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Amazon EC2 Failures Are a Wakeup Call for Cloud Customers

Amazon data center crashes

Building Cloud-friendly applications can help your company manage risk and avoid losses when the host's data center crashes

Early in the morning of April 21, Amazon’s EC2 data center in Virginia crashed, bringing down many popular websites, small businesses and social networking sites.

The strange fact is that the outage still ensures that the 99.55% availability as defined in the SLA (Service Level Agreement) is not breached. Let us put aside the other aspects and focus on Cloud services and the new generation of programmers and business who use these services. Though the SLA leads to quite an interesting debate, we will leave that to the legal experts.

More often than not, when we discuss building applications in the Cloud, the basic assumption is that of 24×7 service availability. While Cloud service providers strive to live up to this expectation, the onus of designing a system resilient to failures is on the application architects.  On the other hand, SLA driven approaches are very reactive in nature. In purest sense, SLA’s are just a means of trust between the user and the service provider. The fact is that SLA’s can never repay for losses. It is up to an Architect and CIO to build systems that tolerates such risks (Cloud system failures, connectivity failures, SLA’s, etc).

With Cloud infrastructure, we end up building traditional systems that are so tightly coupled and hosted without taking advantages of the availability factor. These shortcomings maybe part and parcel of software world where functionality takes precedence over all other aspects, but such tolerance cannot be expected in the Cloud paradigm. A failure on part of the Cloud service provider will bring down the business and getting back the data becomes a nightmare when all the affected businesses are trying to do the same.

Accommodating and managing these factors are the business risks, which need to be identified. Businesses that do not envision these risks are sure to suffer large scale losses. The truth is that building such resilient systems is not very complex task. The basics of all software principles have remained same whether they are built for Cloud or enterprise-owned hardware. Mitigating as many risks as possible requires that several basic designs and business decisions be made – while considering the software provider – such as:

  • Loosely couple the application
  • Make sure the application follows “Separation of Concerns”
  • Distribute the applications
  • Backup application & user data
  • Setup DR sites with a different Cloud service provider

These decisions involve software that follows these basic designs and business decision managers who identify various service providers to mitigate such risks. Cloud service will enforce a thinking among the business managers that availability should not and cannot be taken for granted.

These failures will not stop the adoption to Cloud but will make the customers aware of the potential risks and mitigation plans. The Cloud failure will have serious impact on the CTO/ CIO and the operations head. In a non-Cloud model, a CIO’s role has been noted as very limited. The interaction of the CIO with a CTO in the everyday business is much less. These two executives need to work more closely to protect the business and reduce risk.

The best practices for the Cloud application builders are:

  • Build Cloud applications, not applications in the Cloud
  • Design fault tolerant systems, wherein nothing fails
  • Design for scalability
  • Loosely couple application stacks (IOC)
  • Design for dynamism
  • Design distributed
  • Build security into every component

The best practices are necessary for all the architects who build Cloud applications. Do not simply port a traditional application to the Cloud. They are architecturally different and will not take advantage of the underlying services – and most often – will result in failure.

Remember “Everything fails, all the time.” It is time to think and manage risks and not let the SLA stare at you when you are losing business. Be proactive; build Cloud-friendly applications.

The new world on Cloud looks more promising than ever. However, failures can make us realize that functionality without proper foundation and thought process can have serious repercussions. It is essential for every business to review their risks and redefine their new perimeter in the Cloud.

For more information on how Team Aujas is assisting clients with security risk in the Cloud, please contact Karl Kispert, our Vice President of Sales. He can be reached at karl.kispert@aujas.com or 201.633.4745.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Cloud Security, Data Losss Prevention, Data protection, IT security | , , , , , | Comments Off on Amazon EC2 Failures Are a Wakeup Call for Cloud Customers

Data-Breach Risk Is Not Only from Insider Threats

Data Breach Risk

Consider the threats and risks involved when you share data outside your company.

