Beware business cloud dangers, says EU agency

Organisations should be wary of vendor lock-in, according to the European Network and Information Security Agency
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Businesses should exercise caution when procuring cloud services, according to the European agency charged with promoting IT security good practice.

The European Network and Information Security Agency (Enisa) on Friday published advice and a checklist for organisations thinking of jumping into the cloud, outlining the benefits and risks of using online service provision.

Primarily, organisations should beware of lock-in to cloud services, Enisa told ZDNet UK on Friday. "There is very little in the way of tools and standards for exporting data from one provider to another," said Enisa network security expert Giles Hogben. "That's one of the biggest risks."

Enisa risk management expert Daniele Catteddu told ZDNet UK that governance issues were also a major risk. "There are client code issues like patching, security testing, and policy enforcement," he said.

The Enisa experts also pointed to the dangers of  'isolation failure' where access control or bandwidth provision are inadequate.

Cattedu said legal and contractual issues are another risk, including data-protection compliance. "Under data-protection law, the cloud customer is the data controller," said Catteddu. "One of the [cloud customer's] duties is to ensure that data is managed in a proper way."

Both experts recommended businesses closely study liability limitations in a contract, and negotiate contracts to reduce the chance of vendor lock-in. "It may be a market differentiator that a provider is offering to share the cost of a migration [to another vendor]," said Catteddu.

The Enisa experts also highlighted several benefits of cloud computing. For smaller businesses, cloud services run by larger organisations may offer more security, as smaller businesses may not have the resources or expertise to adequately defend their networks.

In addition, cloud services can scale to mitigate the effects of denial-of-service attacks, said Hogben.

The checklist published on Friday will evolve into an assurance framework for cloud providers within a year, said the experts. Providers will be able to use this framework to be certified in a similar way to a kitemark, or guarantee of quality, said Hogben.

Cloud services are becoming increasingly sophisticated. For example, on Thursday Google said its Chrome operating system will run applications only in its browser, and store all data in the cloud.

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