Category Archives: Security

Seven Hidden Truths About Personal Clouds

Seven Hidden Truths About Personal Clouds

Seven Hidden Truths About Personal Clouds 

Increasingly, people are discovering the joy of using personal clouds for a wide range of tasks, such as photo and video sharing, mobile backup, anytime music and project collaboration. Consequently as their popularity increases, people’s skepticism about worrisome aspects, such as privacy, security and reliability, is starting to ebb and growing desire and expectation for anytime access of personal content is trumping concerns.

This article highlights some key potential gotchas that personal cloud providers prefer users don’t know, but, being aware of these is essential as it helps adopters gain the most from personal clouds while avoiding potential pitfalls.

#1: The service is free (except when it isn’t). Every personal cloud service offers free sign up, but the catch is the ‘freemium’ model that relies on users upgrading to a paid service or mining user data for advertising. So even though a service appears free, there is no such thing as a free cloud.

#2: We don’t care about your data (we want your $). Although personal clouds tout their many benefits, they are really offered to sell people things such as more storage, devices, mobile data and content. Or they are offered to reduce switching because your data is in their cloud. This is a modern version of the strategy of giving the razor away for free in order to sell the blades i.e. the aforementioned stuff. Don’t be fooled, keep a close tab on your wallet.

#3: Trust us, your data is safe & secure (unless it isn’t). A personal cloud service accessible by the public has a good chance of being hacked, even with stringent safeguards. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies can legally search cloud information, depending on location and circumstance. You should still not put anything online that you don’t want Uncle Sam or other unknown relatives to access.

#4: We are 100% reliable (except when we’re not). There have been numerous outages and incidents affecting personal clouds, resulting in data loss, despite best efforts to avoid this. It is too costly to 100% guarantee that all data will be available forever. The chances may be slim that you will lose data sometime, but if you really want to be careful, maintain an off-cloud version of important stuff. It’s like dentists say, you don’t need to floss all your teeth, only the ones you want to keep.

#5: Get a lot of storage for cheap (that you probably won’t use). Most personal clouds offer a nominal amount of free storage and a lot more storage for a modest fee. How do they do this without going broke? Is it economies of scale, storing data on low cost media, compression or storing a single copy of commercial content such as movies and songs? The answer is yes , but it’s also a numbers game. Services are based on the premise that a high percentage of purchased storage is never used. When you run out of free storage and upgrade for more, it takes time to fill it up, which for most people, never occurs, for many reasons. When this happens, you are actually paying for free storage for other people.

#6: Having a bad cloud day? (Good luck getting help). How many personal cloud services offer phone support? OK, stop laughing. If zero popped into mind, that would be about right. Many services offer online support, which may be ok for techies. If you are non-technical, you should befriend a techie or there is safety in numbers i.e. stick to popular services because if millions use something, it must work.

#7: We’re not mining your data (but we might tomorrow). Popular personal cloud services are legit, with privacy policies that prevent data from being mined without consent. That’s fine until they change. They can publish a revised policy with fine print that may relax privacy restrictions. How many people read the fine print? About the same as the number of providers offering phone support. So while, you enjoy the convenience of your personal cloud, treat confidential data with utmost care, by keeping it off-cloud.

In sum, these seven hidden truths may cause you to pause before using personal clouds. That wasn’t the intent of this article; it was to make people aware, so they know how far they can rely on personal clouds. As a final word of advice, personal clouds are here to stay; it’s best to make them your ally, which you can do by being aware of potential gotchas.

By Hal Steger,

hal-imageHal Steger is Vice President of Worldwide Marketing and Business Development at Funambol. He has more than 20 years of marketing and business development experience. Steger co-founded and was VP Marketing of Rubric, where he positioned the company as the leader of the new category of Marketing Automation solutions. Rubric was acquired for $370M. Prior to Rubric, Hal held product management and product marketing positions at Oracle, Uniface/Compuware, and other high profile Silicon Valley companies. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan with a double major in Computer Science and Economics, and an M.S.I.A. (MBA) degree from Carnegie-Mellon’s Tepper School of Business (formerly GSIA).

