Yesterday I was in Vegas to participate in a panel at IBM’s Information on Demand Conference. To my amusement and frustration, I was already in Vegas that weekend, drove 4.5 hours home to Phoenix on Sunday, then flew back Monday evening (4 hours door to door).

The panel was on database security in the cloud, and at one point I came up with an example to show how this sh*t is seriously different than how we do security today. The example below would be nearly impossible in a non-cloud environment.

It’s fictional, but there are no technical obstacles to implementing it right now. There is, however, one limitation I will mention at the end.

Imagine a world where you have a robust internal cloud to support business units in a large enterprise. This is in contrast to current environments where, if a business unit wants an application or database resource: they submit a request, things are approved (maybe), then physical or virtual assets are acquired, configured, and assigned. You are one of those forward-thinking orgs which stood up your private cloud with a self-service portal where approved managers can dynamically provision a pre-established set of resources.

No, this probably isn’t how most of you use the cloud today, but it will be.

Now imagine that some of these resource stacks include databases. You are, obviously, concerned with the security and compliance of these databases. This is the sort of thing that used to constantly bite you in the ass, as teams ranging from developers to sub-departments installed their own stuff, loaded sensitive data, and then failed to secure it. But you now sleep soundly at night because…

  1. When the user requests the application stack, all operating systems and software are automatically patched to current levels using mandatory installation scripts.
  2. The installation scripts also configure the resources to a secure-by-default state, doing things like inserting user credentials, locking down ports, setting appropriate file permissions, configuring application defaults, and so on. You can even automate service account management and cross-link them between application components (heck, we do this in the CCSK Plus training class).
  3. All application components instantiate themselves in different, locked-down network security groups. Only required internal ports are open. This can be much more granular and restrictive than current application stacks which require physical hardware to protect.
  4. When the database spins up it registers itself with your Database Activity Monitoring (DAM) and assessment tools via their APIs.
  5. The DAM tool performs an initial database vulnerability assessment and registers the database for future scans. (Other stack components do similar things, but we’re focusing on the database for this example). Thanks to those cloud APIs, it knows where to look for the database and who created it, and the necessary firewall ports are opened.
  6. After the initial DAM scan is complete and passed, the DAM tool makes an API call to the cloud’s network controller to open up any additional ports needed for internal access. Depending on the script, this may be restricted to subnets, individual IPs, and so on.
  7. Similar processes are followed for the application and web server components and their various security tools (vulnerability assessment, asset registration, configuration management, etc.).
  8. Assuming everything is hunky dory, any last required ports to access the application can be opened up. The user won’t pick this – it will be handled automatically via API and policy scripts.
  9. The DAM tool will have installed its monitoring agent at initial launch. The agent connects back to the DAM server and activity is now monitored (including administrative SQL queries).
  10. On a specified schedule, the database is scanned for ongoing configuration compliance and vulnerabilities. It is also scanned for sensitive data, using the content discovery feature of your DAM tool and policies tied to the type of application stack deployed and the business unit assigned. If it isn’t supposed to have credit card numbers, but they start appearing, security gets an alert.

Think about this for a moment – today people try to spin stuff up all over the place and it’s nearly impossible to find, never mind configure securely.

In the example above we completely automate the configuration and security of the application stack (including the database) on a dynamic basis using APIs and policy scripts. The database spins up with secure settings in a secure network; it is centrally registered, actively monitored, and scanned for both problems and sensitive (read ‘regulated’) data on an ongoing basis.

Today’s limitation is that very few security tools, by default, support the automation I described above. But things like initialization scripts and dynamic network management via APIs are fundamental to all cloud platforms.

Cool, eh? And heck, I’m probably missing a bunch of things