- In May, Chris Hoff posted Incomplete Thought: The Crushing Costs of Complying With Cloud Customer “Right To Audit” Clauses, where Chris wrote Cloud providers I have spoken to are being absolutely hammered by customers acting on their “right to audit” clauses in contracts.
- In June, Craig posted Stop the Madness! Cloud Onboarding Audits - An Open Question... where he wondered Is there an existing system/application/protocol whereby I can transmit my policy requirements to a provider, they can respond in real-time with compliance level and any additional costs, with less structured/known requirements responded to by a human (but transmitted the same way)?
- Later in June, Craig posted in Vulnerability Scanning and Clouds: An Attempt to Move the Dialog On... where he spoke of the need for customers to conduct vulnerability assessments of cloud providers: A “ScanAuth” API call empowers the customer (or their nominated 3rd party) to scan their hosted Cloud infrastructure confident in the knowledge they won’t fall foul of the providers Terms of Service.
- In July, Chris extended Craig's idea with Extending the Concept: A Security API for Cloud Stacks, building on the aforementioned Twitter discussions. Chris mentioned The Audit, Assertion, Assessment, and Assurance API (A6) (Title credited to @CSOAndy)... Specifically, let’s take the capabilities of something like SCAP and embed a standardized and open API layer into each IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offering (see the API blocks in the diagram below) to provide not only a standardized way of scanning for network vulnerabilities, but also configuration management, asset management, patch remediation, compliance, etc.
Still with me? In August Network World posted A6 promises a way to check up on public cloud security, which said:
What cloud services users need is a way to verify that the security they expect is being delivered, and there is an effort underway for an interface that would do just that.
Called A6 (Audit, Assertion, Assessment and Assurance API) the proposal is still in the works, driven by two people: Chris Hoff - who came up with the idea and works for Cisco - and the author of the Iron Fog blog who identifies himself as Ben, an information security consultant in Toronto.
The usefulness of the API would be that cloud providers could offer customers a look into certain aspects of the service without compromising the security of other customers’ assets or the security of the cloud provider’s network itself.
Work on a draft of A6 is posted here http://www.scribd.com/doc/18515297/A6-API-Documentation-Draft-011. It’s incomplete, but offers a sound framework for what is ultimately needed.
So let's see what that says:
The A6 API was designed with the following concepts in mind:
- The security stack MUST provide external systems with the ability to query a utility computing provider for their security state.
That's about it, with the following appearing below:
In classic outsourcing deals these security policies and controls would be incorporated into the procurement contract; with cloud computing providers, the ability to enter in specific contractual obligations for security or allow for third party audits is either limited or non-existent. However, this limitation does not reduce the need for consuming organizations to protect their data.
The A6 API is intended to close this gap by providing consuming organizations with near real-time views into the security of their cloud computing provider. While this does not allow for consuming organizations to enforce their security policies and controls upon the provider, they will have information to allow them to assess their risk exposure.
Before I drop the question you're all waiting for, let me say that I think it is great people are thinking about these problems. Much better to have a discussion than to assume cloud = secure.
However, my question is this: how does this provide "consuming organizations with near real-time views into the security of their cloud computing provider"?
Here is what I think is happening. Craig started this thread because he wanted a way to conduct audit and compliance (remember I highlighted those terms) activities against cloud providers without violating their terms of service. I am sure Craig would agree that compliance != security.
The danger is that someone will believe that complaince = security, thinking one could conceivably determine security state by scanning for network vulnerabilities, but also configuration management, asset management, patch remediation, compliance, etc..
This is like network access control all over again. A good "security state" means you're allowed on the network because your system is configured "properly," the system is "patched," and so on. Never mind that the system is 0wned. Never mind that there is no API for quering 0wnage.
Don't get me wrong, this is a really difficult problem. It is exceptionally difficult to assess true system state by asking the system, since you are at the mercy of the intruder. It could be worse with cloud and virtual infrastructure if the intruder owns the system and the virtual infrastructure. Customer queries the A6 API and the cloud returns a healthy response, despite the reality. Shoot, the cloud could say it IS healthy by the definition of patches or configuration and still be 0wned.
I think there's more thought required here, but that doesn't mean A6 is a waste of time -- if we are clear that it's more about compliance and really nothing about security, or especially trustworthiness of the assets.