Security Experts:

Concerns over Email Security in the Cloud - a Thing of the Past?

Email has often been Deemed too High Risk to Trust to a Third-Party Service Provider. Will the Events of 2010 Have an Effect on Organizations Migrating to the Cloud in 2011?

The past two years have seen significant rise in the adoption of cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), however the ever-present concern over security has greatly impacted its growth within email security. Two of the most common security concerns include data segregation and user access rights.

Data Segregation

Security Concerns of Cloud Hosted Email

To reduce costs and improve resource utilization, cloud computing constitutes shared infrastructure between different businesses. This means your organization's data may reside on the same hard drives as other organization's information and brings into question the physical and logical separation of information on these shared infrastructures. In addition, there is concern regarding backups, lost/stolen drives, and more. Without clear boundaries, it becomes much more difficult to provide security for such information.

User Access Rights

Who, and how, users are granted access to information when using a cloud service provider continues to be a security concern. While the cloud providers access control system may meet or exceed standards, the threat of malicious or accidental user breaches remain a risk. While organizations may go to great length to perform background checks on their employees along with other extensive screening to ensure the trusted handling of information within their walls, organizations rarely ensure that their cloud service provider abides by those same practices. In a model where security is only as good as your weakest link, many overlook the user threat that may exist within an outsourced organization that now controls your sensitive communication.

With 2010 witnessing several milestones toward addressing these security concerns, this may set the stage for organizations to take a serious look at migrating their messaging groupware applications to the cloud (with Microsoft BPOS, Google Apps, Lotus Notes) in a hybrid messaging architecture with their email backbone remaining on-premise.

The topic of cloud security has consistently been featured as one of the greatest factors inhibiting organizations from migrating their email infrastructure to the cloud. The sensitivity of information often contained in email communications, whether in internal or external conversation threads, has often been deemed too high risk to delegate the management of to a third-party service provider. However, the following events of 2010 may serve to reduce that risk, or at least the perception of it.

• Government Standards & Adoption - The White House, in combination with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), proposed a set of security standards for the use of cloud services in the government sector. This came in combination with the GSA’s announced plans to migrate to Google Apps.

• Industry Standards & Organization – Several industry organizations have focused their attention toward addressing this trend and security concerns as a result. The Payment Card Industry (PCI) began setting security standards for virtualization, which many cloud providers are now taking into effect. Organizations such as the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) have gained traction in both membership and in publication of guidelines and certifications.

• Private Clouds – Availability and operational efficiencies of dedicated infrastructures for enterprises has greatly reduced previous concerns around data segregation, access control and more. While this approach may fully discount the cost-savings benefit of cloud computing, this serves as another example between the trade-off between cost and security.

• Solution Providers & Service Offerings – The momentum in 2010 from top providers such as Microsoft, Google and IBM announcing new enhancements and services, reduced pricing models, and more have generated increased attention toward cloud-based email security. Their size and existing presence in the enterprise market has provided credibility toward the perception of security.

Will the events of 2010 have that large of an effect on organizations migrating to the cloud in 2011? Maybe. If the efforts to address security concerns continues, and at least partially resolved, this should result in more and more organizations begin to leverage cloud services for their IT needs, including modernization their email infrastructure. If not, larger enterprises will continue to take a more tepid approach by leveraging hybrid architectures and cloud sourcing the less sensitive functions such as spam and virus filtering.

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As Product Manager at Sendmail, Nicholas Filippi is currently responsible for Sendmail’s email security product line, setting product strategy for the Sentrion core messaging platform as well as all add-on applications to provide a comprehensive messaging solution. He joined Sendmail in 2007 from Reconnex (acquired by McAfee) where he was responsible for the data leak protection (DLP) product line, providing solutions to detect and protect confidential and otherwise sensitive information from unauthorized distribution. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.