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Opinions expressed on this blog reflect the writer’s views and not the position of the Capgemini Group

Sarah Palin hack damages the cloud?

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On the face of it, the apparent hacking of Sarah Palin’s Yahoo mail account may have hurt the cloud’s onward march into enterprise credibility. With thanks to the head of enterprise architecture of one of the organisations I’m collaborating with for sharing the link, here’s a well written perspective on the hack itself. I’ve also had a couple of colleagues mention, quite rightly, that this high profile event serves as a timely reminder for us to think very carefully about the cloud’s enterprise viability. By using services in the cloud to hold corporate data, as opposed to within our corporate walls, the concern is we are automatically exposing the corporate to additional risk. And it is a concern we must take seriously. But this is far from the full story. Computer hacking is as old as computers, and social engineering as old as, well, people. The argument often goes that by definition a service in the cloud has ubiquitous potential access for both the authorised and the hackers alike, whereas the corporate network has restricted access (to employees) and so hacking is intrinsically harder. The reality is somewhat different. In fact, when you assume any real level of connectivity (and which business can afford not to be connected), the security model of the Web is intrinsically more secure than the security model pre-Web most corporates have in place today – ask your trusted security expert about application centric and moat security compared with document centric and de-perimeterisation security. Many years ago, the best and brightest security experts figured out that, while there are many levels of security (as they went on to describe in the Orange Book), if you want the best level of security over your data, you have to put your computer in a bunker with cameras recording who uses it and whatever you do you never ever, under any circumstances, connect it to a network. Back in the mainstream world, the technical aspects aren’t perhaps the most important factors here. The real issue is not with the cloud, it is of course with us, the ‘wetware’. Let’s flip this around and imagine for a moment you’ve responsibility for information security for your organisation. (Go on, really try it…!) Imagine it’s your first day in the job and you’re sat in front of a big, horizontal slider control. It’s the security control for the corporation and it can be set to ‘default deny’ – which means no-one can do anything unless they have explicit permission signed in triplicate and approved by a corporate bureaucracy prized for its ‘beware of the leopard’ signs, or default allow which means anyone can access and share absolutely anything, and everyone is given 24 hour access to a good corporate lawyer. The slider is set bang in the middle. On the left the label says ‘default deny’, and on the right label says ‘default allow’. Which way do you move the slider and how far? This is perhaps one of the toughest decisions faced by corporate and government information security policy makers - just where does security policy start on this security continuum? What we do know is that too much technical security is as risky as too little – perhaps even more so. When corporate IT takes too much of a default deny stance, people getting on with their jobs tend to find workarounds which unwittingly weaken security. If you’ve been following events in the UK recently, memory sticks come very much front of mind. In the end, people tend to behave more responsibly when given more responsibility. And not connecting to the world for a business or government is a non-option. So for me, if I had my hands on the lever, we'd embrace the cloud while sliding the slider to the right. This might sound like information security suicide, but I think it’s the way go. But wherever you’re at personally in the debate, connectivity is here to stay and I hope the Sarah Palin hack helps us think about the human elements before we get too lost in the technical mist of the cloud.

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C. Bate

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