A New Way Of Thinking: IT Security In The Cloud Era

The ability of hackers and other malevolent forces to create new threats is growing exponentially.

According to the latest survey by accountancy company PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the past year cybercrime has jumped from 4th to 2nd place among the most-reported types of economic crime. Over a quarter of respondents said they’d been affected by cybercrime. Ominously, another 18 percent said they didn’t know whether they had or not.

Cybercrime is as great a threat to on-premises systems as it is to those hosted in the Cloud. The Cloud, however, has particular advantages when it comes to combatting such threats, but it requires a dramatic change of mindset in the way we view IT security.

Traditionally, IT security has been based on building barriers between an organization and the outside world. No matter if firewalls or passwords, it has essentially been a sentry system, with devices—whether software, hardware, physical or human—tasked with preventing intruders from gaining access.

Traditional anti-virus software, for example, exploits signatures to identify and combat malware. Whenever a new piece of malware is detected, it is analyzed and a signature— or sample piece of code—is extracted which can then be added to a database used for security scans.

But innovation among malware developers is such that signature-based approaches are no longer effective. Malware authors, for example, have mastered the art of writing viruses, which encrypt parts of themselves or otherwise modify themselves in order to disguise them from signature-based malware searches.

As a consequence, the onus on IT security is moving from defense to offense, and taking a more proactive and strategic approach. And this is where the Cloud has some distinct advantages over on-premises.

One of the most attractive features of the Cloud—one of the main drivers for its rapid adoption—is the fast and easy access it allows to resources. This is what allows organizations to dramatically cut times to market. This agility also brings crucial security advantages in a world where the threat landscape is constantly evolving.

Another advantage of the Cloud is the sharing of experience gained by infrastructure providers serving many clients. Knowledge of how to tackle problems encountered with one client allows a faster more effective response to problems encountered with another.

Artificial intelligence-based machine learning which can easily be integrated into Cloud-based systems also provides the potential for an altogether more robust set of IT system protection capabilities. But to really leverage the security advantages of the Cloud, it is not just technical innovation that is needed but a change in the way we view security.

Conventional IT security can be compared to an office block where there’s a security man at a desk near the front door, controlling who and what comes in and out of the building. The appropriate analogy for the new Cloud-based way of looking at security is more like a shopping mall: there’s no security at the front door, but there are lots of people walking around watching what’s going on and intervening as necessary.

We have already started to make the transition. Anti-virus protection, for example, used to be a one-off installation. Now it is updated all of the time. It has been “Cloudified.” The same is happening to firewalls. You no longer have to manually configure each firewall. Rules can be pushed out to all sorts of security devices, centrally.

Today’s IT security is increasingly being based on dynamic traffic analysis and on contextualizing why a certain action—or indeed transaction—is taking place. In effect, we are developing and applying new types of filter that can be built, modified, and torn down according to need—just as the Cloud-based applications and virtual machines they are protecting.

And this requires yet another shift in our attitudes towards IT security: a change in our view of the kind of people we need to hire to keep us safe. Just as a desk-based security enforcer from an office may not make a good mall security guard, the successful IT security professional of tomorrow may look more like an applications developer than a policeman.

All Posts In This Series:

Can The Cloud And Outsourcing Make Wireless Networks More Secure?

A New Way Of Thinking: IT Security In The Cloud Era

Six Ways To Stay Safe In The Cloud

Peter Purton is a London-based writer and editor, specializing in explaining the impact on business of innovations in information and communication technologies.

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