Cyberspooks sceptical on UK.gov's IT cost-cutting plans
Cloud threatened by security risks, says GCHQ
Exclusive Whitehall IT chiefs have been warned by the intelligence agency GCHQ that security problems with cloud computing could foil their plans to use the technology to slash the cost of public services.
The assessment forms part of the first report of the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), seen by The Register. The new internet intelligence gathering unit, located at GCHQ's "concrete doughnut" in Cheltenham, will begin operations next month.
"Cloud computing could form an important part of government cost-cutting exercises, but cloud computing hosts are likely to want to site their storage where it is cheapest for them to do so, which may mean that sensitive information or intellectual property is physically stored in another country, potentially one which might have an interest in using the information for its own purposes," CSOC says.
The report was prepared for the Cabinet Office, which sets overall government IT strategy. CIO John Suffolk recently promoted cloud computing technology and use of private providers as ways to cut costs.
"You can't have hundreds of data centres and tens or even hundreds of networks. You have to ask 'Do we need to do all this ourselves?'," he said.
"I just don't think it's a suitable model for the next ten years."
However, CSOC sounds a more sceptical tone. It explains that while for some users cloud computing will bring security benefits, because malware protection will be managed by the service provider, the risks could be great.
"Compromised login credentials would give an attacker access to the user's whole system from anywhere in the world, enabling a full identity theft," the report says.
"This could limit the usefulness of cloud computing to government and commercial organisations unless a solution is found."
CSOC's view acts as a counterpoint to enthusiasm for cloud computing in Westminster and Whitehall as they gear up for a bout of massive post-recession cuts.
The technology figures large in the Conservatives' IT strategy, too. Criticising the current government's record of schedule and budget overruns on large IT projects, they have suggested commercial operators such as Google and Microsoft could maintain health records in the cloud, for example.
As well as highlighting direct security threats to cloud public services from data theft, the CSOC report also warns that increasing official reliance on the internet could cause a "catastrophic" breakdown in confidence in the government if the UK were subject to a cyber attack such as distributed denial of service. We reported in detail on that earlier this week. ®
I wonder how much they paid
for these brilliant nuggets of common sense^W^W advice.
Probably more than I can reasonably expect to earn in my entire life.
Funny that they can't slap together an NHS IT system worth two shits but they can upload our biometrics to some pervserver faster than we can lube up our collective ass.
Next stop: government firewall, delivered on time so that us prols know who's boss. Don't worry about paying for it, they've delayed the NHS project another 20 years.
I hear the sound of public servants getting told their pork barrel is being made smaller and they don't like it, so they respond with FEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR BE AFRAID LITTLE WORMS BE TERRIFIED! YOU WILL __DIIIEEEEE__ BE AFRAID! GIVE US MONEY! WE ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN PROTECT YOU! FEEEEED US YOU MONEY!!
More lives could be saved by investing in social services (preferably directly avoiding central government/civil service of all kinds) then will ever be saved giving money to the assorted leeches in whitehall.
If they're trying to scare you they're likely to be trying to f--k you.
"Storing info in other countries - CSOC presumably never heard of encryption"
a) You are assuming crypto can't be broken. Tens of thousands of U-Boot men and japanese sailors bet their life on that and lost that bet. Don't assume anything important changed in this area. 3DES and AES will be broken sooner or later.
b) An encrypted database is not that useful except if you only use it as data dump. As soon as you want to query and update it, some kind of cleartext must appear. With a lot of effort one could devise a mapping of cleartext->crypto, so that "Miller" would be stored as "afe284171ed", but that limits the capabilities of the database drastically. For example, if you wanted to get all people whose names start with "Mill" you would be screwed. Because "Milliband" would encrypt to (say) "monkey413664". Each data field would need an initalisation vector (IV) to encrypt same data differently. W/o IV you can neat statistical analysis based on probability of names, for example. IVs would take 16 bytes typically per data field and row.
More importantly, encrypting individual fields of a medical record in a complex relational database might provide some very interesting statistical clues.
For example, Mr Miller lives in a municipality of 267 people and is 47 years old. He has moved much more than the other 267 people and therefore has many more relationships with GPs in the database. This you can correlate with what you know about him. Then you see he has a disease that affects 0.235% of population. You look up public statistics and figure he has Aids, because that is the diesease which affects 0.235% of population.
Bogus data could "mask" these statistical clues, but I am not sure about the effectiveness of this and how to properly do it.
Also, you would a pretty powerful machine Under Your Own Control to encrypt/decrypt all those SQL queries. That also defeats the cloud idea considerably.