2012 was a tremendous year for cloud computing and cloud security, and we don’t expect anything slowdown in 2013. The best part is watching the discussion slowly march past the hype and into the operational realities of securing the cloud. It is still early days, but things are moving along steadily as adoption rates continue to chug along.

On the downside, this steady movement is a total buzzkill when it comes to our tendency toward pithy deconstruction. Much of what you see on the show floor (and in all marketing materials for the next couple quarters) represent mere incremental advancements of the trends we identified last year. Cloudwashing is alive and well, the New Kids on the Cloud Security Block are still chugging along patiently waiting for the market to pop (though their investors may not be so patient), data security is still a problem for cloud computing, and ops is handling more security than you realize. What is old is new again. Again.

SECaaS: Good for More Than Cheap Laughs

We realize we sometimes push the edge of acceptable language during our presentations and blog posts, but nothing seems to garner a laugh better this year than saying ‘SECaaS’. The thing is, Security as a Service is maturing faster than security for cloud services, with some very interesting offerings hitting the market. Some security operations, including inbound email security, web filtering, and WAF, demonstrate clear advantages when implemented outside your perimeter and managed by someone else. You can provide better protection for mobile users and applications, reduce overhead, and keep the easily identified crud from ever hitting your network by embracing SECaaS.

One of the most interesting aspects of SECaaS (we know, so juvenile!) is the far-reaching collection of security data across different organizations, and the ability to feed it into Big Data Analytics. Now that we’ve attained our goal of writing Big Data Analytics at least a few times each day, this isn’t all smoke and mirrors – especially for threat intelligence. Pretty much every anti-malware tool worth a darn today relies on cloud-based information sharing and analysis of some sort, along with most of the monitoring and blocking tools with cloud components. We will also touch on this tomorrow for endpoint security. We all know the limitations of sitting around and only getting to see what’s on your own network, but cloud providers can pull data from their entire customer base, so they get a chance to recognize the important bits and react faster. Admittedly, a few neighbors need to get shot before you can figure out who pulled the trigger and what the bullet looked like, but as long as it’s not you, the herd benefits, right?

Other areas, such as network monitoring (including forensics), configuration management, and key management, all demonstrate creative uses for the cloud. The trick when looking at SECaaS providers is to focus on a few key characteristics to see if they are really cloud-based, and if they provide benefits over more traditional options. The first acid test is whether they are truly architected for multi-tenancy and security. Throwing some virtual appliances into a few colocation data centers and billing the service monthly isn’t quite good enough to make our personal SECaaS list. Also make sure you understand how they leverage the cloud to benefit you, the customer. Some things don’t make sense to move to the cloud – for example certain aspects of DLP work in the cloud but many others don’t. Will moving a particular function to the cloud make your life easier without reducing security? Skip the marketing folks and sales droids (wearing suits) and find the most anti-social-looking guy or girl you can in a scruffy logo shirt. That’s usually a developer or engineer – ask them what the service does and how it works.

SecDevOps or SecByeBye

DevOps refers to the operational model of increasing the communications and agility between operations and development to increase overall responsiveness and technology velocity. It relies heavily on cloud computing, agile/iterative development processes, automation, and team structures to reduce the friction normally associated with creating, managing, and updating software applications (internal or external). DevOps is growing quickly, especially in organizations leveraging cloud computing. It is the reason, for example, that many self-service private clouds start as tools for developers.

DevOps is more than just another overhyped management trend. Cloud computing, especially IaaS and PaaS, with APIs to manage infrastructure, draw DevOps like a moth to flame. One benefit is that developers don’t need to ask IT ops to provision a server for a new project, and it is irresistible to many developers. If it reduces developer and operations overhead, what’s not to love?

Oh, right. Security.

Security has a reputation for slowing things down, and while at times that is the right approach, it is often the wrong one. For example, it just doesn’t work well if security has to manually update the firewall for every cloud instance a dev spins up for external testing. Fortunately DevOps also brings some security advantages, such as extensive use of automated configuration scripts and pre-set platforms and applications that can start from a secure state. But what does this all have to do with the RSA Conference?

Keep an eye out for security options that tie into agile DevOps approaches if you are evaluating cloud security. These products will typically consume, and even deliver, APIs for automation and scripting. They rely on security policies more than manual operations. Frequently they tie directly into the leading cloud platforms, such as your private cloud or something up on Amazon, Rackspace, Microsoft Azure, or HP.

When looking at security tools for cloud computing, definitely talk DevOps with reps on the show floor to see if the tool is as agile as what it’s protecting. Otherwise it’s deader than a red shirt on Walking Dead. (We like to mix analogies).

And don’t forget to register for the Disaster Recovery Breakfast if you’ll be at the show on Thursday morning. Where else can you kick your hangover, start a new one, and talk shop with good folks in a hype-free zone? Nowhere, so make sure you join us…