A Christmas Present From MIT?

As much as the cloud computing model makes sense to me, my security sensibilities cry out about information risk every time I start to consider actual implementation for data of value across an enterprise.

A model which has always made sense has been to place only encrypted data in the cloud, holding the keys locally. This solution gives you control over data access, bypassing any Patriot Act concerns, but allows realization of the benefits of a shared, cloud infrastructure. It has always been recognized, however, that this solution has a number of drawbacks, such as:

  • The immense corporate sensitivity of the encryption keys utilised. These keys become essential to doing business.  If they are corrupted, lost or held hostage by hacktivists, for example, then the organization stops dead in the water.  
  • The difficulty of creating indexes, searching and applying transactions across encrypted data stores. If the concept is to keep the keys away from the cloud environment then actions such as indexing, searching or running database functions become very challenging.
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A European Perspective On The USA PATRIOT Act

The USA PATRIOT Act (more commonly known as “the Patriot Act”) was signed into law by George W. Bush on October 26, 2001 as a response to the September 11 attacks. The title of the act (USA PATRIOT) is actually an acronym that stands for “Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism”. Many aspects of the Act were to expire in 2005; however, renewals and extensions mean that the Act is here for a while yet.

For Security & Risk Professionals, the Patriot Act comes up in conversation mostly with regard to data access. The Act suggests that the US government is able to gain access to data held on US soil, or even by a US firm outside US territory, without the data owner being notified; this is of significant concern when it comes to considerations around the adoption of cloud technology. EU-based organizations are concerned that utilizing cloud as part of their infrastructure will make their data accessible to the US government. In 2004, the Canadian government passed laws prohibiting the storage of citizens’ personal data outside their physical boundaries, and a recent news article suggested that one large UK defense contractor walked away from Microsoft’s Office 365 due to lack of assurances on data location.   

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