big topic is document retention. You want to keep documents as long as you need to and then expire those documents. Will your SaaS/Cloud provider respect your document retention policies? Or are you going to discover, hopefully not after being served with a discovery request, that they actually have copies of your expired documents in cache or on backups somewhere that they never destroyed?

    There are a LOT of new security issues that come up when you essentially put your data at arm's length with no real idea of where it's physically stored or who has access to those servers. I'll close with a quote:

    "If (CIO) Randy Mott told me 'Put the general ledger up in the Cloud' I'd say 'Go back to work, we're not doing that."
                -Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett Packard-
    • by hitmark ( 640295 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:23PM (#30564366) Journal

      in other words, encrypt, encrypt encrypt.

      i am really considering printing public key barcodes on business cards, and refuse to accept mails that are not encrypted...

      as it is right now, people are mentally considering email like enveloped mail, while in networking terms its more like postcards. I wonder how much this can be blamed on mail software that shows unread mail as unopened envelopes...

      • True; encryption is one important piece of the pie. But, in the example the GP gave, if the data still exists in a backup somewhere it is still subject to discovery requests and, encrypted or not, you will have to divulge it in an unencrypted form. Also, the encryption won't protect you in the case of a government seizing the server - you are still "down" for whatever function was being provided by that server. In other places you may find that it is illegal to import certain encryption technologies. Are yo
        • by hitmark ( 640295 )

          so in other words, we are looking at a piece of technology that in the long run will have to force some kind of one world government, or else the net will be basically undone by the mess of laws and regulations that makes up the nations of this planet?

          • Or you just keep a closer hold on your data and don't give it to companies that are going to, for the purposes of cutting their own operational costs so they can make a bigger profit, send your data to far-flung (and possibly hostile) nations to be stored.
          • by jc42 ( 318812 )

            so in other words, we are looking at a piece of technology that in the long run will have to force some kind of one world government, or else the net will be basically undone by the mess of laws and regulations that makes up the nations of this planet?

            I think you've got it. But we should add that, although that global "government" (or more likely, a treaty association) may pass laws that protect your data from prying corporate eyes, it certainly won't pass laws that protect your data from prying government

        • by Otterley ( 29945 )

          Whether the data is in the cloud makes no difference with respect to discovery requests. If you are served a discovery subpoena, you have to turn over the data whether it's in the cloud or not.

          The difference is that under the Stored Communications Act, the provider can turn it over to the Government without notifying you. That's what has most data security experts nervous about cloud storage.

          • Correct. And because of multi-tenant arrangements it's possible that your data could be included, accidentally or otherwise, if the provider is complying with a discovery request for another tenant.

            Or worse, an overly broad discovery request could sweep your data up in it.

            Imagine if the cops came to serve a search warrant on your neighbor but, perhaps because they didn't understand the underlying infrastructure, they just decided to search the whole block.

            Can't happen? Unlawful search and seizure? What if
    • by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:22PM (#30564686)

      Cloud computing violates the first rule of security: Don't let the data be accessible in any shape or form to those not authorized. It goes with one of the fundamental rules of the Internet which is often ignore:, don't put anything on a Net accessible computer that you would be afraid of it ending up linked off of 4chan.

      Cloud computing has some seductive properties for PHBs: It is just a network jump away through an API, requires no dedicated equipment on the client site, and the big named company salespeople who play in the same foursome at the golf course sell the stuff.

      However, if one drops the smoke and mirrors, there isn't much difference between cloud storage and FTP-ing files onto a remote site.

      So, what does one do? Before someone states "encrypt it!" one has to know that there are two parts to encrypting:

      First is choosing the algorithms (AES-256, and if worried about an AES crack, chain AES and Serpent or Twofish [1]) and how they are implemented (ECB bad, XTS good). You also add to this how one can tell if the key is valid, and one of the most secure ways is to have the key use a salt, decrypt part of the cyphertext, and check it against a known value. TrueCrypt does this when validating if a filesystem is OK to mount.

      The second part is not as obvious, but it means as much to secured data as the cypher: Key management is where you feel the burn. The simplest key management is having some random passphrase the maximum length allowed stored in a file on a USB flash drive and printed out for safekeeping. However, this runs you into the same issues as using WPA2-PSK, if the key is divulged on one area, the whole security of the system is now compromised.

