October 31, 2013

NSA vs. Cloud Computing

Back in June when Edward Snowden publicly exposed some of NSA’s activities, the controversy caused an uproar in the media. Even though it has now been several months since Snowden blew the whistle, NSA’s snooping is hardly “old news.” This is particularly true for companies that provide cloud computing services, because some consumers are now skeptical that their data is safe in the cloud.

“I thought the NSA was monitoring people’s texts and phone calls. How does this issue relate to cloud computing?”

The answer: more than you may think. In order to understand how the NSA scandal is affecting the cloud, it is necessary to first know some background information about cloud computing security. Even in its early stages, it was obvious to IT professionals that the cloud would revolutionize the way we do business. The government got involved to clarify and regulate security standards for cloud computing, stating that their intention was to protect business interests. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) authored the Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 140, (FIPS 140) which identifies the official security and encryption requirements for any technology equipment used by all cloud hosting providers.

Now, back to the question. The NSA has the ability to access cell phone data, because phone records are stored in data centers via cloud computing. If this is news to you, you’re not alone– most people are unaware of how often they use the cloud. Cloud computing is used for social media outlets, online banking, music sharing, and photos on the iCloud, for example. It’s present in classrooms via Dropbox and hybrid course forums. Even enterprises use the cloud to host their business data with companies such as Microsoft Office 365, Windows Azure Platform, and Rackspace. And remember: these cloud service providers (among the rest) are required to comply with FIPS 140 security standards.

“A lot of people are questioning the cloud’s integrity since the NSA scandal went public. How are companies that provide cloud computing services going to overcome the lurking consumer distrust?”

The answer: while some consumers are eager to jump to the worst conclusion, most are optimistic about the future of cloud computing. Some vendors are confident because of the cloud’s overwhelming presence. Other providers see the recent events as an opportunity for innovation. Christopher Stark, President and CEO of Cetrom, a leading cloud provider, is among this group:

"Technology is never stagnant– it is always progressing for one reason or another. Sometimes, innovation requires a bit of motivation. New, more advanced cloud computing security measures are already being developed. And when their integrity becomes compromised, technology will progress again and the cycle will continue. If anything, this scandal demonstrates why data is safer in a hosted environment. With managed services such as round-the-clock maintenance and IT support, cloud providers are constantly on the lookout for ways to incorporate better, more secure technology into their hosted solutions."

Contributor at TechTarget, Neil McEvoy would agree with Stark. In his article NSA scandal serves as mother of invention for cloud privacy industry, he writes, “The Edward Snowden affair could ultimately become the best thing that ever happened to the cloud. The incident will act as the necessity that’s the mother of invention, and will foster the creation of a portfolio of new security technologies and compliance procedures.” He continues to discuss future cloud service models which feature heightened security measures that are already attracting consumer interest. Despite the buzz and the doubt surrounding the NSA scandal, cloud computing continues to thrive. We believe it’s safe to say, no, the NSA did not “end” the cloud. If anything, the scandal only ‘secured’ its place in the future… pun intended. To learn more about cloud computing security, click here or contact us.

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