Look I understand too little too late I realize there are things you say and do You can never take back But what would you be if you didn’t even try You have to try So after a lot of thought I’d like to reconsider Please If it’s not too late Make it a… cheeseburger
-Here I Am by Lyle Lovett
Sometimes I get a little too smart for my own good and think I can pull a fast one over you fair readers. Sure enough, Hoff called me out over my Cloud Computing Macro Layers post from yesterday. And I quote:
I’d say that’s a reasonable assertion and a valid set of additional “layers.” There also not especially unique and as such, I think Rich is himself a little disoriented by the fog of the cloud because as you’ll read, the same could be said of any networked technology. The reason we start with the network and usually find ourselves back where we started in this discussion is because the other stuff Rich mentions is just too damned hard, costs too much, is difficult to sell, isn’t standardized, is generally platform dependent and is really intrusive. See this post (Security Will Not End Up In the Network) as an example. Need proof of how good ideas like this get mangled? How about Web 2.0 or SOA which is for lack of a better description, exactly what RIch described in his model above; loosely coupled functional components of a modular architecture.
My response is… well… duh. I mean we’re just talking distributed applications, which we, of course, have yet to really get right (although multiplayer games and gambling are close).
But I take a little umbrage with Chris’s assumptions. I’m not proposing some kind of new, modular structure a la SOA, I’m talking more about application logic and basic security than anything else, not bolt-on tools. Because the truth is, it will be impossible to add these things on after the fact; it hasn’t worked well for network security, and sure as heck won’t work well for application security. These aren’t add-on products, they are design principles. They aren’t all new, but as everyone jumps off the cliff into the cloud they are worth repeating and putting into context for the fog/cloud environment.
Thus some new descriptions for the layers. Since it’s Friday and all I can think about is the Stone Brewery Epic Vertical Ale sitting in my fridge, this won’t be in any great depth:
Network: Traditional network security, and the stuff Hoff and others have been talking about. We’ll have some new advances to deal with the network aspects of remote and distributed applications, such as Chris’ dream of IF-MAP, but we’re still just talking about securing the tubes.
Service: Locking down the Internet exposed APIs- we have a fair bit of experience with this and have learned a lot of lessons over the past few years with work in SOA- SOAP, CORBA, DCOM, RPC and so on. We face three main issues here- first, not everyone has learned those lessons and we see tons of flaws in implementations and even fundamental design. Second, many of the designers/programmers building these cloud services don’t have a clue or a sense of history, and thus don’t know those lessons. And finally, most of these cloud services build their own kinds of APIs from scratch anyway, and thus everything is custom, and full of custom vulnerabilities from simple parsing errors, to bad parameterization, to logic flaws. Oh, and lest we not forget, plenty of these services are just web applications with AJAX and such that don’t even realize they are exposing APIs. Fun stuff I refer to as, “job security”.
User: This is an area I intend to talk about in much greater depth later on. Basically, right now we rely on static authentication (a single set of credentials to provide access) and I think we need to move more towards adaptive authentication (where we provide an authentication rating based on how strongly we trust that user at that time in that situation, and can thus then adjust the kinds of allowed transactions). This actually exists today- for example, my bank uses a username/password to let me in, but then requires an additional credential for transactions vs. basic access.
Transaction: As with user, this is an area we’ve underexplored in traditional applications, but I think will be incredibly valuable in cloud services. We build something called adaptive authorization into our applications and enforce more controls around approving transactions. For example, if a user with a low authentication rating tries to transfer a large sum out of their bank account, a text message with a code will be send to their cell phone with a code. If they have a higher authentication rating, the value amount before that back channel is required goes up. We build policies on a transaction basis, linking in environmental, user, and situational measurements to approve or deny transactions. This is program logic, not something you can add on.
Data: All the information-centric stuff we expend endless words on in this blog.
Thus this is nearly all about design, with a smidge of framework and shared security services support we can build into common environments (e.g. an adaptive authentication engine or encryption services in J2EE). No loosely coupled functional components, just a simple focus on proper application design with awareness of the distributed environment.
But as Chris also says,
It should be noted, however that there is a ton of work, solutions and initiatives that exist and continue to be worked on these topics, it’s just not a priority as is evidenced by how people exercise their wallets.
Exactly. Most of what we write about cloud computing security will be ignored…
… but what would we be if we didn’t even try. You have to try.