      Which means that you have to have a system of subkeys where the keys will decrypt the master key, similar to how PGP stores multiple passphrases and public key information to open a PGPDisk. You can give everyone a different passphrace to remember, or you can give them some type of smart card that unlocks the information. If a passphrase is divulged, it will suck, but given time, it can be removed from the authorized list.

      Don't forget not just using one volume key for the data, one needs to use a different one every so often, so a compromised subkey which allows someone to slurp up the main decryption key won't compromise everything.

      In reality, after a company goes through their iterations of a key management system, going from passphrases to RSA keys (because passphrases are hard to remember), then going from a list of keys to a full blown PKI with multiple recovery mechanisms, companies usually end up going to a smart card system. Of course, this is expensive and requires an elaborate support structure, but it is the best way of dealing with key management we have. And of course smart cards have driver hell in most cases.

      So, with all the complexity that one needs to have in place for an encryption layer before stuff ends up stored offsite, it gets to a point where why should one even bother? Instead, for a number of SMBs with a non trivial amount of employees, they should just buy tape libraries and a backup program that has encryption. Some drives (like some of HP's) have encryption functionality in hardware. Then after the tapes are backed up, they are either stored in the data center (with restricted access), a tape safe, or an Iron Mountain tub.

      What is the advantage of going back to tape even though cloud computing is seductive and seems like all problems of storage are just an Internet connection away? You know who has physical possession of the data at all times. It is a lot easier to deny someone access to physical media by rekeying locks, yanking their HID card access, or striking their name from the authorized user rolls at the offsite system than it is to deny access to stuff where you don't know even where it is stored.

      With physical media, you have two pieces of security. The physical media itself, and the encryption on it. With cloud storage, ALL your se

      • by jc42 ( 318812 )

        ... one of the fundamental rules of the Internet which is often ignore:, don't put anything on a Net accessible computer that you would be afraid of it ending up linked off of 4chan.

        Well, since most of my files are online right now, the ones I'd worry about being linked to 4chan are mostly the ones that I got from 4chan.

    • by Suki I ( 1546431 )
      Don't we get a larger circle of trusted insiders with outsourcing? Weakest link in the security chain, IIRC. Open to correction and education. Please don't flame too bad?
      • Problem is, with outsourcing, you don't know who the "insiders" are anymore. Right now I know everybody who has physical access to my servers. How do I know? I handed each one of them their key to the server room, personally. I can shake their hands, I can meet their family at the company picnic, I know who they are and where they live.

        If we outsource our data storage into the cloud then I probably don't even know where that data is, much less who can put their hands on those servers. Can I trust anonymo
  • Security aside... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Yaa 101 ( 664725 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:27PM (#30564016) Journal

    Would you trust other companies to manage your electronic secrets?

    I would never, no matter what promise.

    Besides, we all know the track-records of the companies offering this and they are real bad at least in my opinion.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Would you truth other companies to manage your physical secrets? Well, lots of people do. They're called banks.

      • Banks.... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:07PM (#30564258)

        Would you truth other companies to manage your physical secrets? Well, lots of people do. They're called banks.

        I may be wrong here but I'm still convinced my super secret stuff will be safer in a safety deposit box (where I have the only copy of one the two keys needed to open it), which is located behind a massive steel door, encased in layers upon layers of concrete in the cellar of a bank than those secrets will be if I store them on "the cloud". It takes a court order (which isn't easy to get in most places since the banks tend to fight them tooth and nail) or a gang of seasoned bank robbers with a lot of time on their hands and some very heavy equipment to lift my secrets from that vault. On "the cloud" the only thing standing between my secrets and Russian mafia hackers is a badly paid marginally competent sysadmin in an IT sweatshop in India.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I trust several companies to manage my physical secrets:

        Iron Mountain manages tapes and offsite stuff.
        My bank manages the pathetically small amount I have in checking, as well as allows me to store crucial files in a safe deposit box.
        U-haul manages a storage I have.