There’s a very large push within the last few years for many organizations to spend their data protection efforts mainly on the “Insider Threat” – the employee or temp with access who decides to misuse or abuse those privileges. While this needs to be addressed; it is possible that some of us may be losing sight of what may be happening on the outside.

The question to consider is: “What about the critical data assets businesses willingly send out to external organizations?”

Delivering data to external parties is, after all, a necessary part of doing business. A bank, for instance, needs to share information with auditors, regulators, suppliers, vendors, and partners. Sharing data is quite a risky activity, with an elevated probability of data loss, and can potentially have a huge negative impact on a firm’s reputation, when not properly controlled.

Here’s what you need to consider when you share data outside your company:

  • Threats

–    What or who is placing the data at risk?

–    The data, as it flows externally from your firms’ environment, is subject to many threats ranging from man-in-the-middle attacks while in transit, to social engineering hacks while stored at the 3rd party’s network.

  • Risks

–    The threats mentioned above create serious risks around a firm’s critical data assets. One is the obvious loss or breach of confidentiality or data. If your firm doesn’t have the proper data transmission controls, such as TLS, SSL or sFTP, the man-in-the-middle threat can successfully materialize the risk of data loss.

–    Such loss can then compound the risks and impact to an organization or entity, via such things as revenue loss, negative reputation, remediation cost, customer notification expense, and loss of client trust.

  • Security Controls

–    The set of controls to consider for countering threats and mitigating risks are not only those pertaining to electronic data protection, such as software/hardware encryption.

–    Think beyond technology – to Social, Governance, Operational and Process controls, to protect against such things as Social Engineering and to ensure other factors are in place including Password Policy, User-Access/Entitlements processes and Data-Security Awareness activities.

The bottom line is that once your firm’s information leaves its own environment, most of the controls you had no longer apply. Your firm’s data is now sitting on a third party’s infrastructure, and is now dependent on their data security controls and processes. This isn’t just about whether the data is being encrypted in transit to the third party, but very much about how that data is safeguarded all throughout its lifecycle. Here are some relevant questions to ask:

  • Have the proper Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure agreements been executed with the third party receiving the data from your firm?
  • Who and how many people will have access to your data while sitting out at a third party?
  • Do you know the third party’s process for giving only the limited and necessary group of people in their environment access to your data? What about the access rights to people outside their organization (such as their partners or vendors)?
    • How are the servers and firewalls at the third party configured to adequately protect your data while in their environment?
    • Does the party receiving the data have the technology and processes in place to respond to and sufficiently investigate a data-loss incident?

These are only a handful of many questions to ask before sharing sensitive information. You also need to take into account various perspectives including technological, operational and process controls.

As an example, a bank business manager decides one day to send the firm’s tax data to their CPA via plaintext email, instead of the approved sFTP or PGP encrypted email transmissions. The email is intercepted at the CPA’s ISP mail server. A rogue administrator at the ISP sees the email with critical valuable data and uses it to tap into the bank’s equity funds to steal $1.2 million.

Per the Open Security Foundation’s DataLossDB (http://datalossdb.org/statistics ) data loss statistics for YTD 2011:

“…a trend that indicates that data loss incidents involving third parties, on average, result in a greater number of records lost than incidents that do not involve third parties. This may be as a result of the type of data handled by third parties, the process of transferring the data between organizations, or other hypothesis, mostly all speculative as little data exists to establish one cause as dominant. The trend is, however, concerning.”

In the end this supports the fact that the riskiest environment for data is one that is not controlled by the enterprise owning that data. Though an insider with the access and intent can cause havoc with data on the inside, the enterprise should be able to implement the proper technical, process and operational/people controls to safeguard its own data. It is when the data leaves that environment where we’re truly no longer in control. That’s when the proper audits, interrogations and testing will assist as much possible.

Concerned about the external risks your company is facing? Let Aujas help. Contact Karl Kispert, Aujas VP of Business Development, at karl.kispert@aujas.com.

