Data Control and Data Residency
Consider your options carefully when planning the move to the cloud
Feb. 4, 2013 07:00 AM
The benefits associated with adoption of the cloud are well documented and understood. Organizations cite tremendous cost savings, fast deployment times and streamlined application support and maintenance when compared to traditional on-premise software deployments. So what is holding many companies back from adopting the cloud? A recent report from Gartner entitled "Five Cloud Data Residency Issues That Must Not Be Ignored" highlights one key reason for this hesitancy - enterprises' questions and concerns about jurisdictional and regulatory control arising from a lack of clarity on where cloud data truly resides. The report from Gartner recommends that enterprises adopt measures that will simultaneously boost the security of sensitive data as well as assist them in satisfying regulatory compliance with data residency laws.
While the report provides some excellent guidance associated with the implementation of one technique - encryption - to safeguard sensitive information in the cloud, it did not cover a few key points that deserve to be mentioned:
- Tokenization should be given strong consideration as the data security technique that enterprises deploy when data residency is a critical concern.
- If encryption is deployed by enterprises, they should take every measure to ensure that they are deploying the strongest form of encryption possible (e.g., use FIPS 140-2 validated modules) to guard against the inherent threats associated with multi-tenant cloud environments.
Tokenization is a process by which a sensitive data field, such as a "Name" or "National ID Number," is replaced with a surrogate value called a token. De-tokenization is the reverse process of redeeming a token for its associated original value. While various approaches to creating tokens exist, frequently they are simply randomly generated values that have no mathematical relation to the original data field (click here to review third-party evaluation of PerspecSys' tokenization approach). This underlies the inherent security of the approach - it is nearly impossible to determine the original value of a sensitive data field by knowing only the surrogate token value. When deployed as a technique within a Cloud Data Protection Gateway, the token "vault" that matches the clear text value with the surrogate token stays on-site within an organization's data-center. Because of this, the benefit from a data residency compliance perspective is apparent - the data truly never leaves the enterprise's location.
How Encryption Differs
Encryption is an obfuscation approach that uses a cipher algorithm to mathematically transform sensitive data's original value to a surrogate value. The surrogate can be transformed back to the original value via the use of a "key," which can be thought of as the means to undo the mathematical lock. While encryption clearly can be used to obfuscate a value, a mathematical link back to its true form still exists. As described, tokenization is unique in that it completely removes the original data from the systems in which the tokens reside (the cloud) and there is no construct of a "key" that can be used to bring it back into the clear in the cloud.
In our experience with many customers, it is this unique characteristic of tokenization that has made it the preferred approach selected by enterprises when they are explicitly trying to address data residency requirements. In the words of one of our largest customers (who selected tokenization as their data security approach), "encrypted data leaving your premises is still data leaving your premises."
But If Encryption Is Used - Deploy Using Best Practices
If an organization decides to deploy encryption in order to protect sensitive information going to the cloud, then they need to ensure that industry standard best practices on the use of encryption are followed. As highlighted in the Cloud Security Alliance's Guidelines as well as numerous Gartner Reports, the use of published, well-vetted strong encryption algorithms is a must. In fact, the previously mentioned report "Five Cloud Data Residency Issues That Must Not Be Ignored" notes that enterprises need to ensure that the "strength of the security is not compromised." A good guideline is to look for solutions that support FIPS 140-2 validated algorithms from well-known providers such as McAfee, RSA, SafeNet, Symantec and Voltage Security. A unique and highly valued quality of the PerspecSys gateway is that cloud end users can still enjoy the full capabilities of cloud applications (such as SEARCH) even with data that is strongly encrypted with these industry accepted, validated algorithms.
Netting It Out
There is much to gain from using data obfuscation and replacement technologies to satisfy residency requirements in order to pave the way to cloud adoption. But equally, there is much to lose if the implementation is not well thought through. Do your homework - consider tokenization as an approach, question any encryption techniques that are not well vetted and accepted in the industry and finally, compare solutions from multiple vendors (a suggestion - refer to our whitepaper as a guide: "Critical Questions to Ask Cloud Protection Gateway Providers". We know from our experience helping many organizations around the world tackle these challenges via the use of our Cloud Data Protection Gateway, that by charting your path carefully at the beginning of your project, you can arrive at a solution that will fully meet the needs of your Security, Legal, and Business Line teams.
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PerspecSys Inc. is a leading provider of cloud protection and cloud encryption solutions that enable mission-critical cloud applications to be adopted throughout the enterprise. Cloud security companies like PerspecSys remove the technical, legal and financial risks of placing sensitive company data in the cloud. PerspecSys accomplishes this for many large, heavily regulated companies across the world by never allowing sensitive data to leave a customer's network, while maintaining the functionality of cloud applications. For more information please visit http://www.perspecsys.com/ or follow on Twitter @perspecsys.