        However there is a difference between physical secrets and electronic ones: If someone tries to mess with the stuff I have in storage, it will be evident. Either via a broken seal, a cracked off padlock, a broken label, or some other means. Th

      • There are a few differences though, the primary one being that money, unlike data, is fungible. If a bank goes out of business you just care that you get an equal amount of your money back. Doesn't have to be the exact same currency.

        If your SaaS provider goes out of business it's not really a good substitute for them to say "Here's 213MB of data. It's not the same data you gave us, but it's the same amount so that's good enough, yes?"

        Along the same lines, if your bank has a security screw-up and reveals y
    • by selven ( 1556643 )

      I wouldn't put my private data up even onto a cloud of a company I trust completely. It could still get PATRIOT Acted into the hands of pretty much everyone who I don't want to see it.

      • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

        Don't forget: The US isn't the only company with a USAPATRIOT-like law.

        Store data on an Elbonian server, and the data is available to their intel agencies and law enforcement (who likely will use the data to help their companies compete, or if they don't like the West, direct attackers to soft targets.)

        Those archives of tax records stored on a cloud? Better hope your encryption is tight, not just now, but can stand attacks 20 years from now. I'm sure that in 20 years, AES will have cracks starting to sho

      • by dkf ( 304284 )

        I wouldn't put my private data up even onto a cloud of a company I trust completely.

        And you're going to pay to maintain your own hardware and software installations as an upshot of that choice. As long as you're willing to deal with the consequences, your decision is fine. The only time there's a problem with the cloud is when you're forced into using it for your private data because there's no choice. (But then again, that's generally when there's a monopoly about instead of a free market...)

        BTW, successful cloud providers are probably more likely to take good care of your data than some

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          And you're going to pay to maintain your own hardware and software installations as an upshot of that choice

          Definitely. If it's anything more complicated than a simple website or ftp site it's worth doing it on your own box and renting rack space if necessary. It's come to my painful attention that not even Microsoft can be relied upon to handle email properly so outsourcing that to hotmail is a very bad idea for business email (DNS problems at a Microsoft exchange farm meant that I wouldn't have been abl

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            Note that here Microsoft was hosting the email, so the quality or otherwise of their software wasn't the important part, simply the inability of some people there to manage DNS properly and in a timely manner. It's a bit rough when it takes a week to get to the ticket and fix a simple typo in a zone file for an internal microsoft domain, and meanwhile there is a company that gets no email at all for a week.
            My point here is not Microsoft bashing, my point is even such a large company can not be relied upon
  • by hey ( 83763 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:35PM (#30564058) Journal

    We already trust the cloud a bit. We use the internet to move stuff around. Do we trust intermediate nodes not to eavesdrop or
    steal our data? No... we use SSL. Do we trust the intermediate nodes to deliver our packets on time? No... we wait for ACKs and use timeouts.
    Seems to be this is just like cloud storage. Use it but don't just it all. Encrypt everything. Periodically pull the data back to make sure its OK, etc.

    • that is only for storage - the 'cloud' wants to also process your data. The only appropriate use seems to be when there is no consequence to the data being lost (i.e as part of multiple backups). Even with encryption an algorithm could be compromised tomorrow, by which time it will be too late to prevent your data from being decrypted by disgruntled employees / cloud storage providers.

      When all your data is hosted and processed in 'the cloud' (just offsite, on someone else's machine basically) no amount
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

      SSL is different. The encryption key that is used is used just for the communication, then is tossed. In general, one will not have a SSL negotiated key for last week's bank transaction on their computer.

      Because the SSL key management is about keys that are tossed, there isn't much of an issue with the nodes in between.

      Cloud computing is about long term, persistant storage. The session key that gets chucked in SSL has to be kept permanently somewhere when it comes to storage, and key management is a majo

    • Many banks use multiple layers of security for data traversing WAN links:
      - the WAN link itself is supposedly secure and encrypted intrinsically by the provider
      - vpns run over the wan links. All traffic runs over these vpns
      - data is forbidden from being sent in clear, even though it's running over a vpn. ssh et al are used to secure data that traverses

      The advantage of layering is:
      - if one layer of security fails by accident, the data is not necessarily compromised
      - if one layer of security fails by design

    • The problem here is that the remote machine is decrypting the data. If you don't trust that machine, how can you avoid interception of the data? I don't see a way to fully trust a cloud machine. The only thing you can use untrusted machines/connections for is transporting/storing encrypted+signed data. The encryption prevents them from reading the data, and the signing prevents them from forging it.
  • While they may sound different, the Cloud Computing security problem seems to be almost identical to any other Digital Rights Management problem. Both are concerned with only exposing what the information owner wants exposed to the underlying hardware/provider/user/etc.

