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Multi-Cloud Key Management (New Series)

By Adrian Lane

Running IT systems on public cloud services is a reality for most companies. Just about every company uses Software as a Service to some degree; with many having already migrated back-office systems like email, collaboration, file storage, and customer relationship management software. But we are now also witnessing the core of the data center – financial systems, databases, supply chain, and enterprise resource planning software – moving to public Platform and Infrastructure “as a Service” (PaaS & IaaS) providers. It’s common for medium and large enterprises to run SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS at different providers, all in parallel with on-premise systems. Some small firms we speak with no longer have data centers, with all their applications hosted by third parties.

Cloud services offer an alluring cocktail of benefits: they are cost effective, reliable, agile, and secure. While several of these advantages were never in question, security was the last major hurdle for customers. So cloud service providers focused on customer security concerns, and now offer extensive capabilities for data, network, and infrastructure security. In fact most customers can realize as good or better security in the cloud than possible in-house. With the removal of this last impediment we are seeing a growing number of firms embracing IaaS for critical applications.

Infrastructure as a Service means handing over ownership and operational control of your IT infrastructure to a third party. But responsibility for data security does not go along with it. The provider ensures compute, storage, and networking components are secure from external attackers or other tenants in the cloud, but you must protect your data and application access to it. Some of you trust your cloud providers, while others do not. Or you might trust one cloud service but not others. Regardless, to maintain control of your data you must engineer cloud security controls to ensure compliance with internal security requirements as well as regulatory and contractual obligations. In some cases you will leverage security capabilities provided by a cloud vendor, and in others you will bring your own and run them atop the cloud.

Encryption is the ‘go-to’ security technology in modern computing. So it should be no surprise that encryption technologies are everywhere in cloud computing. The vast majority of cloud service providers enable network encryption by default to protect data in transit and prevent hijacking. And the majority of cloud providers offer encryption for data at rest to protect files and archives from unwanted inspection by the people who manage the infrastructure or in case data leaks from the cloud service. In many ways encryption is another commodity, and part of the cloud service you pay for. But it is only effective when the encryption keys are properly protected. Just as with on-premise systems, when you move data to cloud services, it is critical to properly manage and secure encryption keys.

Controlling encryption keys – and by proxy your data – while adopting cloud services is one of the more difficult tasks when moving to the cloud. In this research series we will discuss challenges specific to multi-cloud key management. We will help you select the right strategy from many possible combinations. For example you need to decide who creates keys (you or your provider), where key are managed (on-premise or in-cloud), how they are stored (hardware or software), policies for how keys will be maintained, how to scale up in a dynamic environment, and how to integrate with each different cloud service model you use (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, or hybrid). And you still need to either select your own encryption library or invoke your cloud service to encrypt on your behalf. All together, you have a wonderful set of choices to meet any use case, but piecing it all together is a challenge. So we will discuss each of these options, how each customer requirement maps to different deployment options, and what to look for in a key management system.

Our next post will discuss common customer use cases.

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