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Cloud Computing: Analysing the risks involved in cloud

computing environments
Sneha Prabha Chandran and Mridula Angepat
School of Innovation, Design and Engineering, Mlardalen University, Vsters, Sweden
scn10003@student.mdh.se, mat10001@student.mdh.se

Abstract

considering Google Docs as a background. Section 4 goes on


to present a case study on the risk analysis approach utilized
to assess risks in the process. Section 5 presents the related
work. A conclusion is established in Section 5 after
reviewing through preceding sections covering the current
cloud computing practices and risk mitigation measures
being factored in the process.

In recent years, cloud computing has been an emerging


computing model in the IT industry. Machines involved in
cloud computing deliver services in a scalable manner. It
provides efficient computing by centralizing storage,
memory processing and bandwidth. Adopting cloud
computing can result in both positive and negative effects on
data security.
This paper presents a study about the risk issues involved in
cloud computing. It highlights the different types of risks and
how their existence can affect the cloud users. It also
discusses the different circumstances in which the risks
occur and the measures to be taken to avoid them. The paper
also attempts to lay out measures to be taken while using
cloud computing to reduce negative effects on the outcome
and maintain data integrity.

2. What is Cloud Computing


Cloud computing is an internet-based model of computing,
where the shared information, software and resources are
provided to computers and other devices upon demand. This
enables the end user to access the cloud computing resources
anytime from any platform such as a cell phone, mobile
computing platform or the desktop. The data and the
software applications required by the users are not stored on
their own computers; instead they are stored on remote
servers which are under the control of other hosts. The users
are not necessarily aware about which server running on
which host is providing the service. The current major cloud
service providers are Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, IBM,
Salesforce, Amazon and Google.

1. Introduction
Cloud computing has served the ever growing storage and
data processing needs, however it has also given rise to a
number of risks. The risks arise due to the various factors
such as the location of the data centres, data segregation,
data integrity, infrastructure and lack of knowledge about the
governing policies. In a cloud computing environment, the
resources are used when required and this is expected to
translate into reduced costs of maintenance and elastic
scalability. For example, in order to process a user request,
the service provider decides upon the resources to be utilised
for the particular task and when these resources needs to be
released. Since the entire process is carried out by the
service provider and not by the user, the security and
integrity of the users data becomes a significant concern.

The two most significant components of the cloud


computing architecture are the front end and the back end.
The front end includes the clients computer and the
application required to access the cloud computing system.
All the cloud computing systems do not provide the same
user interface. Web services like electronic mail programs
control some existing web browsers such as Firefox,
Microsofts internet explorer or safari. Other type of systems
has some unique application which provides the network
access to its clients. The back end of the cloud computing
architecture consists of the various servers, computers and
the data storage devices, in other terms this network of
interconnected devices constitute the cloud.

This paper analyses three major risks associated with cloud


computing namely, 1) Security risks 2) Privacy risks 3)
Consumer risks. In section 2 cloud computing is explored as
a process along with its pros and cons. Section 3 focuses on
the risks involved and the need for risk analysis. It further
dwells on specific risks involved in the arena of biomedical
information sharing.

Cloud computing components can be further typified as the


cloud infrastructure, cloud platform and cloud application.
Cloud infrastructure consists of various cloud services such
as computational resources (Virtual Machines), data storage
and communication networks such as Amazons Elastic
Compute Cloud. The cloud platform provides well-defined
APIs for interaction with the cloud application such as the

Further, the privacy risks involved in the two main cloud


structures and risks associated with the consumers are also
discussed. These risks are put into perspective by

Googles App Engine or Salesforce.com. Finally the cloud


application being the web service that runs on top of the
cloud platform or the infrastructure. These are the commonly
used public interface applications such as the Googles
GoogleDocs. The Figure 1 represents the three cloud
computing components.

Cloud Application

Cloud Platform

Cloud Infrastructure

Computational
resources

Storage

Communications

3. Risk Analysis
In order to create awareness among the users of cloud
computing regarding the serious threats and vulnerabilities
involved in cloud computing environments, a study on
various risks is imperative. In the sections below, we discuss
the different risks.

