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Chapter 2 The Trusted Cloud: Addressing Security and Compliance

In Chapter 1 we reviewed the essential cloud concepts and took a first look at cloud security. We noted that the traditional notion of perimeter or endpoint protection left much to be desired in the traditional architecture with enterprise-owned assets. Such a notion is even less adequate today when we add the challenges that application developers, service providers, application architects, data center operators, and users face in the emerging cloud environment.

In this chapter we'll bring the level of discourse one notch tighter and focus on defining the issues that drive cloud security. We'll go through a set of initial considerations and common definitions as prescribed by industry standards. We'll also look at current pain points in the industry regarding security and the challenges involved in addressing those pains.

Beyond these considerations, we first take a look at the solution space: the concept of a trusted infrastructure and usages to be implemented in a trusted cloud, starting with a trust chain that consists of hardware that supports boot integrity. Then, we take advantage of that trust chain to implement data protection, equally at rest and in motion and during application execution, to support application run-time integrity and offer protection in the top layer.

Finally, we look briefly at some of the “to be” scenarios for users who are able to put these recommendations into practice.

Security Considerations for the Cloud

One of the biggest barriers to broader adoption of cloud computing is security—the real and perceived risks of providing, accessing, and controlling services in a multi-tenant cloud environment. IT managers would like to see higher levels of assurance before they can declare their cloud-based services and data ready for prime time, similar to the level of trust they have in corporate-owned infrastructure. Organizations require their compute platforms to be secure and compliant with relevant rules, regulations, and laws. These requirements must be met, whether deployment uses a dedicated service available via a private cloud or is a service shared with other subscribers via a public cloud. There's no margin for error when it comes to security. According to a research study conducted by the Ponemon Institute and Symantec, the average cost to an organization of a data breach in 2013 was $5.4 million, and the corresponding cost of lost business came to about $3 million.

[1] It is the high cost of such data breaches and the inadequate security monitoring capabilities offered as part of the cloud services that pose the greatest threats to wider adoption of cloud computing and that create resistance within organizations to public cloud services.

From an IT manager's perspective, cloud computing architectures bypass or work against traditional security tools and frameworks. The ease with which services are migrated and deployed in a cloud environment brings significant benefits, but they are a bane from a compliance and security perspective. Therefore, this chapter focuses on the security challenges involved in deploying and managing services in a cloud infrastructure. To serve as an example, we describe work that Intel is doing with partners and the software vendor ecosystem to enable a security-enhanced platform and solutions with security anchored and rooted in hardware and firmware. The goal of this effort is to increase security visibility and control in the cloud.

Cloud computing describes the pooling of an on-demand, self-managed virtual infrastructure, consumed as a service. This approach abstracts applications from the complexity of the underlying infrastructure, allowing IT to focus on enabling greater business value and innovation instead of getting bogged down by technology deployment details. Organizations welcome the presumed cost savings and business flexibility associated with cloud deployments. However, IT practitioners unanimously cite security, control, and IT compliance as primary issues that slow the adoption of cloud computing. These considerations often denote general concerns about privacy, trust, change management, configuration management, access controls, auditing, and logging. Many customers also have specific security requirements that mandate control over data location, isolation, and integrity. These requirements have traditionally been met through a fixed hardware infrastructure.

At the current state of cloud computing, the means to verify a service's compliance are labor-intensive, inconsistent, non-scalable, or just plain impractical to implement. The necessary data, APIs, and tools are not available from the provider. Process mismatches occur when service providers and consumers work under different operating models. For these reasons, many corporations deploy less critical applications in the public cloud and restrict their sensitive applications to dedicated hardware and traditional IT architecture running in a corporate-owned vertical infrastructure. For business-critical applications and processes, and for sensitive data, third-party attestations of security controls usually aren't enough. In such cases, it is absolutely critical for organizations to be able to ascertain that the underlying cloud infrastructure is secure enough for the intended use.

This requirement thus drives the next frontier of cloud security and compliance: implementing a level of transparency at the lowest layers of the cloud, through the development of standards, instrumentation, tools, and linkages to monitor and prove that the IaaS cloud's physical and virtual servers are actually performing as they should be and that they meet defined security criteria. The expectation is that the security of a cloud service should match or exceed the equivalent in house capabilities before it can be considered an appropriate replacement.

Today, security mechanisms in the lower stack layers (for example, hardware, firmware, and hypervisors) are almost absent. The demand for security is higher for externally sourced services. In particular, the requirements for transparency are higher: while certain monitoring and logging capabilities might not have been deemed necessary for an in-house component, they become absolute necessities when sourced from third parties to support operations, meet SLA compliance, and have audit trails should litigation and forensics become necessary. On the positive side, the use of cloud services will likely drive the re-architecturing of crusty applications with much higher levels of transparency and scalability with, we hope, moderate cost impact due to the greater efficiency the cloud brings.

Cloud providers and the IT community are working earnestly to address these requirements, allowing cloud services to be deployed and managed with predictable outcomes, with controls and policies in place to monitor trust and compliance of these services in cloud infrastructures. Specifically, Intel Corporation and other technology companies have come together to enable a highly secure cloud infrastructure based on a hardware root of trust, providing tamper-proof measurements of physical and virtual components in the computing stack, including hypervisors. These collaborations are working to develop a framework that integrates the secure hardware measurements provided by the hardware root of trust with adjoining virtualization and cloud management software. The intent is to improve visibility, control, and compliance for cloud services. For example, making the trust and integrity of the cloud servers visible will allow cloud orchestrators to provide improved controls of on boarding services for their more sensitive workloads, offering more secure hardware and subsequently better control over the migration of workloads and greater ability to deliver on security policies.

Security requirements for cloud use are still works in progress, let alone firming up the security aspects proper. Let's look at some of the security issues being captured, defined, and specified by the government and standards organizations.

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