In response to articles that I published this past week on cloud computing titled, “Hybrid Cloud Computing is the Right Architecture for eDiscovery and Information Governance” and “Ten Reasons Why eDiscovery and Information Governance Belongs in the Cloud“, I have received several comments questioning the viability of cloud security. Therefore, in answer to these questions, this article provides a quick overview of the cloud security capabilities of Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Users in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Security Stones
After years of wandering through litigation service provider data centers (or what I would describe as over heated closets with under-powered servers and lots of exposed wires) and even many corporate data centers, I contend that AWS and other Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) have implemented security measures that most litigation service providers and even many corporations will never attain. As such, the same eDiscovery and Information Governance users that contend that the cloud is not secure need to examine the “state of security with their current partners and internal operations.
Overview of AWS Security
The AWS cloud infrastructure has been architected to be one of the most flexible and secure cloud computing environments available today. It provides an extremely scalable, highly reliable platform that enables customers to deploy applications and data quickly and securely.
With the AWS cloud, not only are infrastructure headaches removed, but so are many of the security issues that come with them. AWS’s world-class, highly secure data centers utilize state-of-the art electronic surveillance and multi-factor access control systems. Data centers are staffed 24×7 by trained security guards, and access is authorized strictly on a least privileged basis. Environmental systems are designed to minimize the impact of disruptions to operations. And multiple geographic regions and Availability Zones allow you to remain resilient in the face of most failure modes, including natural disasters or system failures.
The AWS virtual infrastructure has been designed to provide optimum availability while ensuring complete customer privacy and segregation.
Not only are your applications and data protected by highly secure facilities and infrastructure, but they’re also protected by extensive network and security monitoring systems. These systems provide basic but important security measures such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection and password brute-force detection on AWS Accounts. Additional security measures include:
- Secure access – Customer access points, also called API endpoints, allow secure HTTP access (HTTPS) so that you can establish secure communication sessions with your AWS services using SSL.
- Built-in firewalls – You can control how accessible your instances are by configuring built-in firewall rules – from totally public to completely private, or somewhere in between. And when your instances reside within a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) subnet, you can control egress as well as ingress.
- Unique users – The AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) tool allows you to control the level of access your own users have to your AWS infrastructure services. With AWS IAM, each user can have unique security credentials, eliminating the need for shared passwords or keys and allowing the security best practices of role separation and least privilege.
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA) – AWS provides built-in support for multi-factor authentication (MFA) for use with AWS Accounts as well as individual IAM user accounts.
- Private Subnets – The AWS Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) service allows you to add another layer of network security to your instances by creating private subnets and even adding an IPsec VPN tunnel between your home network and your AWS VPC.
- Encrypted data storage – Customers can have the data and objects they store in Amazon S3, Glacier, Redshift, and Oracle RDS encrypted automatically using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256, a secure symmetric-key encryption standard using 256-bit encryption keys.
- Dedicated connection option – The AWS Direct Connect service allows you to establish a dedicated network connection from your premise to AWS. Using industry standard 802.1q VLANs, this dedicated connection can be partitioned into multiple logical connections to enable you to access both public and private IP environments within your AWS cloud.
- Isolated GovCloud – For customers who require additional measures in order to comply with US ITAR regulations, AWS provides an entirely separate region called AWS GovCloud (US) that provides an environment where customers can run ITAR-compliant applications, and provides special endpoints that utilize only FIPS 140-2 encryption.
- Dedicated, hardware-based crypto key storage option – For customers who must use Hardware Security Module (HSM) appliances for cryptographic key storage, AWS CloudHSM provides a highly secure and convenient way to store and manage keys.
- Trusted Advisor – Provided automatically when you sign up for premium support, the Trusted Advisor service is a convenient way for you to see where you could use a little more security. It monitors AWS resources and alerts you to security configuration gaps such as overly permissive access to certain EC2 instance ports and S3 storage buckets, minimal use of role segregation using IAM, and weak password policies.
Because the AWS cloud infrastructure provides so many built-in security features, you can simply focus on the security of your guest OS and applications. AWS security engineers and solution architects have developed whitepapers and operational checklists to help you select the best options for your needs and recommend security best practices, such as storing secret keys and passwords in a secure manner and rotating or changing them frequently.
For a complete list of all the security measures built into the core AWS cloud infrastructure, platforms, and services, please read the AWS Overview of Security Processes whitepaper.
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