Articles in the Security category

  1. Don't Use Cloud Services if You Care About Secrecy of Your Data

    June 30, 2013

    When you use cloud services, you are storing your data on other people's hard drives. The moment you put your data within a cloud service, that data is no longer under your control. You don't know who will access that data. Secrecy is lost.

    Instead of using services like Gmail you may opt to setup some virtual private server and run your own email server, but that doesn't change a thing. The cloud provider controls the hardware, they have access to every bit you store on their platform.

    If you encrypt the hard drive of your VPS you need to enter the encryption password every time you reboot your VPS. And how can you remotely type in the password? On the VPS console, a piece of software written by and under control of your cloud provider. They can snoop on every character you enter.

    This may all sound far-fetched but it's about the principle of how things work. If you store unencrypted data on hardware that is not owned by you and under your physical control, that data cannot be trusted to stay secret.

    If you care about the secrecy of your data, you should never store it with a cloud provider or any other third party.

    I believe that the price you have to pay for any decent secrecy of your data is to run your own physical server. This is way more expensive in terms of time and money than using a cloud service, so it's up to you if it's worth it.

    Although your own server will probably prevent your data being souped up with dragnet government surveillance, it will still be difficult if not impossible to protect you from a targeted investigation by a government agency.

    A government agency can obtain physical access to your server and physical access is often the deathblow to any secrecy / security. Even if you implement encryption in the right manner, you are only decreasing the chance of their success of accessing your data, you are not eliminating their chances.

    And in the end, a $5 wrench will probably do wonders for them. It seems that it even does wonders against encrypted hidden volumes.

    But there may still be a small benefit. If a government agency requires a cloud service provider to hand over your data, they can do so without your knowledge. A gag order will prohibit the cloud provider from informing you. However, if the servers are your own and are located within a building you own, either privately or as a company, you are at least aware of what's happening. That may or may not be relevant to you, that's up to you to decide.

  2. Linode Hacked: The Dark Side of Cloud Hosting

    April 16, 2013

    Linode has released an update about the security incident first reported on April 12, 2013.

    The Linode Manager is the environment where you control your virtual private servers and where you pay for services. This is the environment that got compromised.

    Linode uses Adobe's ColdFusion as a platform for their Linode Manager application. It seems that the ColdFusion software was affected by two significant, previously unknown vulnerabilities that allowed attackers to compromise the entire Linode VPS management environment.

    As the attackers had control over the virtual private servers hosted on the platform, they decided to compromise the VPS used by Nmap. Yes, the famous port scanner.

    Fyodor's remark about the incident:

    I guess we've seen the dark side of cloud hosting.
    

    That's the thing. Cloud hosting is just an extra layer, an extra attack surface, that may provide an attacker with the opportunity to compromise your server and thus your data.

    Even the author of Nmap, a person fairly conscious about security and aware of the risk of cloud-hosting, still took the risk to save a few bucks and some time setting something up himself.

    If you are a Linode customer and consider becoming a former customer by fleeing to another cheap cloud VPS provider, are you really sure you are solving your problems?

    When using cloud services, you pay less and you outsource the chores that come with hosting on a dedicated private server.

    You also lose control over security.
    

    Cloud hosting is just storing your data on 'Other People's Hard Drives. So the security of your stuff depends on those 'other people'. But did you ask those 'other people' for any information about how they tink to address risks like zero-days or other security threats? Or did you just consider their pricing, gave them your credit card and got on with your life?

    If you left Linode for another cloud VPS provider, what assures you that they will do better? How do you know that they aren't compromised already right now? At this moment? You feel paranoid already?

    We all want cheap hosting, but are you also willing to pay the price when the cloud platform is compromised?

  3. Linode Hacked: Thoughts About Cloud Security

    April 16, 2013

    I bought a Linode VPS for private usage just after the report that Linode had reset all passwords of existing users regarding the Linode management console.

    Resetting passwords is not something you do when under a simple attack such as a DDOS attack. Such a measure is only taken if you suspect or have proof of a serious security breach. I should have known.

    There are strong rumours that Linode has actually been hacked. Although I signed up for a Linode VPS after the attack, I still checked my creditcard for any suspicious withdrawals.

    Linode is as of this writing very silent about the topic, which only fuels my, and every other's suspicion that something bad has happened.

    Whatever happened, even it isn't as bad as it seems, such an incident as this should make you evaluate your choices about hosting your apps and data on cloud services.

    I don't care that much about rumours that creditcard information may have been compromised. Although in itself quite damning, what I do care is about the security of the data stored in the virtual private servers hosted on their platform.

    I like this phase: "There is no cloud, only Other People's Hard Drives".

    Everybody uses cloud services, so we all put our data in the hands of some other third party and we just hope that they properly secured their environment.

    The cynical truth is that even so, a case can be made that for many companies, data stored in the cloud or on a VPS is a lot safer than within their own company IT environment. But an incident like this may prove otherwise.

    And if you believe that data on a VPS is more secure than within your own IT environment, I believe that you have more pressing problems. The thing is that it doesn't tell you anything about the security of those cloud solutions. It only tells you something about the perceived security of your own IT environment.

    The cloud infrastructure is just another layer between the metal and your services, and it can thus be attacked. It increases the attack surface. It increases the risk of a compromise. The cloud doesn't make your environment more secure, on the contrary.

    So anyway, who performs regular security audits of Linode or (insert your current cloud hosting provider?) and what is the quality of the processes that should assure security at all times?

    Questions. Questions.

    This incident again shows that you should clearly think about what kind of security your company or customer data warrants. Is outsourcing security of your data acceptable?

    Maybe, if security is an important factor, those cheap VPS hosts aren't that cheap after all. You may be better off creating your own private cloud on (rented or owned) dedicated servers and put a little bit more effort in it.

    Building your own environment on your own equipment is more expensive than just a simple VPS, but you are much more in control regarding security.

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