Can You Put a Yellow Sticky on Your Cloud?

BeyondTrust, July 21st, 2011

Brian Anderson and I have written several blog posts on user ID’s. Brian concluded that the average user seems to either have a relaxed sense of security, a love for Abbott and Costello-like humor, or are just lazy when it comes to identity-related security. Our new colleague Luke Dieker, who focuses on Identity Services, has blogged about the importance of yellow sticky notes to password management. He observes that it’s a challenge to change the habits of the many users who adorn their screens with Post-it notes listing various passwords, or for the more security conscious among them, sticking passwords under their keyboards.

My focus has been less on the people’s unusual behavior than the new technologies and models coming to help address the problem as we switch from physical to virtual and cloud infrastructure. For example the Burton Group sees a public identity infrastructure as central to a new emerging architecture where vendors compete in market for identities that provides high-quality identities at lower cost.

Now Active Directory has facilitated single sign-on for some time. While Burton doesn’t see these consumer repositories replacing Active Directory anytime soon, and I wouldn’t bet on this or any model until it has market traction, in a more diverse world of SAAS, public, private and hybrid clouds, companies need to anticipate the changes this new model will require in the identity management infrastructure, policies and controls. Managing user identities in the cloud, ensuring that users are given access to only what they should be allowed to and tracking events for security and compliance gets tricky in increasingly dispersed environments often deployed on infrastructure provided by third parties.

The good news is that existing tools can help bridge the gap. Secure authentication in the elastic cloud doesn’t have to be daunting. Another one of our new colleagues in identify services, Jonathan Flack, contributed an excellent writeup for InfoTECH Spotlight titled, “Secure Authentication in the Elastic Cloud.”

In that article he discusses how a number of our customers began extending public-facing server infrastructure to Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) with great success and extended an existing, on-premise Active Directory deployment to an Amazon EC2 deployment — enabling organizations to manage a variety of operating system environments including Linux running on EC2 leveraging existing AD infrastructure. Extending AD to the cloud is not the complete answer but it’s a pragmatic step in the right direction.