US lawmakers question cloud security

Large clouds could make for a tempting target for cybercriminals, Lungren says

A rush by President Barack Obama's administration to move U.S. government agencies to cloud computing services may lead to unintended security problems and other headaches, some lawmakers said Thursday.

While agency adoption of cloud computing could save money, it may also lead to questions about control of agency data, about data portability and about whether cloud vendors will be prime targets for cybercriminals, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee's cybersecurity subcommittee said during a hearing.

"Our concern is that the cloud offers a rich target for hackers, criminals, terrorists and rogue nations," said Representative Dan Lungren, a California Republican and subcommittee chairman. "With cyber-espionage affecting every sector of our economy, aggregating important information in one location is a legitimate security concern. You might say it's a target-rich environment."

Many cloud providers spread data across servers and data centers to reduce risk, said Timothy Brown, senior vice president and chief architect for security at CA Technologies. "Little pieces of your data are stored in little pieces on servers all over the world," he said. "Therefore, they can't be reconstituted into one piece."

Other subcommittee members questioned whether agencies should use the services of foreign cloud providers and what will happen to an agency's data if its cloud provider goes out of business. Lawmakers need to examine cloud computing's benefits and risks after the Obama administration issued a "cloud first" strategy for IT deployment in February, Lungren said.

Five of seven witnesses before the subcommittee defended cloud computing, saying it can save U.S. agencies significant money and allow them to upgrade their technology much faster than they can with in-house systems.

"By leveraging shared computing resources, higher utilization rates of computing hardware, and economies of scale, cloud computing is ushering in an IT revolution which promises far lower costs while greatly improving capacity and performance," said James Sheaffer, president of the North American public sector division of Computer Sciences.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security could save 8 to 10 percent of IT costs by moving to cloud infrastructure services, and by using the cloud, the agency can add new network and storage services in one week, compared to up to 18 months if done in house, said Richard Spires, CIO at DHS.

DHS is moving 12 IT services to the cloud, including email, mobile support and project management, he said. Agencies need to demand strong reporting and auditing requirements in contracts with cloud providers as a way to ensure security and service, he said.

"The benefits of cloud computing far outweigh the challenges," Spires said.

Representative Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat, asked witnesses if there are government applications or services that should not be moved to a cloud environment.

Some classified information should not be put on the public Internet-based cloud right now, said Greg Wilshusen, director of information security issues U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Clarke asked if some government information should "never" be moved to the cloud.

"I was taught from a very early age never to say never," Wilshusen said.

Technology changes rapidly, and what's inappropriate today may be acceptable in a few years, Spires added. Still, it will be "quite awhile before we have any comfort putting any classified information into a public cloud environment," he said.

Security of data stored in the cloud is a shared responsibility between the vendor and the customer, said CA's Brown.

"IT organizations must take a very focused and methodical approach to evaluating what should or should not be moved to the cloud," he said. "The cloud is not a panacea, and may not be appropriate for all workloads."

Other witnesses raised concerns about cloud computing. Some federal agencies may be concerned about the physical location of their data and whether it's being stored overseas, said John Curran, CEO of the American Registry of Internet Numbers. Data interoperability standards, to guard against cloud providers going out of business, are not yet established, he added.

Lungren said he sees benefits to cloud computing, but also potential risks. "Sometimes, things sound too good to be true," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags governmentsecuritycloud computinginternetBarack ObamaCA TechnologiesU.S. Department of Homeland SecurityGovernment use of ITComputer SciencesTimothy BrownYvette ClarkeJames SheafferJohn CurranDan Lungren: Greg WilshusenRichard SpiresU.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security CommitteeAmerican Registry of Internet Numbers.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?