IT security problems shift

2012-06-24 22:47

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Washington - The internet "cloud" has become the hottest topic in computing, but the trend has created a new range of security issues that need to be addressed.

The cloud is associated with things like personal e-mails and music which can be accessed on computers and a range of mobile devices.

But the US military and government agencies from the CIA to the Federal Aviation Administration also use cloud systems to allow data to be accessed anywhere in the world and save money - and, ostensibly, to enhance security.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others are major players in the cloud, which seeks to transfer some of the data storage issues to more sophisticated data centres.
Firms like Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com offer cloud services for business.

Strategy Analytics forecasts US spending on cloud services to grow from $31bn in 2011 to $82bn by 2016.

But some experts say security implications of the cloud have not been fully analysed and that the cloud may open up new vulnerabilities and problems.

A research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Stelios Sidiroglou-Douskos,said: "If past is prologue I don't think any system is absolutely secure.

"The analogy most people give is having a lock on your door. It's not a guarantee no one will break in, but it's a question of how much time it will take and if your lock is better than your neighbour's."

In a cloud environment, "this makes the job of the attacker so much harder, which means the amateur hacker might be obsolete," said Sidiroglou-Douskos, who is working on a US government-funded research project to develop "self-healing" clouds.

But if a system is breached, analysts say, the amount of information lost could be far greater than what is in a single computer or cluster.

"You can have better defences" in the cloud, "but if an attack happens, it's highly amplified," says Sidiroglou-Douskos.

The four-year MIT project funded by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency seeks to develop systems that automatically fix data breaches in a manner similar to "human immunology," says the researcher.

A number of cloud security breaches have raised concerns, including attacks on the Sony PlayStation Network, LinkedIn and Google's Gmail service. One hacker recently claimed to have stolen credit card numbers from 79 major banks.

Sidiroglou-Douskos said there is no single answer for people or companies choosing between cloud systems and holding the data themselves.

"If you are trying to protect yourself from the government, then having it in the public cloud makes it easier for them to get it," he said.

"If your main worry is a hacker in Russia, maybe (cloud) infrastructure is better for your own security."




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