NIST sets security approach for cloud computing

New guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology offer recommendations agencies should consider when outsourcing data, applications and infrastructure to a public cloud environment.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued "Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Public Cloud Computing," Special Publication 800-144, which provides an overview of the security and privacy challenges facing public cloud computing. It marks the first set of principles for managing cloud security, NIST officials said.

The publication also presents recommendations that organizations should consider when outsourcing data, applications and infrastructure to a public cloud environment. The document provides insights on threats, technology risks and safeguards related to public cloud environments to help organizations make informed decisions about this use of this technology.

"Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Public Cloud Computing" was first issued as a draft for public comment in February 2011.

"Public cloud computing and the other deployment models are a viable choice for many applications and services,” said publication co-author Tim Grance. “However, accountability for security and privacy in public cloud deployments cannot be delegated to a cloud provider and remains an obligation for the organization to fulfill."

The key guidelines include:

  • Carefully plan the security and privacy aspects of cloud computing solutions before implementing them.
  • Understand the public cloud computing environment offered by the cloud provider.
  • Ensure that a cloud computing solution — both cloud resources and cloud-based applications — satisfies organizational security and privacy requirements.
  • Maintain accountability over the privacy and security of data and applications implemented and deployed in public cloud computing environments.

SP 800-144 is geared toward system managers, executives and CIOs making decisions about cloud computing initiatives; security professional responsible for IT security; IT program managers concerned with security and privacy measures for cloud computing; system and network administrators; and users of public cloud computing services, NIST officials said.

The publication also offers a detailed list of Federal Information Processing Standards and NIST special publications that provide materials particularly relevant to cloud computing and are recommended to be used in conjunction with SP 800-144.

It won't be the last word from NIST on cloud security, said Donna Dodson, NIST's division chief of the computer security division and the deputy cyber security advisor.

Speaking on January 18 at an event co-sponsored by Federal Computer Week and ImmixGroup, she said NIST is working on revisions to another circular, SP 800-53, with a close look at cloud and mobile guidelines, according to ImmixGroup vice president of marketing Allan Rubin. SP 800-53 is titled "Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations."

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