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How Secure Is Cloud Computing?

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Royal Holloway, University of London visiting professor Whitfield Diffie

"The whole point of cloud computing is economy: if someone else can compute it cheaper than you can, it's more cost effective for you to outsource the computation," says Whitfield Diffie, a visiting professor at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Credit: Royal Holloway, University of London

The recent ACM Cloud Computing Security Workshop, which took place Nov. 13 in Chicago, was the first event devoted specifically to the security of cloud computing systems. Speaker Whitfield Diffie, a visiting professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, says that although cryptography solutions for cloud computing are still far-off, much can be done in the short term to help make cloud computing more secure.

"The effect of the growing dependence on cloud computing is similar to that of our dependence on public transportation, particularly air transportation, which forces us to trust organizations over which we have no control, limits what we can transport, and subjects us to rules and schedules that wouldn't apply if we were flying our own planes," Diffie says. "On the other hand, it is so much more economical that we don't realistically have any alternative."

Diffie says current cloud computing techniques negate any economic benefit that would be gained by outsourcing computing tasks. He says a practical near-term solution will require an overall improvement in computer security, including cloud computing providers choosing more secure operating systems and maintaining a careful configuration on the systems. Security-conscious computing services providers would have to provision each user with their own processors, caches, and memory at any given moment, and would clean systems between users, including reloading the operating system and zeroing all memory.

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