Figure 1. The different cloud computing components.


The layered figure represents the inter-dependency between the
different layers in the cloud.

2.1 Advantages in Cloud Computing

3.1 Security Risks

Reduced setup costs can be considered as a major


advantage for cloud computing, since the costs
involved in setting up a data centre are not very
high.
In addition to the IT industry, even small scale
businesses can adopt this environment (model).
Considering cloud computing from the aspect of
power management, it serves as a virtual server
which is easier to implement in comparison to
physical servers.
Hardware management failure can also be localized
and rectified with relative ease.
Various data centres are spread throughout the
country and thus it makes easy for the businesses to
use preferred sites.
The assessment of data can be done any time and is
highly beneficial for the IT industry in reducing
workloads.
The cloud computing environments are easily
scalable.
Backup recovery is very easy in Infrastructure as a
Service (IaaS) Providers, hence there is efficient
incident response whenever data needs to be
recovered.

The state of preventing a system from vulnerable attacks is


considered as the systems security. Security risks involved
with the governmental use of cloud computing have various
risk factors. Seven important identity factors for risk in a
cloud computing model are: Access, Availability, Network
load, Integrity, Data Security, Data Location and Data
Segregation.
3.1.1 Access
The data in a private organization allows only the
authenticated users to access the data. The access privilege
must be provided only to the concerned customers and
auditors in order to minimize such risks. When there is an
access from an internal to external source, the possibility of
risk is more in case of sensitive data. Segregation of the data
is very important in cloud computing as the data is
distributed over a network of physical devices. Data
corruption arises if appropriate segregation is not maintained.
Currently, there are no federal policies addressing how
government information is accessed.
3.1.2 Availability
Availability plays a major role in cloud computing since the
needs of the customers should be attended on time. A
research from the University of California had tracked the
availability and outages of four major cloud vendors. It was

2.2 Disadvantages in Cloud Computing

party. Hence the confidentiality and security


measures are less secured.
In cloud environments the data is not specifically
segregated. It is distributed throughout the cloud
network and causes problems when specific data
needs to be segregated.
Another major drawback is the dependence on
network connectivity. Network failures can result in
loss to the company by causing extensive time
delays.
The Service Lease Agreements (SLA) are the
agreements made with the service providers
controlling varied equipment in the cloud network.
These agreements should be carefully verified
before entering into a contract of service.
The quality of service is a key determining factor in
the efficiency of a cloud network. A reliable service
provider providing desired quality of service may
be difficult to source and the process set-up could
turn out to be time consuming.

A major disadvantage in cloud computing is that it


is under the maintenance and supervision of a third

found that overload on the system caused programming


errors resulting in system crashes and failures. Due to the
lack of backup recovery Apple, MobileMe, Google Gmail,
Citrix and Amazon s3 reported periods of unavailability
ranging from 2 to 14hrs in a span of just 60 days. This
resulted in a loss of confidence among the customers and the
vendors.

corruption. With cloud computing becoming an upcoming


trend, a number of vulnerabilities could arise when the data
is being indiscriminately shared among the varied systems in
cloud computing. Trust is an important factor which is
missing in the present models as the service providers use
diversified mechanisms which do not have proper security
measures. The following sub section describes the risks
factors in cloud environments.

Natural disasters can also present significant risks. A


lightening strike at one of Amazon.coms facilities caused
the service to go offline for approximately 4 hours. This
component of the cloud was difficult to replace immediately
and resulted in delays.

3.1.6 Data Location


Data Location is another aspect in cloud computing where
service providers are not concentrated in a single location
but are distributed throughout the globe. It creates
unawareness among the customers about the exact location
of the cloud. This could hinder investigations within the
cloud and is difficult to access the activity of the cloud,
where the data is not stored in a particular data centre but in
a distributed format. The users may not be familiar with the
underlying environments of the varied components in the
cloud.

