Cloud security

Let’s talk a little about the very popular subject nowadays – the so-called ‘cloud security’. Let’s determine what it is, what we are talking about, in fact, and see what may be special about it.

Magnificent cumulonimbus clouds

‘Cloud’ – what is it? Basically, the mainframes have been doing ‘cloud’ all along, for decades now. Cloud is simply a remotely accessible computer with shared resources. Typically, what most people ‘get from the cloud’ is either a file server with a certain amount of redundancy and fault tolerance, a web service with some database resources attached, or a virtual machine (VM) to do with as they please. Yes, it is all that simple. Even the most hyped-up services, like Amazon, boil down to these things.

So when you determine the basics, you are then talking about three distinctly different types of operation: a file server, a web/database application and a VM. The three have different security models and can be attacked in completely different ways. So it does not really make sense to speak about ‘cloud security’ as such. It only makes sense to speak about the security of a particular service type. And all three of them have been studied in depth and have the defenses worked out in detail.

Mind you, there is also another type of ‘cloud security’ – the security of the data center itself, where the physical computers accessible through the physical network are. And the security of data centers is an important subject of interest to the operators of those data centers. At the same time, consumers of the services rarely are concerned with that type of security, assuming (sometimes without a good cause) that the data center took good care of its security.

So, from the point of view of the developer or consumer of services it makes sense to talk about three types of security in three different security models that are fairly well understood and were analyzed many times over the decades. Not using that experience of, first, the mainframe developers, and then, of the open systems developers, is at the very least irresponsible.

Getting revenue on security?

I am looking now into arguably the hardest problem of security: how to make it pay off. Security is usually seen as a risk management tool, where increasing security investment lowers the risk of costly disasters. But the trade off between security and risk is hard to evaluate and there is a bias for ignoring the rare risks.

We keep talking about costs, if you noticed. We lower costs, even not actual costs, but potential costs, and we do not increase the revenues here.

For example, when we talk about some product we can look at improvements that would get us more of the following to improve the bottom line:

  1. Acquisition – getting more users or clients
  2. Activation – getting the users or clients to make a purchase
  3. Activity – getting your users or clients to come back for more

Can security demonstrate similar improvements? To move from cost cutting to revenue generation? Share your opinion, please!

Exodus from Java

Finally the news that I was subconsciously waiting for: the exodus of companies from Java has started. It does not come as a surprise at all. Java has never fulfilled the promises it had at the beginning. It did not provide any of the portability, security and ease of programming. I am only surprised it took so long, although knowing full well that companies’ managers routinely optimize for their own career and bonuses that does not come as a shock either.

For those not in the know, the gist of the problem is that Java promised at all times to provide some sort of “inherent security”. That is, no matter how bad you write the code, it will still be more secure that the code written in C or other advanced high-level algorithmic languages. Java claimed absence of buffer overflows, null pinter dereferences and similar problems, which all turned out to be not true after all. And it had a very important consequence.

The consequence is that anyone writing in Java or learning it is subconsciously aware of that promise. So people tend to relax and allow themselves to be sloppy. So the code written in C ends up being tighter, more organized, and more secure than the code written in Java. And the developers in C tend to be on average better educated in the intricacies of software development and more aware of potential pitfalls. And that makes a huge difference.

So, the punch line is, if you want something done well, forget Java.