Kevin Curran

Kevin Curran is a Professor of Cyber Security, Executive Co-Director of the Legal innovation Centre and group leader of the Ambient Intelligence & Virtual Worlds Research Group at Ulster University. He is a regular technology contributor to TV, radio, trade and consumer IT magazines.

The prolific American bank robber Willie Sutton has a forty-year criminal career where he stole an estimated $2 million. He ended up spending half his adult life in prison but escaped three times. He is most famous for his response to newspaper reporter Mitch Ohnstad who asked him “why do you rob banks?”. Sutton replied, “Because that is where the money is!”. A modern-day correlation could be the motivation for the rise in attacks on cloud services…. simply because that is where a good return on investment in hacking can be achieved.

Cloud Benefits

Increasingly, more services and accompanying data are being moved to the cloud. This is due to numerous benefits not least the instant elastic scalability of service. Organisations can also estimate costs more predictably as they can incrementally add on services when needed and resources allow. It will also lead to a lower carbon footprint for organisations as a result. No over provisioning anymore.  It removes reliance on dedicated hardware in the form of servers and renting capacity as needed in the cloud.

The cloud can also relieve businesses of the need to implement burdensome disaster recovery plans as cloud providers take responsibility for implementing backups and maintaining a live stable environment. There is also savings to be made when carrying out maintenance especially with regards updates as the provider can roll these out. This aspect alone make cloud computing an attractive option for many.

You can also argue that cloud computing is more secure as dedicated skilled IT admins deal with security patches & updates.  On that contentious point for some, let’s say an organisation of 4000 employees is served by an IT dept of say 12 staff, then apart from the usual servicing of client machines & daily IT support, they also must ensure the critical infrastructure such as email and internal network services are secure.

All this must be balanced with daily workloads. The cloud provides a choice so they can offload a service such as email to a large multi-national cloud provider with scores of dedicated workers serving that product……in cases like this, it is difficult to make a case that the ‘firefighting’ inhouse IT team are superior.

Businesses also are attracted to the cloud as it allows workers to more easily work remotely as systems are no longer tied to internal networks thus freeing employees from the traditional desk-based PC. This leads to less expenditure on office space.

The cloud is allowing companies to move away from the traditional “perpetual license” and adopting annual licenses which allows them to sell their service at lower prices but recoup a greater revenue in the long run as users continue to use the service. Customers also like the lower costs of a monthly subscription as opposed to an upfront larger perpetual license fee.

The cloud also helps reduce software piracy through online authorisation.  The cloud also offers benefits for collaboration as well as allowing apps and documents to be synchronised & updated seamlessly. With benefits such as this, we can more easily understand why companies are moving services there and hence why the hackers are targeting the cloud more each year.

Security

Security is a problem with any networked system. A database on the cloud or a server in a corner is exposing an IP address which can be found through vulnerability scanners. What matters is the supporting tools such as firewalls, IDS’s, patches deployed throughout the OS.  Most cloud service exploits to date occurred due to the mistakes made by customers as opposed to a cloud service provider.

What we do know is that the more systems you deploy on-line, the more patches you ignore, the more nefarious downloads you install, the riskier sites you visit – all contribute to an ever-decreasing level of security. Yet, you could do all this and never see a piece of malware appear on your system or be targeted by a phishing attack. Yet, the laws of probability do not lie, and most compromised systems can be traced back to poor management and ignorance of correct security protocols to employ.

The cloud really does not magnify or decrease any of these existing problems. Security overall is difficult to enforce in these times. As a networked service, security will always remain a problem with regards the cloud but equally regards any networked system whether client/server or a mobile phone running a listening service – the cloud is no less or more dangerous.

The Future

What is certain in the future is that ‘what goes online stays online’. This points to a future where every device will simply connect to the cloud especially as we see 5G become a reality with superfast broadband quality speeds on the move.

5G is superfast but its most impressive feature is its enormous capacity. Last month at MBBF 2018 in London Excel, Dave Dyson, CEO of Three UK said that current UK monthly data usage on their network was 7.5GB but they have extrapolated this out to a month average data usage of 90 GB in 6 years’ time.

In my experience, we tend to underestimate future network loads so this figure could be superseded. The benefits of the cloud however will win over the any current security concerns. There are of course unique security concerns with the cloud such as protecting Virtual Machines, containers or disk images on shared hosts, but updates have been rolled out for many of these exploits.

Most services will soon be hosted online by default. Currently, many services are offline by default but being online and connected will become the default for everything. The cloud will be the foundation of the data for the edge devices.  This massive cloud computing power with instant response will make intelligence on demand available everywhere for everyone.

New business models where devices are boosted by inexhaustible cloud-based resources will start to emerge. Artificial Intelligence support products will benefit as a result and ultimately, we will experience more natural interactions with computers – a type of super intelligence. The cloud combined with 5G will serve us with a powerful computing potential previously considered to be science fiction.