SaaS, Security and the Cloud: It's All About the Contract

Security practitioners have learned the hard way that contract negotiations are critical if their SaaS, cloud and security goals are to work. A report from CSO Perspectives and SaaScon 2010.

By , Senior Editor
Wed, April 07, 2010

CSO — SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The term Software as a Service (SaaS) has been around a long time. The term cloud is still relatively new for many. Putting them together has meant a world of hurt for many enterprises, especially when trying to integrate security into the mix.

During a joint panel discussion hosted by CSO Perspectives 2010 and SaaScon 2010 Wednesday, five guys who've been there sought to help attendees avoid the same ordeal. Perhaps the most important lesson is that contract negotiations between providers is everything. The problem is that you don't always know which questions to ask when the paperwork is being written.

Panelists cited key problems in making the SaaS-Cloud-Security formula work: SaaS contracts often lack contingency plans for what would happen if one or more of the companies involved suffer a disruption or data breach. The partners -- the enterprise customer and the vendors -- rarely find it easy getting on the same page in terms of who is responsible for what in the event of trouble. Meanwhile, they say, there's a lack of clear standards on how to proceed, especially when it comes to doing things in the cloud.

Add to that the basic misunderstandings companies have on just what the cloud is all about, said Jim Reavis, co-founder of the Cloud Security Alliance.

"It's important we understand there isn't just one cloud out there. It's about layers of services," Reavis said. "We've seen an evolution where SaaS providers ride atop the other layers, delivered in public and private clouds."

Somewhere in the mix, plenty can go wrong.

"If you're in a public cloud situation and Company B is breached, a lot of finger pointing between that company and different partners will ensue," Reavis said. "If this isn't covered in the terms of agreement up front, you have no hope of recovering data (or damages)."

Security vendors can be part of the problem as well. In a recent CSO article about five mistakes one such vendor made in the cloud, Nils Puhlmann, co-founder of the Cloud Security Alliance and previously CISO for such entities as Electronic Arts and Robert Half International, noted that the vendor -- who was not named -- did "everything you can possibly do wrong" when rolling out the latest version of its SaaS product, leading to users uninstalling their solution in large numbers.

Customers using a particular version of the SaaS product were caught unaware when the vendor decided to roll out a new version through the cloud. It was done in a way where, at the moment of the upgrade, any new endpoint that was added to be managed automatically got the new version. Customers were not asked or notified, and were forced into a mixed-version environment as a result. "In the past, I as a customer was able to choose if I wanted to do this, and I could choose the timing," he said at the time. "Here, there was no control, no timing or notification."

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