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Cyber Crime, Data governance, Data Leak Prevention, Data protection, IT security, Risk management | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Data Protection and Controls – Does Format Really Matter?

Identity and Access RiskNo one can argue that the most valuable asset for any enterprise, regardless of industry (whether military, finance, healthcare) is its Data. Whether that data includes an investment strategy/portfolio, personal identity, healthcare history or national security, it must be safeguarded and controlled.

We’re all familiar with the data lifecycle and related security controls, including storage transfer encryption and effective destruction. But do we also consider the format of the data? Data lives in many forms outside of the regular electronic email, Internet, PC, server or mainframe types that we normally work with. Unfortunately, some of our biggest vulnerabilities live in many other forms.

Printed paper is not the least of those. Scribbled notes, copied material, casual conversations on an elevator, voicemails or even a fellow passenger’s laptop (with the curious snooper watching over) are other forms of sensitive data. The main issue here is that most of us may not view these as “data types”. The truth is they can cause the same amount of harm as a DVD, USB or PC packed with information, and can just as easily land you on the front page. Let’s take a look at an unfortunate use-case to bring this all into context.

Henry S., a database administrator, was working over the weekend to get a presentation finished for his board of directors. His area of focus was his firm’s strategy on the proprietary development of a database-software that would revolutionize the storage and sharing of information with clients. Henry’s developments were ahead of all others in the enterprise and possibly the industry. What wasn’t being thought about was how valuable the information being prepared could be to competitors or thieves for profit.

It was late Sunday night and Henry was just happy finalizing and saving everything. Now he just had to print it. At about 11:30 that evening he found himself printing 20 color copies of his “master presentation” at the neighborhood copier. He felt the data he was bringing with him was safe since he brought it on an encrypted USB drive. At one point Henry’s copying streak went awry – after about 10 copies the machine began spitting out green paint. Henry wasn’t panicking – he knew there was plenty of time and his current set of copies were safe. After getting assistance and finishing the job on another machine, he found himself in the middle of a chaotic frenzy of paper crazily thrown all around his area. He was able to get things cleaned up, but what he wasn’t aware of was the 5 copies he’d left at the malfunctioning printer. Though a good multi-tasker, Henry was exhausted, yet practically livid with the thought of next day’s presentation and the effects it would have on his career and department. All he could think about was getting the deck right and being well prepared for the audience.

He got home with all the paperwork in his backpack and passed out. The next day at the presentation all went well, the crowd loved it and Henry was on top of the world. There’d been a slight mishap though, since there weren’t enough hard copies to go around for everyone at the meet. That was weird – he was sure he’d made enough. Everything had gone well, except for those 5 mysteriously missing copies of the presentation. What then seemed to be a small loss, within the next few days landed Henry and his firm on the front page of the paper.  The headline read “Leading Financial Firm’s Innovative Software Idea up for Grabs at Local Print Shop” – not quite the fabulous outcome he’d hoped for. Turns out that whoever got a hold of the lost copies managed to re-engineer the software and get it to market. To make things worse, the data-loss incident was widely publicized; the fall-out including Henry’s suspension and investigation, a full 10 point drop in his firm’s stock price and a long-term negative reputational impact for his firm.

Data in any format is an extremely critical asset and liability when not controlled or secured properly. The effect of negligence over that asset can be detrimental to a career, an innovative idea and possibly an entire franchise. Proper due diligence and controls for the entire lifecycle of the data; be it either encryption while in storage or transit for electronic material, or locks/safes for storage and shredding for destruction of hardcopy material.

Had Henry only given a bit of thought to these things as a top priority, reputations and careers may have been saved (and likely excelled astoundingly). Instead everyone had to run for cover, hope to not get hit by the shattering fallout, and hope to keep their shirts on their backs.

Need help with your company’s data protection programs? Contact Karl Kispert, Aujas VP of Sales, at karl.kispert@aujas.com.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Data protection, IT security | , , , , | Leave a comment