3.1.3 Network Load


Cloud network load can also prove to be detrimental to
performance of the cloud computing system. If the capacity
of the cloud is greater than 80%, then the computers can
become unresponsive due to high volumes .The computers
and the servers crash due to high volume motion of data
between the disk and the computer memory. The percentage
of capacity threshold also poses a risk to the cloud users.
When the threshold exceeds 80%, the vendors protect their
services and pass the degradation on to customers. It has
been indicated that in certain cases the outage of the system
to the users are still not accessed [16].

3.1.7 Data Segregation


Data Segregation is not easily facilitated in all cloud
environments as all the data cannot be segregated according
to the user needs. Some customers do not encrypt the data as
there are chances for the encryption itself to destroy the data.
In short, cloud computing is not an environment which
works in a toolkit. The compromised servers are shut down
whenever a data is needed to be recovered. The available
data is not correctly sent to the customer at all times of need.
When recovering the data there could be instances of
replication of data in multiple sites. The restoration of data
must be quick and complete to avoid further risks.

Flexibility and scalability should be considered pivotal when


designing and implementing a cloud infrastructure. Money
and time also plays an important role in the design of the
infrastructure. Customers will always have expectations on
the durability and the efficiency of the system. Going
forward the customers will also demand the need of
interoperability, ability to switch providers and migration
options [15]. Another risk factor of cloud computing is the
implementation of the application programming interfaces
(API).

We examine how cloud computing is assessed in a


biomedical laboratory which experiences risks due to
hackers [3].In a biomedical laboratory, data is always
exposed to threats both internal and external. Less separation
is provided by the cloud in case of a separate server in a
laboratory. The risks include the hacking of the hypervisor,
where a shared CPU can be easily attacked. The data can be
manipulated, deleted or destroyed as a result of the attack.
Such attacks on biomedical data can have serious
implications to the end users. Thus the Data Base Manage
System (DBMS) and web servers face vulnerability if the
infrastructure of the cloud is not properly designed. There
are certain non technical risks which arise due to outsourcing
of information. Encrypting the data from the technical aspect
is important to ensure that the data is not hacked or attacked.
Strong encryption is needed for sensitive data and this would
mean increased costs. Table 1 provides a summary of the
security mechanisms provided by major cloud service
providers.

3.1.4 Integrity
Data integrity affects the accuracy of information maintained
in the system. In a cloud computing model data validity,
quality and security affects the systems operations and
desired outcomes. The program efficiency and performance
are addressed by the integrity. An apt example for this would
be that of a mobile phone service provider who stored all the
customers data including messages, contact lists etc in a
Microsoft subsidiary [17]. The Provider lost the data and the
cloud was unavailable. The customers had to wait until they
got the necessary information from the cloud and the data
was restored.
3.1.5 Data Security
Another key criterion in a cloud is the data security. Data has
to be appropriately secured from the outside world. This is
necessary to ensure that data is protected and is less prone to

Security Issues
Password Recovery

Encryption Mechanism

Data Location

cloud structure. In a domestic cloud structure, the complete


cloud is physically located within the same territory. This
gives rise to fewer privacy issues such as whether the data is
collected, used and stored in an appropriate manner and
whether the data is disclosed to authorised recipients only.
Another privacy issue in the domestic cloud structure is
related to the rights possessed by the data owners to access
their data. The circumstances under which the data owner
can access and correct the data should be defined clearly.
The above privacy issues can also be extended to all other
cloud computing environments in general.

Results
90% use common services
10% use sophisticated
techniques
40% use SSL encryption,
20% use encryption
mechanism
40% utilize advanced
methods like HTTP
70% of data centres are
located more than one
country

Trans-border cloud structures have their cloud transferred


across the borders. This gives rise to more privacy issues.
The best example for a trans-border cloud operator is the
Google Docs. People from different parts of the world store
data in Google Docs. When data is transferred between
different organisations located at different countries, serious
privacy issues could occur.
The privacy principles
regulating trans-border dataflow defined by the different
countries should be given importance by the cloud providers.
For example Australias National Privacy Principle 9 deals
with trans-border data flows and is different from privacy
regulations of other nations [7]. Another example is where a
health care provider uses a transborder cloud computing
product to store and/or process patient data, they would have
to ensure that the transfer is permitted under the relevant
privacy law [8].

