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Cloud Security Q&A from the Field: Questions and Answers from the DC CCSK Class

By Rich

One of the great things about running around teaching classes is all the feedback and questions we get from people actively working on all sorts of different initiatives. With the CCSK (cloud security) class, we find that a ton of people are grappling with these issues in active projects and different things in various stages of deep planning.

We don’t want to lose this info, so we will to blog some of the more interesting questions and answers we get in the field. I’ll skip general impressions and trends today to focus on some specific questions people in last week’s class in Washington, DC, were grappling with:

  • We currently use XXX Database Activity Monitoring appliance, is there any way to keep using it in Amazon EC2?

This is a tough one because it depends completely on your vendor. With the exception of Oracle (last time I checked – this might have changed), all the major Database Activity Monitoring vendors support server agents as well as inline or passive appliances. Adrian covered most of the major issues between the two in his Database Activity Monitoring: Software vs. Appliance paper. The main question for cloud )especially public cloud) deployments is whether the agent will work in a virtual machine/instance. Most agents use special kernel hooks that need to be validated as compatible with your provider’s virtual machine hypervisor. In other words: yes, you can do it, but I can’t promise it will work with your current DAM product and cloud provider. If your cloud service supports multiple network interfaces per instance, you can also consider deploying a virtual DAM appliance to monitor traffic that way, but I’d be careful with this approach and don’t generally recommend it. Finally, there are more options for internal/private cloud where you can route the traffic even back to a dedicated appliance if necessary – but watch performance if you do.

  • How can we monitor users connecting to cloud services over SSL?

This is an easy problem to solve – you just need a web gateway with SSL decoding capabilities. In practice, this means the gateway essentially performs a man in the middle attack against your users. To work, you install the gateway appliance’s certificate as a trusted root on all your endpoints. This doesn’t work for remote users who aren’t going through your gateway. This is a fairly standard approach for both web content security and Data Loss Prevention, but those of you just using URL filtering may not be familiar with it.

  • Can I use identity management to keep users out of my cloud services if they aren’t on the corporate network?

Absolutely. If you use federated identity (probably SAML), you can configure things so users can only log into the cloud service if they are logged into your network. For example, you can configure Active Directory to use SAML extensions, then require SAML-based authentication for your cloud service. The SAML token/assertion will only be made when the user logs into the local network, so they can’t ever log in from another location. You can screw up this configuration by allowing persistent assertions (I’m sure Gunnar will correct my probably-wrong IAM vernacular). This approach will also work for VPN access (don’t forget to disable split tunnels if you want to monitor activity).

  • What’s the CSA STAR project?

STAR (Security, Trust & Assurance Registry) is a Cloud Security Alliance program where cloud providers perform and submit self assessments of their security practices.

  • How can we encrypt big data sets without changing our applications?

This isn’t a cloud-specific problem, but does come up a lot in the encryption section. First, I suggest you check out our paper on encryption: Understanding and Selecting a Database Encryption or Tokenization Solution. The best cloud option is usually volume encryption for IaaS. You may also be able to use some other form of transparent encryption, depending on the various specifics of your database and application. Some proxy-based in-the-cloud encryption solutions are starting to appear.

That’s it from this class… we had a ton of other questions, but these stood out. As we teach more we’ll keep posting more, and I should get input from other instructors as they start teaching their own classes.

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