|By Kevin Jackson||
|June 9, 2009 07:45 AM EDT||
The lead topic of every information technology (IT) conversation today is cloud computing. The key point within each of those conversations is inevitably cloud computing security. Although this trend is understandable, the sad part is that these conversations will tend to focus on all the standard security pros, cons and requirements. While protecting data from corruption, loss, unauthorized access, etc. are all still required characteristics of any IT infrastructure, cloud computing changes the game in a much more profound way.
Until now, IT security has been akin to early 20th century warfare. After surveying and carefully cataloging all possible threats, the line of business (LOB) manager and IT professional would debate and eventually settle on appropriate and proportional risk mitigation strategies. The resulting IT security infrastructures and procedures typically reflected a “defense in depth” strategy, eerily reminiscent of the French WWII Maginot line . Although new threats led to updated capabilities, the strategy of extending and enhancing the protective barrier remained. Often describe as an “arms race”, the IT security landscape has settled into ever escalating levels of sophisticated attack versus defense techniques and technologies. Current debate around cloud computing security has seemed to continue without the realization that there is a fundamental change now occurring. Although technologically, cloud computing represents an evolution, strategically it represents the introduction of maneuver warfare into the IT security dictionary.
The concepts of attrition warfare and maneuver warfare dominate strategic options within the military. In attrition warfare, masses of men and material are moved against enemy strongpoints, with the emphasis on the destruction of the enemy's physical assets. Maneuver warfare, on the other hand, advocates that strategic movement can bring about the defeat of an opposing force more efficiently than by simply contacting and destroying enemy forces until they can no longer fight. The US Marine Corps concept of maneuver is a "warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope." It is important to note, however, that neither is used in isolation. Balanced strategies combine attrition and maneuver techniques in order to be successful on the battlefield.
With cloud computing, IT security can now use maneuver concepts for enhance defense. By leveraging virtualization, high speed wide area networks and broad industry standardization, new and enhanced security strategies can now be implemented. Defensive options can now include the virtual repositioning of entire datacenters. Through “cloudbursting”, additional compute and storage resources can also be brought to bear in a defensive, forensic or counter-offensive manner. The IT team can now actively “fight through an attack” and not just observe an intrusion, merely hoping that the in-place defenses are deep enough. The military analogy continues in that maneuver concepts must be combined with “defense in depth” techniques into holistic IT security strategies.
A theoretical example of how maneuver IT security strategies could be use would be in responding to a denial of service attack launched on DISA datacenter hosted DoD applications. After picking up a grossly abnormal spike in inbound traffic, targeted applications could be immediately transferred to virtual machines hosted in another datacenter. Router automation would immediately re-route operational network links to the new location (IT defense by maneuver). Forensic and counter-cyber attack applications, normally dormant and hosted by a commercial infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider (a cloudburst), are immediately launched, collecting information on the attack and sequentially blocking zombie machines. The rapid counter would allow for the immediate, and automated, detection and elimination of the attack source.
This revolution, of course, doesn’t come without its challenges. This is truly a cultural shift. Cloud computing provides choice, and in the context of active defense strategies, these choices must be made in real-time. While the cloud computing advantages of self-service, automation, visibility and rapid provisioning can enable maneuver security strategies, successful implementation requires cooperation and collaboration across multiple entities, both within and without.
The cloud computing era is also the dawning of a new day in IT security. In the not to distant future, network and IT security training will include both static and active IT security techniques. Maneuver warfare in IT security is here to stay.
ii. MCDP 1 United States Marine Corps Warfighting
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