Hybrid Cloud Is The Way Forward

Hybrid Cloud is the Way Forward

No one in the industry likes vendor lock-in but it is something which every enterprise has to live with, in fact, this is how the enterprise software and solutions market was originally designed to work. One of the promises of the Cloud was to break this vicious cycle of locking in with a vendor but with a plethora of Cloud offerings and service delivery models – SaaS, PaaS, IaaS etc. – and dearth of standards, there’s an acute need to federate the way in which different Cloud services talk to each other and learn to live within the same space.

Recent surveys have shown that enterprise – big and small – which have made their transition to the Cloud find it more appealing to maintain a portfolio of Cloud services from varied vendors instead of tying up with a single vendor. One reason of this trend may be the lack of turn-key solutions when it comes to SaaS offerings. For example, somewhere in the stack of a Cloud based ERP solution, you will find Amazon’s EC2 being utilized for compute but this is not the example of a hybrid Cloud deployment.

In comparison to the complexities of integrating multiple legacy and even some recent non-Cloud enterprise systems, integrating Cloud services from multiple vendors and public/private Cloud offerings to create the architecture right for your enterprise is not a nightmare, so to speak. However, the lack of standards in this space will only create diversions and roadblocks for new entrants to deal with.

Compatibility will be the key to increased Cloud adoption and further penetration into the enterprise. One possible route to achieve Cloud compatibility across the board is the Open route, which consists of five O’s

  • Open Source
  • Open Data
  • Open Cloud
  • Open APIs
  • Open Standards

Open Source is already very mature and has been a driving force for much of the enterprise software landscape however, open APIs and open data are two aspects which are still evolving. Open cloud, on the other hand, is key to delivering on the real value of the Cloud – ability to deliver service, anytime, anywhere, through any cloud.

Keeping in view the demand for bringing together and tying up different Cloud services and vendors into one coherent enterprise solution, there are now solutions which offer to remove the pain of data and application migration to the Cloud and then interaction between various Cloud services in a unified deployment scenario – hybrid cloud.

Perhaps one of the selling points for hybrid cloud is the mitigation, if not elimination, of risk. Business continuity and growth demands that sensitive and even non-sensitive business data be secured and when CIOs talk about migrating to the Cloud, one of the primary concerns is often cited as data security. With hybrid cloud deployments, the risk of data security can be isolated from the mix and addressed more effectively, resulting in improved confidence of the stakeholders.

By Salman UI Haq

Mobile Devices & BYOD – Bring Your Own Desktop?

Mobile Devices & BYOD – Bring Your Own Desktop?

Mobile Devices & BYOD – Bring Your Own Desktop?

The plethora of mobile devices with smartphones and tablets leading the wave of a new era of computing, CIOs and IT managers wake up to a nightmare i.e. mobile management. Mobile management spans both, the platform or the mobile devices and content which in the case of enterprises would be sensitive business data which an employee accesses and perhaps stores on the mobile device.

PC sales are in slump while mobile devices have made their inroads, landing right into the hands of consumers around the globe and then strategically seeping into the enterprise. This has left CIOs scrambling to grasp the reality of the modern enterprise where mobile will eventually become the centerpiece in IT – not dedicated workstations, PCs or laptops.

Cloud’s deep penetration into the enterprise is a reality, serving enterprise applications directly from the Cloud has become a reality, delivering on the promises of increased productivity and cost reductions in IT operations. One of the primary implications of this paradigm shift has been the separation of “dedicated PC/laptop” from enterprise application/s of the enterprise employee. This would mean that organizations would no longer be able to have tighter controls on what devices they allow at workplace, probably due to popular demand and the fact that employees will, in any case bring their own mobile devices to work.

