Evolving security standards a challenge for cloud computing, expert says

The proposed EU data-privacy law will play a major role

ORLANDO -- Any enterprise looking to use cloud computing services will also be digging into what laws and regulations might hold in terms of security and privacy of data stored in the cloud. At the Cloud Security Alliance Congress in Orlando this week, discussion centered on two important regulatory frameworks now being put in place in Europe and the U.S.

Are lawyers getting in the way of cloud-based security?

The European Union, with its more than two dozen countries, has had a patchwork of data-privacy laws that each country created to adhere to the general directive set by the EU many years ago. But now there's a slow but steady march toward approving a single data-privacy regulation scheme for EU members.

These proposed rules published by the EU earlier this year may not become law until 2016 or later as they involve approval by the European Parliament, said Margaret Eisenhauer, an Atlanta-based attorney with expertise in data-privacy law.

Margaret Eisenhauer

Europe, especially countries such as Germany, already takes a stricter approach to data protection than the U.S., with databases holding individual's personal information having to be registered with government authorities, and rules on where exactly data can be transmitted. "European law is based on the protection of privacy as a fundamental human right," Eisenhauer said.

The benefit of the proposed EU regulation is that EU countries will, in theory, present a uniform approach instead of a patchwork of rules. The so-called "Article 29 Working Party Opinion" of proposed law specially addresses use of cloud computing, and it presents cloud providers and users with a long list of security-control requirements.

In addition, cloud providers must offer "transparency" about their operations — something some are reluctant to do today, Eisenhauer said.

The proposed regulations also allude to how cloud-based computing contracts should be established. Among many requirements, "you have to state where the data will be processed," Eisenhauer said, plus where it will be accessed from. Customers have the right to "visit their data," she said, which means providers must be able to show the customer the physical and logical storage of it.

Some ideas could become the norm for Europe, such as the concept of the "right to be forgotten," which recognizes that individuals have a right not to be tracked across the Internet, which is often done through cookies today. This "privacy by default" concept means that Web browsers, for example, will likely be required to ship turned on by default to their newer "do not track" capabilities to be used in Europe. In Europe, "there are real concerns about behavioral targeting," said Eisenhauer.

Some European legal concepts suggest that even use of deep-packet inspection — often a core technology used in security products today to watch for signs of malicious activities on the network — could be frowned on under European law, and companies will need to be mindful of how deep-packet inspection is deployed, said Eisenhauer. Even today, use of security and information event management (SIEM) monitoring of employee network usage is something that does not easily conform to European ideas of data privacy.

The proposed EU data-privacy rules require reporting data breaches to the governments and their data-privacy authorities there as well as to the individuals impacted by it very quickly. The regulation also points to possible fines for failing to comply with the proposed regulations, fines that start with 2% of the company's annual worldwide revenue.

However, Eisenhauer adds that Europe's data-privacy regulators in government encourage direct communication about any issues that come up with cloud-service providers and their customers and are far more eager to resolve problems, not mete out punishments.

Many companies, including HP, which is a member of the CSA, are tracking these kinds of regulatory requirements from all across the world that impact the cloud.

"You will have to answer to auditors and regulatory regimes," said Andrzej Kawalec, HP's global technology officer at HP Enterprise Security Solutions. This means that there can't be "monolithic data centers" all subscribing to one mode of operation, but ones tailored to meet compliance in Europe, Asia and North America.

In Switzerland, for example, which is not part of the EU, "the Swiss think the data should remain in Switzerland," he said. But "everyone is getting a lot more stringent" on security and data protection, Kawalec said. Some ideas, such as Europe's notion that even the user's IP address represents a piece of personally identifiable information, are not necessarily the norm in the U.S.

In the U.S., there is also a significant regulatory change afoot related to cloud computing and security and it is arising out of the federal government's so-called FedRAMP program unveiled earlier this year.

FedRAMP is intended to get cloud-service providers (CSP) that serve government agencies accredited for specific security practices over the next two years. Although no CSP is yet certified, according to Chris Simpson, CEO at consultancy Bright Moon Security, who spoke on the topic at the CSA Congress this week, the goal is to get CSPs on board by assuring through third-party assessments that their cloud environments conform to specific security guidelines.

These include practices for incident response in the cloud, forensics in a highly dynamic environment, threat detection and analysis in a multi-tenant environment, and continuous monitoring for remediation, among other things. One FedRAMP idea is that service providers must be prepared to report security incidents of many types to the U.S. CERT and the government agency that might be impacted. The agency would also be reporting to US CERT as well, said Simpson.

If CSPs can't meet the FEDRAMP guidelines, they won't be able to provide services to government agencies, said Simpson. Once certified in FedRAMP though, they'll have a path to contracting for all federal agencies. But if a security incident or data breach occurs that is seen as negligence, that might be cause "to pull that authorization," Simpson concluded.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: emessmer@nww.com.

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