Perspective: Are Customers today doing the right due diligence on the Cloud?

The work by Cloud Security Alliance and Cloud Audit are making good progress in delivering a set of recommended controls specific for the cloud, along with a mechanism for third-party evaluation of conformance but in the mean time customers just have to exercise caveat emptor on a case-by-case basis.

Jay Heiser of Gartner makes some interesting points in his recent blog post -especially regarding the suitability of existing security standards and certifications to evaluate vendors utilising what is a fairly new and evolving delivery model.

Customer due diligence is the key in choosing a Cloud provider, but this due diligence has to take into account what you actually do on-premise as a baseline and not have some utopian expectation.

As Mimecast’s CSO I can't tell you the number of 300 - 400 hundred question RFPs we receive from customers who've searched for them on the Internet.  On closer inspection of the customer's current solution you find PST files scattered across their network, unencrypted archive databases, countless email and archive administrators, single points of failure and fragmented inconsistent administration across the multiple platforms that form their email infrastructure.

In these instances moving to the cloud is going to instantly deliver improvements over their existing security, but still these customers hold irrational fears because they are nervous about moving their data from a data centre where they can touch and feel the hardware to a service that abstracts it all away.  They deliberately build a level of expectation that far exceeds their currently level of security as a mechanism to justify not moving to the cloud.

Security breaches are bad for cloud service providers: they elongate the sales cycle increasing the cost-to-sell; they impact renewal revenue, which is the means of survival for most cloud vendors; and breaches play into the hands of on-premise vendors using FUD to put customers off considering the cloud. Cloud vendors cannot get away with throwing a bunch of hardware and software into a customer data centre and disappearing for three years until the next upgrade is due.

Cloud vendors are judged day-in day-out by the performance and the security of their services.  Due to this, most cloud providers take considerable effort to ensure their environments, platforms and services are secure.

Not all cloud vendors are created equal, and in fact many aren't true cloud services.  They are the latest incarnation of what were application service provider or management service provider platforms, re-purposing on-premise appliances or software by just creating a web front-end to these products which are often ill-suited to run in multi-tenant environments.  Customer due diligence must identify these kinds of 'cloud' offerings and the risks that are inherent to these environments (for instance client separation; end-to-end encryption; chains-of-custody of data that may need to be used as evidence at a later date).

Email is a critical business tool, but also a commodity, which makes it prime candidate for outsourcing to a cloud provider.  Cloud providers will often deliver immediate benefits in security, but potential customers must exercise the appropriate due diligence and weigh the results against their current environments as a baseline.  Many customers will find themselves pleasantly surprised by decreased cost, increased functionality and increased security.