Incident Response in the Cloud: Don’t Let It Be an Afterthought

Anthony Di Bello There certainly has been plenty of discussion around the impact of cloud computing on security. But the fact of the issue remains that cloud computing can both complicate, and simplify enterprise IT security. For instance, when an organization's data and applications are spread across multiple cloud service providers - security can become significantly more complex. However, using cloud and other IT outsourcing services small companies can outsource all of their IT - and security - and (in most cases) both greatly simplify their IT as well as increase security.

However, when talking about how cloud affects anything, including something as complex as security and incident response, it’s important to define what types of cloud services we are talking about. The impact on incident response will be considerably different depending.

Essentially, there are three types of cloud: public, private, and hybrid clouds. Public cloud is what most people think of when they say “cloud” computing. A public cloud is where the underlying infrastructure is shared, and resources are dynamically provisioned. Think of Amazon Web Services for cloud infrastructure, or storage-specific services such as Dropbox.

Then we have private cloud. Private cloud is primarily the domain of large enterprises and government agencies. And these are organizations that want a highly-virtualized, self-provisional cloud environment - but need to maintain full control and transparency over the infrastructure. Then are organizations that build a “hybrid” cloud infrastructure that consists of both public cloud and private cloud resources. Less critical data and applications may be used on the public cloud, while the private cloud is where classified, regulated or valuable intellectual property data will be stored and accessed.

The challenge for IR teams is understanding how each of these architectures affect digital investigations. It’ll be a topic that we look at from time to time in the upcoming months here in this blog.

A simple example in how a cloud architecture can affect a incident response would be how, under circumstances depending on the public cloud service provider, make it impossible to get the forensics data they need for an investigation. Because public providers may not have the internal policy framework, staff resources, technologies or even the architecture necessary to contain or recover data — such abilities will vary greatly from one provider to the next.

Also, the sharing of resources in multi-tenant environments may make it next to impossible for cloud providers to share logs, network data, etc. because of its contractual agreements with other customers.

Another area where cloud may complicate incident response efforts is when it comes to so-called rogue cloud services, when users turn to cloud providers without the knowledge or approval of the corporate IT department. This could include users storing data in public cloud storage services such as Megaupload, or using cloud applications at service providers that may not have the necessary processes in place to aid with IR investigation requests.

While cloud computing doesn’t change what makes for good incident response practices, it does add another level of complexity - and organizations need to be prepared for the change. Of course, this is nothing new to investigators and security teams who have had to deal with many technological changes over the years, from mobile device storage to the rise in intelligent portable devices, virtualization, and even the encroachment of early generation Web services onto the corporate network.

Cloud computing is simply another step in the evolution — and incident responders need to be prepared for the complexities cloud computing brings.

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