    It's just a question of whose "Cloud" you are trying to secure information on, and who the "user" of said information is supposed to be.

  • Microsoft today implemented its 100% Data Confidentiality package for T-Mobile Sidekick, comprehensively protecting users’ contacts, email and messages from any possible attacker [newstechnica.com].

    “Our data security is impenetrable,” said Steve Ballmer, “and will reassure everyone of the data integrity of our Windows Azure Screen Of Death cloud computing and Windows Mobile initiatives.”

    Microsoft plans to leverage the new confidentiality mechanism to finally purge the horror of Vista from the face of the earth, in the same manner as firing all the contractors who knew how to build Windows 2000 and having to reconstruct Windows XP from bits of NT 4.

    Microsoft Sharepoint users looked forward to a similar denouement as the only safe way to scour their hopelessly incompetent organisations from the world in a manner that would not infect successor organisations.

    Microsoft is putting together an outsourcing proposal to the UK government for data protection.

  • Never safe. (Score:3, Informative)

    by fearlezz ( 594718 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:45PM (#30564112) Homepage
    The cloud is not safe. Period. You might secure parts of your data. You can keep other internet users from illegally accessing your data. But as we just discussed [slashdot.org], anyone with (virtual) fysical access to a server can break his way in. You may make it harder by installing full disk encryption software, but you can't even be sure that the bootloader of your virtual server isn't messed with. If you build a bookstore that costs amazon millions of turnover a year, hosting it at ec2 might not be the smartest idea...
    • but you can't even be sure that the bootloader of your virtual server isn't messed with

      Trusted Computing would let you do exactly that. Which is why Trusted Cloud Computing [mpi-sws.org] has been suggested.

      • You can't even be sure that the (virtual) hardware or TPM chip of your (virtual) server hasn't been messed with. Anything that was man-build, can be hacked somehow.

        • Yes, but this requires physical access. The TPM is designed to prevent (or make noticeable) purely software-based attacks. This changes the risk considerably. If you have some confidence in physical security, you're now in a much stronger position.

          While what you say is broadly true, it isn't about absolute security, but about raising the bar high enough. If you make it more difficult to break the security than access to the machine is worth, you've won, even if the security isn't perfect.

      • No, it wouldn't. [schneier.com] At least, not always.
        • If you read the paper in detail, it says that the attacks affect Bitlocker, not all TPM based security. They do not compromise the authenticated boot capability of the TPM. You still cannot pretend to have booted a different system to the one you have.

          There are plenty of things to criticise about Trusted Computing, but spotting boot-process malware is one thing it does very well. It works for the question "has this platform been booted with the correct software?" but not "has this platform always been bo

          • Quite true, but the cloud provider by definition has physical access to your machines, while you don't. It becomes much harder to notice problems when the attacker owns the computer.
      • by sowth ( 748135 ) *

        "Trusted Computing" just means the hardware (and OS) manufacturer "trusts" you to do what they want you to do. Make a competing product or support open source, then suddenly they don't "trust" you and revoke your key.

        It is a code censorship system, not security system. Security can be shoehorned in, but if they allow (or before the manufacturer/OS company revokes the key and it propagates), a "trusted" party could run just about any code they want on a "trusted" machine, including rooting your server or c

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sowth ( 748135 ) *

      I don't get why it isn't obvious, but if you can't trust your hosting provider, you can't trust the server you run at their site. Period. If you can't trust them with the root password, then you shouldn't be hosting with them. They have physical access. Any 20 minute downtime (which you may never notice) could be them pulling the hard drive and cloning it, then putting it back.

