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As more organizations move critical data to the cloud, security takes on ever-increasing importance, according to a recent report on cloud security.

The Security for Business Innovation Council, consisting of IT security professionals from 19 companies worldwide, called cloud computing the main disruptive force for 2013. In its report, "Information Security Shake-Up," the group said it was evident many organizations are preparing to move more business processes to the cloud. This year, it will even be "mission-critical apps and regulated data" consigned to the cloud, according to an article on NetworkWorld.com.

The Council includes security professionals from Coca-Cola, eBay, FedEx, EMC, Fidelity Investments, Intel, Johnson & Johnson and Walmart, among several others.

"Although supplier lock-in and system availability are some of the big concerns with the cloud, security remains the No. 1 obstacle to adoption," the Council's report states. "But trust in the cloud is growing."

Even regulators are starting to warm up to it, they noted, pointing out that the Dutch banking authority gave Dutch banks the green light to use cloud services late last year. But there are "gaps" in how well companies are planning for any transition to the cloud, the report notes. Though middle managers in companies may favor cloud computing for business reasons, there's a gap in coordination and trust with the IT security managers responsible for regulatory and security controls.

"Middle managers don't want to use their resources on security," the report bluntly says. "They are incentivized by timeline and budget; adding security doesn't fit into their objectives."

Security teams should be striving this year to build relationships with these middle managers, the report emphasizes. The practice of regular meetings and information exchange is an approach that has worked well over the past few years with the top corporate executives to bring their attention to the nature of cyber-threats. These top execs now largely understand and prioritize information security. But getting the same rapport going with middle managers is likely to be an even bigger challenge, the report says.

Growing Confidence in Cloud Security
Cloud computing has IT professionals increasingly convinced that while security controls are adequate, there still remains some skepticism.

Len Peters, CIO at Yale University, has undertaken a cost-benefit analysis of cloud-based services in comparison to on-premises software purchases. He found that not only are unit costs less for the software-as-a-service (SaaS) he's most interested in, but that SaaS can also further the compliance and security goals of the IT department, according to an article on CSOonline.com.

Last spring, Yale elected to migrate from an on-premises IT management application to the cloud-based ServiceNow. The economic analysis indicated a positive cost advantage within 13 months. But security and compliance considerations were and always are going to be critical factors in cloud-computing decisions, Peters said. Like many IT pros, he found himself asking the questions, "Is the cloud safe? What are the potential risks?"

The answer, he says, is yes, there are risks, but not necessarily any more than in your own environment if the proper security and contractual arrangements can be put in place with the cloud provider. What's more, use of cloud services can help speed the adoption of best practices that would further safeguard the university.

Yale is going to be looking at more cloud-computing options in the future for things such as human resources and ERP, Peters said.

Protecting Information in the Cloud
As attractive as cloud environments can be, they also come with new types of risks, according to an article on CFO.com.

Executives are asking whether external providers can protect sensitive data and also ensure compliance with regulations about where certain data can be stored and who can access the data. CIOs and CROs are also asking whether building private clouds creates a single point of vulnerability by aggregating many different types of sensitive data onto a single platform.

Blanket refusals to make use of private- or public-cloud capabilities leave too much value on the table from savings and improved flexibility. Large institutions, which have many types of sensitive information to protect and many cloud solutions to choose from, must balance potential benefits against, for instance, risks of breaches of data confidentiality, identity and access integrity, and system availability.

Refusing to use cloud capabilities is not a viable option for most institutions. The combination of improved agility and a lower IT cost base is spurring large enterprises to launch concerted programs to use cloud environments. At the same time, departments, work groups, and individuals often take advantage of low-cost, easy-to-buy public-cloud services - even when corporate policies say they should not.

About Patrick Burke
Patrick Burke is a writer and editor based in the greater New York area and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.

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