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The DoD's very cloudy thinking over Gmail

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In the wake of the Google vs. China dustup, we’re starting to see some discussion of the greater implications for computing, both in general and the cloudy Google way.

The fact that some Gmail accounts were accessed by hackers looking for dissidents raises some questions about the security of Gmail specifically and the entire cloud model as well.

I’ve always felt that security is one of the biggest concerns with the entire cloud concept. While cloud providers are increasingly paying attention to allaying customer concerns about data security, they aren’t (and really can’t) provide guarantees.

There isn’t a cloud supplier in the world who will agree to compensate a customer for the losses arising from security breaches or associated downtime. This is completely understandable; it’s hugely difficult to objectively value the cost of a security breach.

But there are situations where the stakes are higher than mere money. Take the US Department of Defense, for example. I was shocked to find out that Gmail is an accepted email alternative for official use. To me, this opens up all sorts of bad scenarios. Of course Google does its best to protect customers, but some things simply shouldn’t be stored outside firewalls. I put a significant percentage of DoD communications into this category.

This guest blog from Paul Strassman, an Information Sciences professor at George Mason University, makes a point that is often overlooked: physical security in the data center.

In his view, an agent with bad intentions, some technical skills, and access to the data center could tap unencrypted communications with physical wiretaps placed between systems. Is this far-fetched… or entirely possible? To me, a non-expert in security, it sounds spookily plausible.

If you read the article, be sure to read the comments section to see a spirited discussion ... one of my favorites is the first one, where a reader asks, “DoD using Gmail?!?... Is that not like placing a Kwikset bathroom lock on the access doors to a missle silo?!?”

Certainly something to think about and discuss.

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