The Fallacy of Shared Responsibility in the Cloud

Sharing is usually considered to be a positive attribute – parents teach children to share and we are moving into a “sharing economy” with services like Zipcar and Airbnb. For most businesses and the security of their sensitive data, sharing is a threat. In fact, numerous laws have been created to curb or manage sharing including copyright provisions designed to protect music, books, software and more. Cloud security is no exception. For businesses, sharing responsibility for the security of their data with a cloud service provider can lead to unpleasant consequences and finger-pointing. For years, standards bodies like the PCI Council and leading cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have fostered the perception that shared responsibility for security in the cloud with infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers is the best approach. Times have changed, this is no longer the case.

Todd Thiemann

Todd Thiemann

What is the downside of shared responsibility in the cloud?  The enterprise has ultimate accountability for security of its data, yet must share the responsibility for data security with the Cloud Service Provider (CSP).  Put another way, shared responsibility means shared access to your sensitive data.  You share responsibility for security of the overall environment, but implicit in that relationship is that your CSP can access your data.  You might not like it, but the shared responsibility model forces you to trust the CSP and face the consequences when the CSP falls short.  Amplifying these consequences for the enterprise are CSP terms of service that are typically one-sided and hand the aftermath of breached data to the enterprise customer.  Consequences can include fines, reputational risk, and lost competitive advantage – items that would not be covered by a CSP refunding your payment.  The shared responsibility model also requires elaborate and time-consuming legal contracts so the obligations of the CSP and the enterprise are understood.  While shared responsibility can be mitigated in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) where the SaaS vendor is fully accountable for data loss, it does not make sense in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) world where IaaS vendors significantly (Amazon EC2, etc.) limit their responsibility for security.

While the CSP needs to provide their service with sufficient security to satisfy customers, the CSP is usually not the one holding the bag when something goes wrong.  Interest in cloud encryption has grown as enterprises wrestle with securing their data at the CSP.  Enterprises understand the need to secure their data while at rest and while in transit by holding the encryption keys themselves. However, the shared responsibility model circumvents at-rest and in-transit encryption; the cloud service provider can access enterprise data-in-use while the cloud server runs in the CSP datacenter.  Data-in-use, or memory, contains secrets including encryption keys, digital certificates, and sensitive information such as intellectual property.  Accessing data-in-use leaves the door open to lawful or unlawful interception of data of any data on the server.  Sensitive data can be encrypted at rest or in motion, but it is “in the clear” and available to the CSP while in use.

What if a new technology allowed you to have control and visibility into the security of cloud servers without ever having to set foot in a cloud data center?  PrivateCore does just that, allowing the enterprise to take complete ownership of data security rather than relying on the CSP.  This approach also permits the CSP to focus on their core competencies and reduce liabilities.  PrivateCore vCage provides a secure foundation, ensuring that nobody at the CSP can access or manipulate your data without your consent.  Deploying vCage as a foundation of trust for your IaaS security enables you to avoid lengthy security negotiations because you control the security of your server and its data.

PrivateCore vCage secures server data-in-use with full memory encryption.  Data-in-use can contain valuable information such as encryption keys for data-at-rest, certificates, intellectual property, and personally identifiable information.  Accessing data-in-use provides a pathway to decrypt data-at-rest and data-in-motion.  Compromising data-in-use, be it through a malicious insider or lawful request, leaves a system open and available.

While security measures such as data-at-rest and data-in-motion encryption are necessary, they are insufficient if the foundation has a crack that allows information to be siphoned off.  PrivateCore vCage changes the game, obviating the need for “shared responsibility” by providing a foundation of trust in the cloud so you can take control of the security of your data in the cloud.

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