The Cloud’s Low-Rent District

I’m a  big fan of the work of Tim Ferriss. While I haven’t quite managed the 4-hour work week yet (more like the 84), the dude is smart and has no fear of saying what many of us just think. In Outside magazine’s July 2011 issue, while promoting his new book “The 4-Hour Body,” Ferriss describes his opinion on human motivations:

It pays not to be puritanical with incentives. Just look at what’s effective. We like to talk about reward, positive thinking, positive reinforcement. But the sad or useful fact of the matter is that shame, humiliation, peer pressure, financial loss – those things are all more effective.

There are so many corollaries to infosec in this statement it’s hard to know where to begin – the flaccid ineffectiveness of security awareness, repeated insane attempts to buy our way out of proper security process and tactics, and on and on. Here, though, I want to focus on the new and exciting realm of CLOUD SECURITY. There are numerous projects underway out there that are seeking to provide some degree of provider transparency. The most well-known include the following:

There’s lots of discussion in the security community around cloud standards and “best practices” related to cloud provider practices, architecture models, and such. This will continue for some time, surely, but one of the most pressing issues has been getting CSPs to disclose how well they’re safeguarding assets and operating a security-savvy environment. To this effect, STAR is probably the most high-profile effort to date, where shiny, happy CSPs can proudly proclaim that they are awesome. I think this has some merit, but I think we need a different model. Coming back around to Ferriss’ quote, this doesn’t really address the most successful motivations we have as humans (and as organizations, by extension). I think it’s time for a “Wall of Shame” for CSPs who blatantly disregard security. How many CSPs would take security more seriously if they knew there was a provision in every contract stating that customers could publicly describe security failings at the CSP, and immediately move their data and systems elsewhere with no questions asked. I’m sure you’re saying “Yeah, right, Shack – on a cold day in hell”. OK, we’re not there, but I think we need to get away from the “chosen few” mentality of STAR, which to date, has very limited participation, and on to a more realistic model, especially for SMBs and specialized companies who need very vertical-specific SaaS offerings, for example. Do you think a small healthcare billing SaaS is going to offer themselves up for STAR? Uh, no.

While some efforts along these lines have started (the one that still have hopes for is Cloutage, although it needs a lot more community involvement), we need to thinking about this problem a little differently. No STAR listing, SSAE 16, SOC2 or 3 report, etc. will get us to a point where people know what to do and where to do business. Or in this case, where NOT to do business.