Friday, December 9, 2011

More Thoughts on Cloud Identity

Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to blog lately, as November was essentially a wash. First, we were left without power for a couple of weeks by the epic Halloween storm that crippled much of New England early in the month. Then I took off on my annual pilgrimage to visit relatives in England. And then, of course, it was Thanksgiving. Next thing I know, the malls are filled with Christmas shoppers and the drone of those annoying seasonal tunes to which we are thankfully subjected for only a few weeks a year.

Anyway, I'm back now. While catching up on my favorite blogs, this comment on cloud-based identity by Sean O'Neill---who I consider to be one of the best minds in the business---caught my eye, mainly because it echoes my own sentiments on the topic.

Sean notes that from a technical perspective, there is nothing earth-shatteringly new about cloud computing itself, except that we now give it a fancy name. No argument from me there. But his more important point is that the increasing adoption of cloud services creates a whole new set of governance headaches for CIOs. To illustrate this point, he quotes the CIO of a major insurance company:
“One thing I have come to realize is that when I move my application to the cloud, all of the security of my networks and firewalls that I have invested in over the years disappears. The only defense I have left is identity and data security in the application”
In my experience, that sentiment is probably not unusual among CIOs and CISOs, particularly in highly regulated verticals such as financial services, pharmaceuticals and healthcare. Entrusting identity management to the cloud may seem like a good idea to analysts, vendors and techies, but they are not the ones who would be laying awake at night, worrying about the legal and regulatory implications of their cloud identity provider suffering a catastrophic breach.

As Sean explains:
Even if you can sue the pants off of your cloud provider, the basic problem is a breach would have occurred and your people are not involved at the security level.
In other words, if you are a CIO and sensitive personal information about your customers and employees is leaked due to a breach at a third-party identity provider, the victims aren't going to give you a pass because you entrusted security to a cloud service. If anything, they will hold you even more liable for gross negligence. Not to mention that "not my fault" will do nothing to mitigate damage to your company's brand reputation.

The increased adoption of cloud computing is inevitable, but it is both reckless and unrealistic to view IAM as just another one of those services, particularly for large organizations.

Currently, everybody seems to be focused on the idea of moving IAM tools to the cloud (which, by the way, does nothing to alleviate the process and governance issues that make IAM projects so notoriously complex---it simply moves these problems somewhere else). Instead of viewing IAM as just another commodity, we should be thinking about how to help organizations evolve robust governance strategies for managing cloud identities. I know this isn't as sexy as the idea of cloud-based IAM products, but it is far more relevant to the average CIO.

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