Desktop on the Cloud

Beyond these “enterprise applications”, there’s a shift of the whole workstation to the Cloud. With advances in desktop virtualization, there are now a range of new services and startups focusing on providing desktop virtualization solutions to consumer as well as enterprise users. From the perspective of an IT manager, serving the desktop through the Cloud to any mobile device which has a “thin client” app installed is a better position to be in, compared to apps, for example, CRM being accessed from a personal mobile device. When you serve the desktop through the Cloud, you give access to the processing power and a familiar (PC) experience to the users, not to mention the support for not-so-old (I’m not saying ‘legacy’ just yet) enterprise applications. Perhaps, cloud desktop could help transition to true mobile – enterprise applications served through the Cloud with frameworks and policies in place for data security.

Mobile Management –Device and Data

Mobile management spans both data and device and combines, it presents a formidable challenge, one which the industry has yet to respond to and with the market for enterprise mobile applications expected to grow to a $55BB market by 2016, the demand for managing the devices and the data they feed on will only surge. In terms of ensuring safe and secure access and usage of data living on the mobile devices, there will never be one-solution-fits-all option.

Mobile Management, Increased Productivity and Cost Reduction

The notion that the entire or significant part of the enterprise workplace going mobile, IT infrastructure costs will naturally decline may be true but only when you look at one side of the equation. When you factor in the increase in mobile management costs for example, the story of cost reductions does not hold true. This is evident in a survey by ComputerWorld which concluded that in 2011, there were 2.9 IT workers per 1,000 mobile devices. Last year this grew to 3.6 and this year, an estimated 4 dedicated IT workers will be needed for every 1,000 mobile devices. This reflects the growing need to manage mobile, both devices and data.

This post is brought to you by the Mobile Enterprise 360 Community and Citrix

By Robert Smith

Keeping Your Data Safe

Keeping Your Data Safe

Keeping Your Data Safe

Cloud storage has revolutionized the way we keep our files and because most of the established cloud storage providers use the best security and encryption technology available, most of us tend to forget that we have our own part to do in ensuring the safety of our own files. While cloud storage can free us from such worries as having malicious programs sneak into our computer system, there are still practices that we have to observe to keep our data safe in the cloud. If you’re already taking advantage of online storage or plan to move your digital luggage online, here are some tips that can help prevent data loss and unauthorized access to your files.

Use a Unique Password for Your Cloud Storage Account

You may have already read this before but here it is anyway: use a different username and password for each and every site and online service that you use. Again, we reiterate the importance of using a unique username and password for your cloud storage account. Choose a unique password that’s difficult to guess and preferably, consists of a combination of letters and numbers. Doing so can help prevent unauthorized access of your account in case your credentials on other sites and web services get compromised.

Do not Use Easy to Guess Answers to Security Questions

Most cloud storage providers give you a layer of protection in case you accidentally forget your login details. This often comes in the form of security questions. Scammers and hackers, however, can easily bypass this security check if you use answers that are found online. Hackers, for instance, can easily guess your mother’s maiden name by checking your online profile. The smart way to go about this is to answer security questions with fictional answers. If the security question is where you were born, you can answer with a nonexistent “hotel 358”. Do not Share Your Credentials with Anyone

You may be observing best practices to protect your data in the cloud but if you entrust your credentials to someone who does not know anything about safe computing and internet browsing, you may put your data at risk. Avoid sharing your cloud service account username and password with anyone. If you have reason to believe that your account information is compromised, change your login details as soon as possible. You may also contact your cloud vendor’s business phone number to ask them for help and let them know that something is amiss.

Encrypt Your Data

As much as possible, encrypt your data before uploading them online. This can help protect your files in case somebody manages to get your login details. There is a number of encryption software such as Truecrypt that you can use to ensure that only authorized people get to view you online files. File compression programs also give you the ability to password-protect your zipped folders.

