NIST Report Aims to Help U.S. Agencies Deploy Cloud Apps

The ease with which cloud computing services can be deployed heightens the security and management risks, according to a National Institute of Standards and Technology report.

By Jaikumar Vijayan
Thu, February 03, 2011

Computerworld — Organizations that are deploying public cloud computing applications need to pay close attention to security and management risks, the National Institute of Standards and Technology said in a report released Wednesday.

"With the wide availability of cloud computing services, lack of organizational controls over employees engaging such services arbitrarily can be a source of problems," NIST noted in a document prescribing a set of security and privacy guidelines for cloud computing. "Without proper governance, the organizational computing infrastructure could be transformed into a sprawling, unmanageable mix of insecure services."

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The issue is somewhat similar to the problems created when individual employees and small groups set up rogue wireless access points in an enterprise network, the report noted.

NIST prepared the Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Public Cloud Computing in response to a directive from federal CIO Vivek Kundra.

As part of his effort to accelerate the government adoption of cloud computing Kundra asked NIST to develop a set of security standards and guidelines agencies can use when moving applications and data to the cloud.

The goal of the document is not to create fear among federal agencies, said Tim Grance, a computer scientist at NIST and an author of the report. Rather, the guidelines aim to prepare federal IT managers for cloud projects.

"Public cloud computing is a very viable choice" for government agencies, Grance said. "We are not by any means saying 'don't do it.' But you have to be careful. You got to make sure that [cloud computing] is part of a coherent overall strategic process."

NIST's 60-page document, currently open for public comment, provides a detailed analysis of many familiar cloud security and privacy issues.

For instance, the report highlights multiple compliance issues, such as those related to data location, facing cloud adopters.

Often, detailed information about the location of an organization's data is unavailable or not disclosed by the cloud provider, the report noted, making it hard for organizations to determine whether security controls are in place and if legal and regulatory requirements for protecting data are being met.

Similarly, U.S. federal agencies are required to comply with several security and privacy related mandates, the report notes. However, the degree to which cloud providers are willing to accept liability for data under their control remains largely untested, NIST said.

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