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Fine-Grained Access Controls

How Secure Is The Cloud?
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Are fine-grained access controls in place?

One place where cloud vendors are still playing catch-up to the mainframe computing world is in the area of security policies and access controls. In many cases, access is an all-or-nothing proposition, meaning that once a user authenticates to the cloud, they have the freedom to do a lot of unintentional damage, to start and stop a virtual server, or create other chaos inside the cloud environment.

Some cloud providers are better about this than others, and allow virtual networks within a particular environment or other means of segregating access for individual customers. For example, when the United States Golf Association in Far Hills, New Jersey wanted to build some new Web applications, it went with a smaller cloud provider to get this granularity, because several different applications groups were going to be using the cloud. Jessica Carroll, the managing director of information technologies for the association, says, "We wanted more personal support, and wanted our IT staff to be a little closer to our cloud vendor. We use a VPN to connect to our cloud network, but have two different development groups that are working on different servers hosted there. We set things up so that each group can only see each other's resources, so that developers can restart virtual servers or make other changes without affecting the other's equipment."

VMware has only recently added a level of granularity to its vSphere line of products. Its vShield Zones product includes a hypervisor-based firewall to enforce network and port connections on each virtual server, and set up a full collection of policies and firewall rules within the virtual environment. Users of Verizon's Computing as a Service can set up firewall rule sets by port and protocol for each virtual server, as you can see in this screenshot.

Verizon's CaaS can set up specific security rules, similar to most firewalls, to enable or disable access to particular ports and protocols.Verizon's CaaS can set up specific security rules, similar to most firewalls, to enable or disable access to particular ports and protocols.

There are also third-party security tools, such as Hytrust's Appliance for VMware, which allows more granular control over which users have what kind of access to particular virtual servers. To get an idea of how Hytrust's software operates, check out this screencast video that I prepared for them here.

We can expect other cloud computing vendors to do a better of job with granular access in the near future.

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