15. Societal Risk and Resiliency of Cloud Concentration
Any week in the security press proves that, generally, most companies and institutions have struggled to implement adequate or even basic security protections, despite best intentions and effort. While the move to the cloud has its own risks, whether for IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, it also provides the opportunity to outsource many security responsibilities to a cloud provider. The cloud platforms have many security and resiliency features baked in, and it can be reasonably argued that cloud providers can bring more resources and talent to bear and through economies of scale can do a better job than their customers can.
Aside from agility and flexibility of cloud solutions, for each organization individually, a move to the cloud can be a real security and resiliency net-benefit, compared to running critical systems themselves.
Decentralized Inadequacy vs Centralized Competence
To take just one example. Organizations notoriously struggle with keeping systems up-to-date, with new vulnerabilities being disclosed all the time. Rather than having to manage that yourself, using an always-at-the-latest-version SaaS solution is a real security benefit. For each organization separately, but also in aggregate.
We have to recognize, though, that there are not that many cloud providers that we all rely on. The companies listed in the Cloud Wars Top 10 – and full disclosure, I work for one – increasingly run the critical workloads that we all rely on as customers, employees and citizens. That means if anything goes significantly wrong the impact may be widespread.
We are moving from a situation where the likelihood of an individual failure in confidentiality, integrity or availability (CIA) is higher but the impact is contained, to one where the likelihood is lower, but the impact could be catastrophic.
The Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack led to the shutdown of all pipeline operations by the company and caused widespread fuel shortages across the US East Coast. What is often forgotten is that the ransomware affected the billing infrastructure, not the operational systems. With such administrative systems increasingly moving to the cloud, a major incident at a cloud provider affecting thousands of companies all at the same time would have devastating cascading effects throughout the global economy and the functioning of society.
Cloud as Critical Infrastructure
I think it is reasonable therefore to see cloud providers as critical infrastructure. The IT Sector in general already is designated as such, but these designations don't yet specifically focus on the unique and growing role of cloud providers within that sector as the providers of services to everybody else.
Cloud security has so far mostly focused on the consumer-side of the Shared Responsibility model in-the-cloud. Cloud providers have also started to recognize they have a responsibility to help their custoemrs run more securely. More recently, security issues of-the-cloud such as recorded in the Cloud Vulnerability Database have got more attention, showing that the cloud providers aren't perfect. A recent incident prompted a US Senator to criticize one of them for “negligent cybersecurity practices”.
It is time that cloud providers are held to a greater level of scrutiny on their own internal operations. If failure can have significant impact on the economy, the functioning of society, and even lives, we should expect similar oversight and consequences as in Utilities, Finance or Healthcare.
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