      Even if you encrypt the hard drive, most likely they could stage a MITM attack one way or another to get the key. They can go to t

  • For crissakes, people who say something needs to be secure before it can be trusted really get on my nerves. Anyone who's waded out of the shallow end of the pool on security (of any kind) knows one of the fundamentals of security is that it isn't perfect. No matter how good you make your mouse-trap, there will someday be a better mouse. The more realistic analysis is to ask yourself what the acceptable risk is. Or, put another way, you should strive to ensure that the security is more difficult to break th

    • All that you need to do is encrypt the data portion with a key that's generated from two one-time pads of 256-bit random keys, and then wipe out all traces of the pads.

      They the data will be secure, even from you. :-)

  • The problem is you can't trust anyone with your data. For the systems to do something (other than store) your data it must be unencrypted. If it's unencrypted, it's not safe from prying eyes. (Internal sysadmins and external eavesdroppers who have compromised systems in the cloud.) End of story.

    Remember there's two kinds of trust, "I'm giving you they keys to the kingdom and I believe you won't do anything bad while I'm not looking," and "I've locked everything and I trust the locks will hold against mali

  • In the name of probably pretty much all of us:

    1. Unless yo smoke weed: Shut the fuck up about your “cloud“ shit!
    2. iPhones, iPods, iAssplugs, iBubbles, iFails: See point 1.
    3. It is OK to call hooters 'knockers' and sometimes snack trays
    4. It is wrong to be French (Yeah, that was the point 4 you always forgot. ^^)
    5. PROFIT

    • Man... nobody remembers Al Bundy’s 10 commandments anymore?? :((
      Please hand in your NO-MA'AM member cards right now.

      Oh, and we get an Apple slashvertisement *every single freaking day* for a long time now. Nobody cares. Stop it.

      And if you objected to point 1... please hand in your geek card, and prepare for a ass-kicking shitstorm. ^^

  • Shouldn't it have been the FIRST great challenge once things were up and running?
    • No the first challenge was to post as many pictures of cats and biscuit recipes as possible to the cloud as possible. This challenge is still underway, by the time it has been completed everyone will have forgotten what the fuss over 'cloud computing' was all about and moved on to the next big IT craze and not actually implement any sound long term businesses in the 'cloud'.

      Such is the power of IT marketing, ooooooooo look a pretty flower...

  • The future of technology depends greatly on the future of technology. Hooray for buzzwords

  • "Emerging encryption technologies" such as Gentry's doubly-homomorphic encryption (which is what the link points to) tend to have a major disadvantage: they tend to be horribly inefficient. We're talking 6 orders of magnitude minimum, probably more like 12 orders. Unless there's a major breakthrough, this is not going to help.

    Cryptographic engineering solutions, like DRM, might help. But then again, they might not: they require lots of engineering effort from the cloud providers, which they have little i

  • I understand that many people here are critical towards cloud computing. But the majority of people who use computers are not like the people on /. .

    Most people do not know how to make their machines secure. Most people do not know how to encrypt their hard drives. Most people do not know how to protect against viruses or trojans. Most people even do not have backups.

    I agree that for us geeks, the kind of security measures that we apply to our machines make our data safer than they would be in the clo
    • by arminw ( 717974 )

      .....But it is wrong to assume that data is secure just because it is stored locally...

      However, a government cannot get it your data as easily without you knowing about it. That may not matter to many people, but it is important to some.

    • Well, that's a good point. But is "Better than nothing" really what we're aspiring to?

      Wouldn't it be better to find ways to increase the security of the average folks WITHOUT introducing all of the other risks?
  • Why Bother? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:45PM (#30564826) Journal
    I just bought a terabyte drive for $79. Why would I want to store data in the cloud, when I can put it on a drive and have access to it immediately, and at a vastly higher bandwidth than any "cloud"? Why would I want some company to hold my files when I can hold them locally and at incredibly cheap rates and super high bandwidth? Why would I use software in the cloud, when it is dependent on an internet connection, when my internet connection is completely dependent on whether or not my next door neighbour pays his phone bills? And when will my mom let me out of the basement?
    • And all I can say to you Ralph is.....

      "Music these days suck."

      Betcha you cant find me :P

  • Cloud computing is all vapour anyway.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin