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5 problems with SaaS security

Security tops customer concerns on software-as-a-service

By , Network World
September 27, 2010 07:08 AM ET

Network World - As interest in software-as-a-service grows, so too do concerns about SaaS security

Total cost of ownership used to be the most frequently cited roadblock among potential SaaS customers. But now, as cloud networks become more frequently used for strategic and mission-critical business applications, security tops the list.

"Security is the No. 1 reason preventing firms from moving to SaaS," Forrester analyst Liz Herbert writes in a recent report on software-as-a-service adoption.

Six misconceptions about cloud apps

Cloud computing resources are more highly concentrated than traditional network systems, in large part because of virtualization technology that allows a single server to hold many virtual machines and potentially the data of multiple customers.

If a server that has been hacked holds 15 virtual machines, "now 15 machines are at risk rather than one at a time," says Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald.

There are numerous security risks to look at before adopting software-as-a-service. Here are five problems to consider.

1. Identity management in the cloud is immature

Cloud providers themselves aren't always sophisticated about integrating their platforms with identity services that exist behind the enterprise firewall, says Forrester analyst Chenxi Wang. There are some third-party technologies that let IT extend role-based access controls into the cloud with single sign-on, from Ping Identity and Symplified, Wang says.

But overall, "this is a field that is still in the early stage," she says.

Google has a "Secure Data Connector" that forms an encrypted connection between a customer's data and Google's business applications, while letting the customer control which employees may access Google Apps resources. Salesforce provides a similar tool, Wang says.

But this approach may become unwieldy because customers that use numerous SaaS applications could find themselves dealing with many different security tools, she notes. Third-party products at least offer the advantage of connecting to many different types of SaaS applications.

Identity and access management in the cloud has a long way to go, according to the Cloud Security Alliance, an industry group.

"Managing identities and access control for enterprise applications remains one of the greatest challenges facing IT today," according to research from the Cloud Security Alliance. "While an enterprise may be able to leverage several cloud computing services without a good identity and access management strategy, in the long run extending an organization's identity services into the cloud is a necessary prerequisite for strategic use of on-demand computing services."

Unfortunately, the evolution of SaaS has outpaced efforts to build comprehensive industry standards, the Cloud Security Alliance says. Specifically, the group says there is "limited proprietary support for user profiles," and industry standards including Service Provisioning Markup Language (SPML) have not been significantly updated in several years.

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