Availability History

40% indicate data loss.


60% indicates data
availability is good
Proprietary/Open
10% have open mechanism
Monitoring Services
70% provide extra
monitoring services
10% uses automatic
techniques
20% are not open about the
issue
Table 1. Security Mechanisms of Service Providers
3.2 Privacy Risks
Several complex privacy and confidentiality issues are
associated with cloud computing. In this section, we dwell
on some of these different privacy risks involved in cloud
computing environments. There are no laws that block a user
from disclosing the information to the cloud providers. This
disclosure of information sometimes leads to serious
consequences. Some business users may not be interested in
sharing their information, but such information is sometimes
placed in the cloud and this may lead to adverse impacts on
their business. For example, recently when Facebook
changed its terms of service, the customers were not
informed about it. This made it possible to broadcast the
information of the Facebook customers to others if the
privacy options were not set accordingly. This amplifies the
importance of reading and understanding the Terms of
Service and the Privacy Policy of the cloud providers before
placing any information in the cloud. If it is not possible to
understand the policy or it doesnt satisfy the needs of a user,
the user can and must always opt for a different cloud
provider.

We examined the Google Docs Privacy Policy, which must


be read in conjunction with Googles general Privacy Policy
[9]. Several noteworthy provisions were observed in it. For
example,
When you access Google services via a browser,
application or other client our servers automatically record
certain information. These server logs may include
information such as your web request, your interaction with
a service, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser
language, the date and time of your request and one or more
cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your
account. [10]
In the Privacy Policy, it is specified that our servers
automatically record certain information. While there are
details provided for some types of data being collected, it
refers to certain information which is not clear whether the
specified data are the only types of data collected.
If we consider Google Docs Privacy Policy, it does not give
a clear explanation about how a users personal information
will be used by Google and where it will be stored. A
detailed analysis of Googles general Privacy Policy brings
out this discrepancy [7].

Several organisations have analysed the issues of privacy


and confidentiality in the cloud computing environment.
These analyses have been published by a Privacy
Commissioner [4], an industry association [5] and a
commercial publisher [6].
Domestic clouds and trans-border clouds are two distinct
cloud structures. Certain privacy issues are specific to each

How to assure customers that their data is safe with the


service various providers within the cloud network?

3.3 Consumer Risks


The use of cloud computing services can cause risks to
consumers. Before using a cloud computing product, the
consumers should familiarize themselves with the product,
confirm whether the product satisfies their needs and
understand the risks involved in using the product. However,
it is not possible for the consumers to understand about all
the risks involved in using a cloud computing product. The
supply of consumer cloud computing products is governed
by contracts drafted by the providers with no input from the
consumers. Sometimes the provider makes changes to the
terms on which the product is provided and the consumers
remain unaware about it. These sudden changes without
informing the consumers can lead to major consumer risks.

With the help of a proper risk analysis approach, the cloud


service providers can gain trust from their customers.
Current security technology such as Secure Socket Layer
(SSL), digital signatures and authentication protocols lack
effective trust management. Figure 2 represents a risk
analysis approach using a Trust Matrix [1]. For the trust
matrix two variables, namely Data Cost and Providers
History are considered.
Data cost is considered as one of the variables because the
users can assign a cost to the data based on the datas
criticality. Providers History is considered as another
parameter since it includes the record of the past services
provided by the provider to the customers. The variable
parameter Data Location is used to provide details about
the data located in sensitive sites.
A trust matrix can be generated with the variables
represented along the axes.

