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Governance Must Drive All Security Initiatives... Even Cloud

Risk is not unique to the cloud and transcends technology

“The ‘how’ may change, but the ‘what’ is fundamental to risk management.”

I heard these sage words at a recent ISSA (Information Systems Security Association) meeting from a CIO speaking about security from the cloud.

He continued, “Risk is not unique to the cloud. It experiences the same issues that affect any outsourcing or third party deliverable. It is bounded by the same concerns regarding governance—does it meet the requirements of my industry? Is my data free from co-mingling? Are the proper notification protocols in place?”

Do a Google search on “cloud security” and the first entry is “How secure is the cloud?” True professionals know the argument is not about technology or how security is delivered, but rather one of governance. You need to know exactly who HAS access to what resources and if these levels of access are appropriate. You need to know who IS accessing resources, and if they don’t have the proper credentials, you need to be notified immediately to take further preventive action. You need know that protocols for compliance are in place and routinely and successfully generate the reporting for periodic audits. You need to know your rights, liabilities (SLA) for any application or service acquired and that they conform to your risk management practices.

The key asset in all this is data. Data is stored in many forms, via many servers and applications across the enterprise and it is processed and accessed in just as many ways. Effective governance is the ability to have a centralized map of all these information roads and create certain controlled access points, road blocks (encryption), privileged private lanes/public highways…in short, governance is about accountability.

This then becomes an internal process; making sure you have the identity management rules and capabilities in place, making sure the access management provisioning is set. Ensuring you employ the means to view it under a single pane of glass (unified security) in order to make the necessary decisions to better secure the data. You must have context and historical perspective.  The chief component to governance is visibility. And any first course of action would be to enhance existing visibility.

Governance is a critical challenge. Not every “whizz bang” development (be it cloud application or nifty BYOD device) will be able to meet a particular organization’s governance standards. It is up to the CIO or CSO’s due diligence to understand all the implications on how the deployment will affect the holistic enterprise. What liabilities are exposed? What vulnerability gaps does it close? How could it impact user productivity versus potential risks? The answer will not be the same for every company. However, dismissing cloud out of hand is not only faulty and outdated logic, but can restrict the organization from responsible growth.

“When cloud computing is treated as a governance initiative, with broad stakeholder engagement and well-planned risk management activities, it can bring tremendous value to an enterprise," said Emil D'Angelo, CISA, CISM, international president of ISACA and founding member of the Cloud Security Alliance.

This extends to the functions and capabilities of managing security from the cloud (cloud-based security) as well. When due diligence is done, a CIO will have a clear idea of an initiative’s risk versus return and whether a cloud security deployment meets the individual requirements of the company. And, with all things being equal in terms of control, compliance and reach, then the significant benefits of the cloud and its affordability, scalability and agility make it a wise investment. But cost savings should not be the first line of acceptance (although he TCO and ROI are considerable). Any security solution must first prove it is up to the task of preserving IP, upholding all aspects of regulatory compliance and keeping sensitive data sacrosanct.

To gain this level of governance visibility, it potentially incorporates several solution sets that need to work in harmony and do so in real time. It needs to connect (and put into proper context) certification, policies, roles and requests. For example, seeing who has accessed a certain application gives you historical perspective, but, what if it is a retired account or tries using a decommissioned password? If you know within moments of its occurrence, you can trace the attempt and prevent further breaches. Or if a partner accesses certain parts of your database to which they are entitled, but quadruples their order in the dead of night to be shipped to Phnom Penh? Or through an open back door, a “customer” can see and download other clients Tax ID numbers. There are literally thousands of scenarios by which leveraging the cooperative functionality of IDM, AM, SIEM and Log Management creates not only the holistic visibility to drive governance policies, but offers significant barriers to keep the IT enterprise safer.

Security is just as much about weighing the risk/return scenarios as it is bolting the castle door against the enemy.  Cloud security (and to a greater extent, a unified security initiative from the cloud) can be the effective, flexible and strong enterprise balance for prevention and audit. The challenge facing most security teams, therefore, is to provide line-of-business users with the access they need while ensuring that the access is appropriate and does not expose the enterprise to unnecessary business risk. But first you must ensure visibility--and when you know where all your data is and all the multiple ways that it is available, then you can best manage the policies, roles, and security functions that best connects your requirements.


Kevin Nikkhoo
Governor of the Cloud!

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.

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