Backup Your Files

To protect your data from loss in case your cloud storage provider gets hacked or closes down, it is best to have backups of your data on a physical drive. This may sound ironic because most users use the cloud to back up their files and get rid of physical drives. Just think of it this way: your personal copy may come handy in case you lose your data online. Never, ever keep just one copy of your files.

Use Security Software

You may compromise your cloud data’s security if your own computer system has security issues. Password sniffing malware, for example, may allow hackers to get your cloud account credentials and put your data at risk. Always keep your computer clean and free from viruses and malware by using reliable and updated antivirus software.

By Michelle Simplson

Michelle is a full-time professional editor that focuses on online writing services, specialized in the field of technology like RingCentral cloud phone, business and current trends in the industry.

The Reality Of Government Intrusion Risks For Cloud Businesses

The Reality of Government Intrusion Risks for Cloud Businesses

The concerns around government intrusion in cloud stored data, especially to reveal user sensitive information are amongst the most discussed topics within the cloud community. Although the concerns are often exaggerated, there is some truth in these concerns and sooner or later a cloud service provider may receive request from government authorities to reveal information or processes that are considered private and sometimes regarded as secrets, both in personal and organizational capacities. A more serious issue is that of unwarranted snooping into data residing in cloud and several incidents of data breach from both government and private authorities are in fact unlawful.

After the passage of Patriot Act, security agencies have issued several thousand NSLs (National Security Letters) to companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon etc. to obtain information and private data of hundreds of users without their knowledge or consent. Some other laws, such the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) applies directly to foreign nationals who have stored data in servers or cloud services residing in the U.S. and the law allows the Government to have unrestricted access to their data. The agencies have also deployed specialized infrastructure to eavesdrop on network traffic in order to obtain intelligence rendering most unprotected data vulnerable to leakage, even with the knowledge of service provider.

Hence data privacy breach from Government is a unique case of data protection which requires special measures to protect user privacy. After all, the adaptability of a cloud service by users will rely upon their confidence in the service provider for protecting their data to the same level as they would obtain for in-house storage. In fact, many users are reluctant to use cloud services because of the security breach concerns and the threat of losing control over the data. Additionally, some cautious administrators believe that if the government can spy on their data, so can criminals, making it crucial to add protection layers.  Hence, it is important to make any intercepted data useless for hackers and robust data monitoring and threat detection techniques are needed to be deployed as part of an effective security framework.

Primarily, all data should be encrypted before it leaves client premises and the encryption keys must be maintained in a separate server, ideally placed in-house. A similar technique is employed by Dropbox and Google Drive services which help them secure data against network intrusions. For those requiring extra security, a local service can be used on top of cloud service application that can encrypt and maintain keys locally using cryptographic algorithms such as AES and SHA. Some software already provides such functionality such as gKrypt and SafeMonk that can ensure users against intrusion from service providers or unwarranted government involvement. However new security architectures may be required that balances information security without compromising legitimate access by government to detect malicious information.

By Salam UI Haq

UAE’s Cloud Computing As Security On An Upward March According To Latest Analysis

UAE’s Cloud Computing as Security on an Upward March according to Latest Analysis

Despite ranking as one of the telltale recipients of spam, en masse, on the planet, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has faced all odds and championed the cloud like no other country in the Gulf. A reputable research agency, on tech matters, has provided the latest details on this progress, to the effect that cloud computing security is taking a life of its own in the UAE.

Reports show that the  nation’s gross returns on the security wing, alone, inside the cloud industry was about $8.7M in 2012, and projections indicate this might rise manifold, to hit over seventy two million dollars, by the turn of the current decade. The upshot growth of the security subsector underlies the fact that an aggregation of companies in the logistics and wholesale niches has plunged into the sector, with staying power. There are even hints that as the anti-spam and other safety-in-the-cloud campaigns, take center stage, there may even evolve a ‘cloud as a service’ framework that will be an industry preferential to safety matters for organizations.