In order to avoid both the privacy and consumer risks, the


consumers need to familiarize with the cloud computing
product they will be using. For example, when using Google
Docs, one must read at least the following terms;

Universal Terms of Service

Additional Terms

Program Policies

Privacy Policy

CopyRight Notices

x axis represents the data cost.


y axis represents the service providers history.
z axis represents the data location.
The trust matrix consists of areas representing the Low Risk/
High Trust Zone and High Risk/ Low Trust Zone. A
common cloud computing scenario is considered with some
past statistics from the service providers. Thus the trust has
been measured and can be used for all the future transactions.

By examining the above documents, several interesting


features become apparent. First, to use any of Googles
services, a consumer has to agree to be bound by a range of
terms unilaterally decided by Google and those terms may
be unilaterally changed by Google without specific
notification [9]. Google also states that they will treat a
consumers use of their services as an acceptance of the
terms included in Googles contract. Further, it can be noted
that, when Google disables access to a consumers account,
the consumer may be prevented from accessing content from
their account. This is serious in relation to Google Docs
services.

Low Trust Zone

Very
Good
Good

High Trust
Zone

Average

Normal
Sensitive

Poor

It can be concluded that the Google Docs users, knowingly


or unknowingly agree to the terms which may have serious
consequences. The legality of some of the terms is
questionable.

Very
Poor
Very
High

4. Risk Analysis approach


The cloud service providers as a part of normal practice
attempt to assure users that all the security risks are
eliminated by having various security mechanisms in place.
However after exploring the various risks and vulnerabilities
involved in a cloud computing network, two main questions
can be raised as below;

High Average Low

Very
Low

Very
Sensitive

Data Cost
Providers
History

Figure 2. A Trust Matrix for Risk Analysis

How to estimate data security risk before placing data in the


cloud?

Data
Location

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Informatics 43, pages 342-353, August, 2008.
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Privacy in the Clouds, A White Paper on Privacy and Digital
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Privacy Forum, 2009.
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Privacy Statement Template of 19 December 2005,
<http://www.rogerclarke.com/DV/PST-Google.html>, 2005.
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5. Related work
A number of surveys have been conducted on cloud services.
The survey conducted by International Data Corporation
(IDC) where data security has been rated as a major concern
[11] concludes that cloud services are still in their early
stages. The key challenges faced by cloud computing is
discussed in the survey conducted by Buyya [12]. Physical
security is discussed in the white paper published by
Amazon Web Services (AWS). Major cloud service
providers such as Google, Microsoft [13] have now started
focusing deeply on security issues in cloud computing. Some
of the major risks faced by the customers while using the
cloud computing infrastructure are also identified by Heiser
and Nicolett [14].
In our paper, we have summarized major risks that must be
addressed by the cloud service providers. We have discussed
the risks related to data security, availability, storage,
segregation, integrity and recovery. In addition, risks related
to the cloud infrastructure were also explored.
6. Conclusions
With the increase in the growth of cloud computing, security
needs to be analysed frequently. The Users should be aware
of the risks and vulnerabilities present in the current cloud
computing environment before being a part of the
environment.
From this study of current cloud computing practices and
inherent risks involved, it is clear that at present there is a
lack of risk analysis approaches in the cloud computing
environments. A proper risk analysis approach will be of
great help to both the service providers and the customers.
With such an approach, the customers can be guaranteed
data security and the service providers can win the trust of
their customers. Also the cloud users can perform the risk
analysis before placing their critical data in a security
sensitive cloud. Further additions to the matrix and inclusion
of additional variables for assessment should be considered
as cloud computing progresses to advanced levels where
new risks could materialize. We have discussed mainly three
major risks associated with cloud computing. With the rapid
growth in this field of cloud computing, several other risks
can occur.
In this world where everyone is becoming a part of cloud
computing, we believe that awareness among the people
regarding the existence of risk, security mechanisms
provided by the different cloud service providers to
eliminate such risks and the introduction of new risk analysis
approaches has significant importance and scope.
7. References
[1] Amit Sangorya, Saurabh kumar, JaiDeep Dhok, and Vasudeva
Varma. Towards Analyzing Data Security Risks in Cloud
Computing Environments, International conference on Information
systems, Technology, and Management, Thailand, March, 2010.