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Charles Babcock
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7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths

You've heard the arguments: The cloud is not secure, costs too much, and wrecks the environment. Let us set you straight.
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Users of virtual machines (VMs) -- standard features of the multi-tenant clouds -- fervently hope that one virtual machine can't spy on another running on the same server. But extremely skillful manipulators have been able to draw conclusions about what's going on in a neighboring VM by watching what cache pages get emptied out of host memory after the spying VM has taken its turn using the server core. Since the spy just loaded the cache pages, it knows which data has been selected to be emptied out by the next user. And that, it turns out, is an indicator of what's currently executing on the processor. Ars Technica ran a piece on the phenomenon Nov. 6, noting it's extremely difficult to do, but scientists at the University of North Carolina, University of Wisconsin and RSA Laboratories demonstrated that it's possible to derive an encryption private key from this process. And there go the keys to the kingdom.

It's not clear to me how the spy VM knows which pages in the shared cache memory are being deleted if it's in its idle state, but the research shows that it does. It's still a painstaking effort to build a picture of the code executing, even when you have that information. You have to string together fragments of executing code over and over again until you get a piece of telling code. But that's what the researchers did.

So far, no one has been able to do this maliciously in a real-world setting -- or if they have, it's not publicly known. And there are fixes to prevent it. Nevertheless, it's a blow to confidence in what heretofore appeared to be the virtual server's impenetrable, logical barriers.

And the researchers' paper went a step further than simply suggesting cache page downloads were the only point of exposure. They also indicated that one virtual machine may be able to sense "the magnetic emanations" signifying types of activity by another. Again, there's no evidence anyone has made use of these findings in a malicious way, and major data centers may come up with countermeasures before they do. But no one is quite sure when this information, in the wrong hands, will be used to breach existing defenses.

Image Credit: Flickr user kellinahandbasket

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kramerk
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kramerk,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2012 | 5:58:03 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
Myth #7 "Nevertheless, scientists may one day conclude that global warming is producing larger hurricanes on the East Coast and extended droughts in the Midwest. At that point it's possible to see government deciding global warming threatens society's survival and future use of cloud data centers must be rationed, whether that's the right decision or not."

Um, a) I think about 99% of scientists would probably say that global warming is producing larger storms and greater droughts. Frustrating to see such articles geared toward a tech-savvy, fact-driven audience still presenting climate change as controversial (I'll cite Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, who, when asked if he believes in climate change, responds, "Do you believe in gravity?"). b) Not sure why the government would "ration" cloud data centers, seems more likely that taxes would increase on energy and businesses would have to decide whether it still made operational sense to use the cloud. Seems like an overly alarmist prediction!
Leo Regulus
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Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/17/2012 | 6:29:04 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
Unfortunate choice of article format. Sorry, I can't use it - which means that I don't see you advertisers either. Your Nickel.
goldspike
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goldspike,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/17/2012 | 6:10:16 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
a great big scam perpetrated on the mentally challenged
Scritti Politti
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Scritti Politti,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 9:53:31 AM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
What a crock. Who is propagating these myths? No one. The problems with "the cloud" are real and undeniable. Local storage is more spacious, cheaper, faster, and physically smaller than ever. It's exactly the WRONG time to take all of your data and PAY to upload it to some third-party server, then PAY to get it back at crappy data rates while PAYING for the bandwidth and exhausting your data allowance.

Oh, and you can only get your data at the whim of that third party, and IF you have an Internet connection. So if you're lucky you MIGHT be able to get a bit of it on the plane. But not on that road trip through the mountains. Or the subway. Or in other countries, where you don't have a data plan. And on and on.

The people cheerleading for "the cloud" are shills or pathetically gullible.
Marvin Goodman
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Marvin Goodman,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 4:41:38 AM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
I believe that the perception of Cloud risk has driven positive behavior in end users, making their non-Cloud activities safer. How many of your friends outside of IT knew what a VPN was two years ago, or file encryption? Because folks are scaring them about files they're copying to the Cloud, users are practicing safer computing in general.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 1:07:47 AM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
Critic makes a fair point below. My ARM vocabulary failed me. ARM is a processor, not an operating system, but the ARM processor cannot use the x86 instruction set. The operating system must be ported to ARM, as Ubuntu has been.Most x86 OSs have not. Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek
PLOM
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PLOM,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/14/2012 | 9:55:01 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
A thought provoking list and analysis. Here's my tuppence worth:
The cloud is probably at least as secure, if not more secure than your remote/off-site data centre.
The VM spying issue is less of a concern than the inappropriate accessing of logs by physic server admins (at cloud, or your local farm - it's the people, stupid!).
The cost of the cloud services, like everything, is in the labour required to provide it (again - people).
Cloud shopping is more than just about price - find a service that suits, then negotiate price.
The choice of the OS will become less important (see previous comment) and diversity in OS will count for nothing in the longer term as energy costs will never be a long-term factor - see moore's law, and the comments about labour costs.
Open-source will eventually be monetised somehow - no such thing as a free lunch (there'll be ads in your data soup).
Cloud computing is eco-friendly, but online shopping is not - three trips by trucks to your house to delivery this weeks groceries vs the hybrid going to the mall - you can figure it out?
Great article, though - a new subscriber and enjoying what I see.
Dkramer3
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Dkramer3,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/14/2012 | 9:36:10 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
Also what does on line shopping have to do with cloud computing? The scenario would be the same weather Amazon had it's servers in the cloud or on site.
smccown
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smccown,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/14/2012 | 9:14:32 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
Actually, for myth #1, the cloud (like the internet) is *not* safe.

Many well-documented successful attacks have been carried out against PCI-compliant companies, the DOD, etc. For example:

1) Big-Box Breach: The Inside Story of Wal-MartGÇÖs Hacker Attack (http://www.wired.com/threatlev...

2) White House confirms cyberattack (http://www.politico.com/news/s...

Rather than giving companies a false sense of security, tell them that they are at risk, but that the cloud can be made "at least as safe as everything else"...
smccown
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50%
smccown,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/14/2012 | 9:13:41 PM
re: 7 Dumb Cloud Computing Myths
Actually, for myth #1, the cloud (like the internet) is *not* safe.

Many well-documented successful attacks have been carried out against PCI-compliant companies, the DOD, etc. For example:

1) Big-Box Breach: The Inside Story of Wal-MartGÇÖs Hacker Attack (http://www.wired.com/threatlev...

2) White House confirms cyberattack (http://www.politico.com/news/s...

Rather than giving companies a false sense of security, tell them that they are at risk, but that the cloud can be made "at least as safe as everything else"...
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