Public cloud services have been a welcome revolution that has transformed infrastructure provision. However, there are several potential downsides that can be mitigated with good governance.
Software-defined everything has risks as well as benefits
The continuous stream of reported security incidents is a reminder of a key issue with software-defined everything – a slip by a single person can result in significant exposure for an entire organization. A recent incident, like many others reported in the media, was due to a contractor misconfiguring database security settings, exposing sensitive personal information of 50,000 people.
In traditional infrastructure management there are two main things that limit the consequences of misconfiguration. Firstly, network settings are largely independent of what's done at the server level, so a small server security misconfiguration is most likely going to be protected from external access by several layers of "defense in depth," and regular internal penetration testing will find the fault and rectify the issue. Secondly, there are usually at least two people from the infrastructure team involved in staging a new service – a server and a network administrator. As in financial transactions, having two people involved considerably reduces the risk of an error passing unnoticed.
A simple measure in the cloud can reintroduce these checks and balances: only allowing engineers to stand up configurations from a pre-tested library.
All good orchestration tools permit permissions to be limited by role. Good governance of cloud infrastructure will remove "create a new configuration" permissions from operational staff. This one simple step can reduce both cost, by engineers selecting from a pick list rather than manually configuring an instance, and the risk of misconfiguration exposing private data to the world.
Cloud Security: An Enterprise Guide, IT0022-00050 (December 2015)
Richard Palmer, Principal Analyst, Public Sector