In the Cloud, Don’t KISS.

Remember the Y2K dotcom era when every Tom, Dick and Harry rushed to ride the Internet bubble? It looks like many of us have forgotten our lesson, the instant Internet 2.0 (or is it 3.0?) made a comeback on a cloud, viz. Signing up for Cloud Services like you are applying for a credit card. Follow the herd mentality, you know.

To get smarter, faster, and better, go easy. And then act with speed. That’s how you win the race. Just because your competitor, your associate, or your vendor is moving to the cloud, doesn’t mean you mimic them without giving it any more thought. Think before you ink a SLA. Is your CSP (Cloud Service Provider) capable of delivering standards-based cloud solutions that are designed from the ground up to meet your specific enterprise requirements? Does your Service Level Agreement with your CSP also cover your requirements for monitoring, logging, encryption and security? Do you have the domain specific IT knowledge and expertise and the corresponding environment in place before signing up for a cloud solution? And are your security protocols in optimum functional mode?

Security protocols: Keep a hawk’s eye on them. In CIO circles, they warn you not to KISS (Keep It Stupid & Silly) when you sign for the cloud. KISS refers to common mistakes in an enterprise such as for instance, failing to to register your passwords and individual IDs with the enterprise; turning a deaf ear to demands for secure Application Programming Interfaces (API); and wrongly assuming that you are outsourcing risk, accountability and compliance obligations as well to the cloud.

The ironic party of this business of securing the cloud is the challenge of arriving at an ideal tradeoff between the need of the enterprise for security and the need of the consumer for privacy. The Economist in “Keys to the Cloud Castle” succinctly sums up this dilemma faced by cloud-based internet storage and synchronization providers like say Dropbox, using a house metaphor. Which do you prefer: An access through a master key which is in the hands of an authorized internal security or an access whereby you choose your own security key. The problem with the former is in the key falling into wrong hands, while in the latter case, the danger is in losing all access if you lose the key due to negligence. Cloud security scientists so constantly look to find a middle path that combines privacy with security.

Does this mean that a perfectly secure cloud computing is still a chimera? Happily for us, recent research in cryptography shows homographic encryption – a new algorithm which would enable a Web user to send encrypted data to a server in the cloud which it turn would process it without decrypting it and send back a still-encrypted result – is well on the way to become a pursuit of wow, among CIOs.

A clearly demarcated delegation of tasks between cloud providers and security providers could serve as a rule of thumb for ensuring both security and privacy. Cloud providers should focus on providing access, anywhere, anytime, while security providers should focus on core encryption. An integration of both these services can lead to a seamless and secure user experience. For example, you as an user encrypt your files directly on your laptop/desktop/phones, and then upload the encrypted documents to the cloud.

Bottom line: Don’t sign up for the cloud like you are applying for a credit card. Outsourcing your ideas doesn’t mean you also outsource your thinking..