Are Cloud Computing Service Providers Shirking Responsibility On Security?

Are Cloud Computing Service Providers Shirking Responsibility On Security?

Former American President Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk at the Oval Office with the phrase, “The Buck Stops Here!” It signified that it was the President who had to make the hard decisions and bear responsibility for them; he could not pass it on to someone else, being at the head of command. Unfortunately, it seems that cloud computing service providers believe in a completely different ideology.

For them, it’s passing the buck that has become an established norm, especially regarding security. While the recent outage at Amazon has seriously undermined cloud computing’s claims of reliability (See: Lessons from the Amazon Cloud Outage) and a Greenpeace report questioning the technology’s environment-friendliness (See: Environmental Challenges to Cloud Computing), several of cloud computing’s perceived advantages (See: Which Cloud Computing Quality Works For You? ) are under serious threat.

Now, a new report that says that most cloud computing providers don’t see securing customer data as their primary responsibility but seek to “pass the buck” to customers themselves may end up vilifying cloud computing further. Especially since in almost every survey conducted to measure the adoption of cloud computing, security has always been the prime concern holding back wider acceptance (See: UK Lags Behind Other European Nations in Adoption of Cloud Computing).

According to the Ponemon Institute’s “Security of Cloud Computing Providers Study” commissioned by enterprise software vendor CA, most cloud computing service providers paid more importance to cost reductions and rapid deployments than to security. The survey was conducted amongst 127 providers, 103 from the US and the rest from Europe. 65% of the respondents were public cloud providers, while the rest worked on private and hybrid clouds (See: Having The Best Of Both Worlds With Hybrid Clouds and Which is the Safer Cloud – Public or Private? ).

According to the survey responses from managers, director and technical staff for the service providers, more than 50% “do not consider cloud computing security as one of their most important responsibilities and do not believe their products or services substantially protect and secure confidential or sensitive information.” Private cloud providers were found to be more sensitive to security concerns than their hybrid cloud counterparts.

What’s more alarming is their nonchalance on the matter, in spite of awareness of their deficiencies. Over 60% of the respondents expressed lack of confidence in the security of their own services.  In fact, 91% said they don’t provide security-as-a-service from the cloud today, but about one third are considering doing that in the next two years.

If the risk of breach outweighs potential cost savings and agility, we may reach a point of cloud stall, where cloud adoption slows or stops, until organizations believe cloud security is as good as or better than enterprise security,” warned Mike Denning, CA Technologies general manager for security. Matthew Gardiner, CA Technologies director of security, struck a conciliatory note, saying that providers were merely responding to greater demand for cost reduction as compared to security. However, many other surveys offer a contrary opinion.

One of these is the one conducted by the same people who did this survey. According to that survey conducted among cloud computing users as compared to the current one where service providers were the respondents, there is considerable difference of opinion between these two stakeholders. Nearly 70% of users said vendors were most responsible for ensuring the security of cloud resources, whereas only 32% of the current respondents held themselves accountable. The authors of the study recognize this discrepancy and state that “different perceptions about who is responsible for securing the cloud means organizations may be over relying on their cloud vendors to ensure safe cloud computing.”

While there is no denying the cost reductions cloud computing can bring (See: How Cloud Computing Can Save You Money), I believe that service providers are being extremely short-sighted by discounting the importance of security. Even if clients do not explicitly stress on security, something many surveys contradict, the providers should consider the long-term implications of this approach. For example, security breaches can end up costing more money than can be saved in the short term.

Therefore, service providers should not neglect the security aspects of their services. We live in a world under constant threat of cyber-terrorism; it’s in everybody’s interest to take active steps to combat it.

By Sourya Biswas

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