San Antonio, US: Moving into the cloud will improve security, lower costs and boost performance, observed US Army General Keith Alexander, during his keynote at the GEOINT 2011 Symposium. Alexander is commander of US Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency, and chief of the Central Security Service.
“In this new world of cyber-attack and -defence, there is a role to play for GEOINT. The action may be virtual but eventually it all ties back to someone located in the real world. Placing them on a map is very helpful,” Alexander said. According to Alexander, one reason for the push to cloud-based computing lies in the increasing number of attacks on both government and commercial systems. There are millions of devices in the Department of Defense, a number that guarantees that some will not be patched with the latest security fixes. As a result, a persistent adversary will be able to get in and data from the commercial sector shows that intruders are often in place for months before being detected.
Once inside a network, some adversaries will no longer be content to merely siphon off data. As shown by accidental power outages in both the US and Russia, it’s possible for software to cause severe damage to physical infrastructure. “We now have a high probability of destructive attacks,” Alexander said.
Implementing a cloud-based system would benefit security in a number of ways, Alexander said. For one thing, updates to devices would be more automatic. In addition, it would remove many of the vulnerabilities presented by mobile devices, which represent a tremendous opportunity and danger. In addition there are a number of non-security benefits. Analysts will have an easier time doing their jobs. Today, every database has its own security manager. As a result, getting access to a legacy database for a single query requires being authenticated for that database. A good chunk of an analyst’s time is currently consumed with this seemingly simple access task. Going to a cloud will make an analyst’s job orders of magnitude easier, Alexander predicted.
A cloud-based approach can also save significant IT money. For instance, the number of help desks in a network could eventually fall from hundreds to just two, the number of apps could drop from thousands to 250, and the number of data centres could be slashed significantly. All told, Alexander said a 30 to 40 percent savings is achievable. A final benefit is faster performance. Alexander related how a regional gateway set up in Iraq helped warfighters. Previously, information was shipped from Iraq for analysis, with a turnaround time measured in hours. By building a cloud support structure in the region, that time was shortened significantly, and this was credited with helping to achieve success in Iraq.
“The cloud isn’t just one cloud,” Alexander said in summing up this approach. The National Security Agency is in the process of transitioning all of its databases to the cloud, with NSA Georgia, Texas and Hawaii running pilots. The goal is to have the initial phase of the switch done by the beginning of 2012. The U.S. military has also released a secure cloud implementation to the open source community, in part to have the community ferret out any flaws. Another benefit is that a more secure cloud will percolate through the commercial sector, helping to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure.
Source: KMI Media group