Regular readers know that I’ve been very vocal about strict compartmentalization of intelligence data. I’ve often compared it to building a ship with only one compartment, where a single hull breech results in the sinking of a vessel vs. a ship with several compartments isolated by watertight bulkheads; the same holds true with sensitive intelligence information. My position, which is shared by many in industry as well as the military and intelligence communities is supported by the recent Edward Snowden fiasco – “so much for cross-domain security.”
The concept of centralized data bases has been floating around for well over 30 years, with the occasional foray into distributed systems to eliminate single points of failure, is now personified by the concept of “cloud computing”. When distributed databases were in vogue, data base administrators soon recognized there were data inconsistencies from system to system that had to be reconciled or in technical parlance “normalized.” So, the concept of a centrally housed and administered data base is attractive from an administrative point of view. Other than a central data respository, cloud computing provides central resources. The concept offers two significant benefits. First it establishes a “virtual” central data repository. Secondly, computing resources can be shared and accessed across all devices authorized by the cloud. The end result is greater data accuracy , easier administration and end-user computing appliances can be carried in the user’s pocket.
Cloud computing, has been successfully socialized by Apple with the iPhone & iCloud concept; Google, with their Google Drive; and, Microsoft with the Skydrive. All of these services offer the subscriber large amounts of storage at no charge with a limitless capacity to expand that storage at a nominal cost. They also offer subscriptions to computing resources, for example Microsoft’s Office Suite – all very convenient but fraught with very serious security issues.
These same concepts have extended out to the military and intelligence communities who are moving full speed ahead under the false notion – hopefully now shattered – of cross-domain security. The business case for cloud computing is there but has it been adequately tested against intangibles like risk? At the government’s level the indication seems to be that deployment will be limited to e-mail services and office related tasks; however, anyone that has ever been involved with ELINT work knows that a very clear picture can sometimes be obtained from “routine” correspondence or office productivity byproducts like Spreadsheets and Power Points. Nothing is more revealing in western culture than a departmental budget. So, in 2014 I will be adding content, from time to time, designed to provide a higher level of awareness and the risks associated with cloud technologies.
The Clouds in place today have Terabytes of capacity, and your smart devices have Gigabytes of capacity. On the aggregate, it creates a massive opportunity for exploitation so the challenges associated with maintaining data integrity and data security are enormous. Knowing something beyond the iCloud will help you understand and function in this technical environment as a non-technician.