Though, the United Arab Emirates with Dubai and Abu Dhabi being its computing hotspots, is still lagging in its unilateral embrace of the cloud. However, the fact that the industry has survived and even shown handsome returns, even in its small scope and amid a fusillade of web threats, means it may yet prove an attractive prospect for the majority. The major tags that are predisposing this future inclination are the benefits the industry brings forth, including the pay-as-you-use flexibility and big data storage provision, besides retailers’ technologies, all accessible in a click.

Impressive, too, for the country’s improvement in the cloud security niche, is the fact that large companies that form the very lifeline of the country’s economy are also in the fold. From gas multinationals to petroleum giants and from financial institutions to government corporations, the tide is turning all the way to the cloud atop the UAE’s Internet.

New Threats for Corporations

Amid the growth of the safety offering of cloud computing in the UAE, there is now evidence that this growth is coming, hand in hand, with grim prospects. Social networking by corporate workers of companies may yet prove the means by which information-phishing, ID thievery and other data hijacking limitations may proliferate into the country’s cloud. Inversely, however, it might also be the means of strengthening the industry. According to the latest survey figures, there will be corporations that will turn external environment’s weaknesses, such as, the social networking sites that their staff access, into ways of appropriating new security apps. Indeed, this is already happening as major organizations start to comb the developer and even in-house markets for the latest stats that can nip web threats in the bud.

Scores by Neighboring Countries

Despite being another high performer on the negative spam list of the world, India, to the south of the UAE, has also made gains in the cloud. Vaunting one of the biggest markets for IT firms among emerging economies that include Russia and China, the country has now a projection for 2013 that traces an ongoing growth margin of 36%, in the cloud market. This will amount into $443M, an increase of $127M from the 2012 figures. This is hardly a surprise because the cloud market is a highly scalable one, like most IT dispensations, and thus can grow manifold. However, how is the security factor faring, in the mean time?

Reports for 2013 show that, with some 11% of the market, the cloud security factor in India just manages to inch at the bottom of its top five cloud priorities. The leader is Software as a Service (SaaS), but what astonishes is that advertising comes before the safety factor. Still, the country may expect an improvement, in coming years, for most companies now combine management with their security wings, meaning a close priority for the latter in any management task.

Thus, as UAE takes a leap forward in the cloud security offering, India is experiencing a hike in general cloud growth. The fact that both countries are spamming receiving ends of the world does not seem to check the improvements and may even turn the dice, in their favor, as they seek applications to overturn the newest security threats. This is why many corporations in the United Arabs Emirates are going a step further by actually marketing their very security prowess, to assure their clients.

By John Omwamba

Identity And Access Management From The SaaS Application Perspective

Identity And Access Management From The SaaS Application Perspective

The SaaS Application Perspective

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has taken the enterprise by storm as the go-to delivery model for applications, and the cloud service is here to stay…for better or worse. Enterprises look to its benefits including dramatic cost savings, app availability from anywhere, and seamless updates and upgrades pushed to users from the SaaS provider.

There’s certainly no trepidation surrounding the benefits that the cloud rains down on enterprises, but what makes CISOs uneasy about SaaS delivery of apps is the lack of control and visibility into who has access to them while floating around in the cloud. Enterprises can obviously call the shots when data and apps are stored on-premise, but the fear of data breaches is amped up when applications and data, and who controls the access to them, is out of the hands of the enterprise and in the hands of the SaaS provider.

So what should a SaaS application developer or provider do so enterprises can govern their identity and access issues effectively? There are three key Identity and Access Management (IAM) areas that deserve close attention.

Authentication

SaaS apps can take several routes for authenticating users. The first is independent authentication with a private user directory and independent user account management. This is a poor choice because it forces the SaaS application to manage passwords and forces users to remember separate credentials for the SaaS app.  In addition, from an enterprise perspective, supporting joiners, movers and leavers (who’s moving in and out of your organization) here becomes difficult.

