Don’t Fly Blind in the Clouds: How Cognitive Security Aids Cloud Computing
“Fidarsi è bene, non fidarsi è meglio,” or “To trust is good, not to trust is better.” — Italian Proverb
The cloud is much more than a marketing term — it’s a vital, tangible system of information delivery and engagement that significantly affects every aspect of business and society. But the ubiquity of cloud from a consumer’s standpoint and cloud’s complexity from a provider’s standpoint pose a host of potential security and privacy challenges. Fortunately, these issues can rapidly be addressed by cognitive security.
The Changing Technological Landscape
We in the technology fields sometimes underestimate the universality of the problems we’ve solved and the impact we’ve made in a short period. For example, my late father grew up on a farm less than 50 miles from New York City, and members of our family still very much remember when, as late as 1936, even nearby New York area suburbs were electrified as part of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) initiatives. In addition to the advantages in lighting, these REA implementations quickly enabled other fundamental infrastructure and quality-of-life improvements, resulting in indoor plumbing, improved refrigeration and increased harvests.
But of course, what the REA really brought wasn’t electrification per se but rather the utility model of standardization: a defined, sparse and consistent palette of frequency, voltage and waveforms, and of physical outlets and interfaces.
This REA electrical utility model, which was one of standardization and flexibility, may be considered a close engineering template for cloud computing. We can consider problems and opportunities for the present day as an analogue of electrification, including data and information processing via cloud computing. And we can thus resolve how some of the purported impediments to cloud adoption, such as problems of security and privacy, can be resolved by cognitive security.
Similar to the history of electrification in the U.S., the cloud computing implementations first became ubiquitous in large institutions in the 2010s and was democratized into much smaller institutions, homes and then into items on or even in the body. Cloud computing differs from previous distributed practices (e.g., distributed mainframe computing, service bureaus, network-centric computing, thin-client, computing-on-demand, etc.) in that it offers a local, user-generated, immediate capability for expansion of service, which these prior paradigms did not.
Unfortunately, things aren’t as simple when it comes to security. A criminal of the past generally needed to show up at a certain place, at a certain time and take a certain personal risk to reach a certain outcome. In contrast, computer security has a conflation of time, place and distance for attacks. It also has an asymmetry of personal investment of risk and outcome by any criminal perpetrator, as well as an asymmetry of decryption and technical review.
Cloud Computing Concerns
Key implications of cloud computing security concerns are analogous to those of electricity. For example:
- Computing and information resources are provided and delivered by a standardized utility model, not unlike electricity.
- The cloud model is dynamically and rapidly scalable. The pricing and charging are tracked by resources used.
- A cloud user can plug into her/his information from anywhere.
- Ownership and maintenance of the major hardware and most or all software is with the cloud provider.
- The security, privacy and ethical implications involving access to and residence of data, jurisdictional issues, choice of law and national regulations regarding encryption, health data and other considerations. Amazingly, at least 17 U.S. state bar associations have position requirements regarding cloud computing and security!
- For some, the biggest risk may be non-adaptation of cloud.
Fortunately, these issues can generally be successfully addressed by a judicious, risk-based approach involving cognitive security and its technical, operational and contractual safeguards.
Computer security is generally defined in an IAC triad: integrity, meaning the information is valid and can’t be changed; availability, as in the information is accessible and can be used when and where needed; and confidentiality, wherein information — even when valid and possessing integrity — is viewable and usable only by authorized persons. But appropriate cloud security is rarely absolute.
What Is Cognitive Security?
What exactly is cognitive security? At IBM, cognitive security and cognitive privacy are the tangible implementation of two broad and related capabilities. These are:
- The use of automated, data-driven security technologies, techniques and processes to help ensure that cognitive systems, such as Watson, have the highest level of security and trust; and
- The use of cognitive systems themselves to analyze security trends and distill enormous volumes of data into information, and then into knowledge-for-action for continuous security and business improvement.
Tangibly, how can your enterprise’s cloud computing capabilities be protected by cognitive security? There are two main ways to begin:
- Inside your enterprise, for your present and expected customers and communities, consider using a cloud infrastructure that is itself cognitively protected.
- Inside and outside your enterprise in the many areas where you can’t select cloud use directly, use cognitive security techniques to help provide security. For example, IBM’s Cloud Security Enforcer helps you understand the cloud services your own users are utilizing, apply a consistent policy for the usage of those services and monitor this on an ongoing basis.
Cognitive security, coupled with cloud computing offerings, may confidently give you the capabilities not only to use security defensively to reduce threats and risks, but also offensively to aid in market innovation and confidently increase your own business agility, market share, mindshare and customer value.