A variant of the independent option is internal authentication with a private user directory synched to an external user repository, usually Active Directory. While this approach may seem to be fine for a single application, as the number of applications scales, IT administrators have trouble managing the synching, and the risk of a breach goes up significantly when credentials are transmitted outside the perimeter.

The ideal authentication setup for a SaaS app is token-based authentication and SSO based on directory federation. SAML (Secure Access Markup Language) tokens issued by corporate identity providers fit the bill perfectly. Why? A single corporate username and password enables access across multiple SaaS applications. The process is intelligent, too, because user attributes relevant to authorization can be delivered in the token, and “just-in-time” provisioning (automated account setup for a first-visit user) can be supported.  While this approach requires the management of trust relationships between individual enterprises and the SaaS application in question, and at least basic user account management, the headaches of syncing and having hundreds of passwords are off the table here.

Entitlements

So your users have been authenticated to your SaaS apps. That’s the easy part, but effective management of entitlements – what your users can do within those apps at a fine-grained, nitty-gritty level, is far more difficult.

Most SaaS applications come with their own entitlement model, with internal administration of entitlement policies and an application-specific user interface for defining who gets what entitlements within the application. From an application developer’s perspective, this approach seems convenient, but in reality, it provides poor support for enterprise identity and access lifecycle management and compliance.  Setting up joiners and movers or de-provisioning leavers requires manual intervention, and tracking “who has access to what” often means the creation of application-specific reports.

The best option here is for SaaS applications to support an entitlement model that includes pre-defined application roles, and an API that supports the collection of current user-role and user-entitlement bindings as well as the provisioning or de-provisioning of user-to-role and user-to-entitlement bindings.  With this approach, administering user-to-role policies is done by each enterprise outside of the SaaS application, while the runtime authorization enforcement based on provisioned user bindings or user attributes is done within the SaaS application. Leaving policy administration out of the application and up to the enterprise makes change management and compliance much easier.

The benefit of having application roles is that it’s far easier to track and change user access to SaaS apps when each application’s access can be described in terms of tens of application roles and a few out-of-role entitlements, versus  thousands of entitlements.

It’s likely that a standards-based protocol will emerge someday for the API referenced above, but SPML (Secure Provisioning Markup Language) fell short, and SCIM (Simple Cloud Identity Management), while useful for account and user profile provisioning, doesn’t help with entitlements.

Auditing

Your users have been authenticated and can wield the power they’ve been given by individual application roles and entitlements within SaaS applications. But are you taking notes on every move they make within your organization? Probably not!  Automated logging of user activity for each SaaS app is crucial to both the audit trail needed when the auditor comes knocking and the real-time alerting required by enterprise SOCs (security operations centers). If a subset of the application roles and entitlements for a SaaS app is considered sensitive or privileged, it is up to the SaaS application developer and provider to ensure that the use of this privileged access can be closely and continuously scrutinized.

It is important to note that mobile and cloud computing is causing the Identity and Access Management industry to adopt new models and consider new standards.  OpenID Connect and OAuth, for example, are very promising standards, but SaaS applications targeted for broad-based enterprise use can’t rely exclusively on them today.

While SaaS applications, being outside the perimeter, aren’t inherently ideal for meeting enterprise identity and access lifecycle management and compliance initiatives, SaaS app developers and providers should look to these areas as the first action items when rolling out cloud-based applications across the enterprise.

By Deepak Taneja,

Contributor Deepak Taneja is Founder and CTO of Aveksa, provider of the industry’s most comprehensive Business-Driven Identity and Access Management platform.  By uniquely integrating Identity and Access Governance, Provisioning and Authentication, Aveksa enables enterprises to manage the complete lifecycle of user access for SaaS and On-premise applications and data.  Learn more at www.aveksa.com.

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