Security — The Dark Side of the Cloud

By Steve Campbell

January 25, 2010

Cloud computing is a new computing paradigm for many but for the rest of us it is simply today’s version of timesharing – Timesharing 2.0. On-demand or pay-for-usage has been the norm for many HPC organizations for several decades. These users either never had the budget for their own computing resources or the project only needed limited access to powerful compute resources.

In that sense, HPC users, like the biggest commercial users, already trust cloud computing with their proprietary applications, data and results. They have been using pay-for-usage services for years and many have evolved from the early days of timesharing. In many cases, supercomputing centers and government research labs provide the compute resources. If you are a commercial HPC user in oil & gas, financial services, manufacturing or other industry, the compute resources will probably be found in the corporate datacenter.

This HPC user community has pioneered the necessary tools to allocate, measure and control access to specific users and projects while protecting the users from unauthorized access or modification of applications and data or malicious erasure or premature disclosure of results. This community also developed sophisticated accounting and charge back software that kept track of everything from CPU cycles to memory usage to access time and storage used. Suffice it to say that HPC users are well ahead of their counterparts in the commercial datacenter, and the latter would do well to look toward the former for some guidance in this area.

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge to cloud computing is security – the dark side of the cloud. In the cloud paradigm, the user community does not or should not care about the physical side of business operations. In most cases, the physical infrastructure is housed, managed and owned by a third party, and you pay for resources used just like the electric and gas utilities. Despite all these wonderful capabilities and features, security remains as much of a concern for the HPC community as it does for the consumers concerned about protecting their identity and credit card information.

Imagine for a moment the business ramifications if the results of critical drug data or aircraft design were changed and compromised by malicious activity or they were released to the world prematurely. The real and intangible costs to your company can be devastating.

Threats to the network and information security have been occurring for decades, nothing new. However, the complexity and scale of attacks are rising at an alarming rate, presenting organizations with a huge challenge as they struggle to defend against this ever-present threat. Today, cybercrime is more lucrative and less risky than other forms of criminal activity. Threat levels and attacks are on the rise, striking more and more businesses. Estimates for disruption, data theft and other nefarious activities were pegged at a staggering $1 trillion for 2008. Certainly more than a round-off error!

Just this month, the news headlines in CNET News include “Google China insiders may have helped with attack” and in the Wall Street Journal: “Fallout From Cyber Attack Spreads.” CCTV.com reported, “China’s largest search engine paralyzed in cyber-attack….” And a ZDNet headline on Jan. 21 read: “Microsoft knew of IE zero-day flaw since last September.”

In July 2009, the associatedcontent.com headlines read “Near-Simultaneous Cyber Attacks Down U.S. Government Websites.” The article reported that the attack targeted the “White House, Pentagon, NYSE, Secret Service, NSA, Homeland Security, State, Nasdaq, Treasury, FAA, FTC, and DOT Websites.”

The low risk and low-cost of entry of cyber-crime make it an attractive and lucrative “business.” Cloud-based computing exacerbates the situation by facilitating access to increasing amounts of information. IT organizations have a hard enough time defending their in-house private cloud resources. Companies offering public cloud, pay-for-usage models are faced with a more difficult challenge since they must serve multiple organizations on the same platform. At the same time, there is an opportunity for innovation of flexible cloud-based security service offerings.

The criminal element employs powerful tools such as botnets, enabling attackers to infiltrate large numbers of machines. The “2009 Emerging Cyber Threats Report from Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC)” estimates that botnet-affected machines may comprise 15 percent of online computers. Another report compiled by Panda Labs estimates that in the second quarter of 2008 10 million botnet computers were used to distribute spam and malware across the Internet each day. With the growth of the cloud paradigm, more and more mission critical information will flow over the Web to publicly-hosted cloud services. The conventional wisdom of defending the perimeter is insufficient for this dynamic distributed environment. One element in common across commercial enterprise applications is that users must consider security before signing up for public cloud services.

During SC09, I met with many of the HPC infrastructure vendors and also spoke with some real-world HPC cloud users about the concerns they have using cloud computing for their workloads. (This was not a structured industry survey.) Some did express concerns about security but mainly in the context of using public cloud resources versus their private cloud resources. However, they also expressed concerns about transitioning their HPC workloads from in-house resources to external public cloud resources, as it is a very different scenario and from commercial workloads. From a security standpoint the concerns ranged from unauthorized access to exposure of critical information to malicious activity. Additional concerns include the movement and encryption of data to public clouds and the subsequent persistence once workloads have been completed. Has the data really been deleted? It is all about the data integrity.

HPC users often have many options available for running their workloads. For example, an academic user may have access to in-house central computing resources shared between multiple departments, or even access to large-scale supercomputing centers. In this environment the user data, results and applications are still very much ‘in-house’ and even though there is some security risk, the users are better protected in this environment. HPC users in private industry, especially those in large-scale multinational companies, may have the option of private clouds available for their workloads, and like HPC academic users, have fewer security concerns. However, if the HPC user is looking at commercial third-party cloud providers of public clouds, whether it is Amazon’s EC2, Google’s App Engine or better still, HPC-specific cloud vendors, they should spend the time to ensure that these vendors fully address their security issues, encryption, and persistence.

To those organizations that do not have internal private clouds and want to use cloud computing from a third party vendor, I recommend you consider the following five security evaluation criteria:

  1. Evaluate the vendor’s security features very carefully. Ensure that they provide more than just password-protected access.
     
  2. Look into the collaboration tools and resource sharing to prevent data leakage. Security is all about the data.
     
  3. Look into authentication and the basic infrastructure security. What happens in the event of a disaster? What’s their disaster recovery plan, backup procedures and how often do they test this process? Has the provider ever had a failure or security breach and if so what happened?
     
  4. Can they build a private cloud for your workload? What’s their data persistence policy? Can they guarantee data transfer security form in-house resources to public cloud?
     
  5. Ask to review their best practices policy and procedures and check to see if it includes security audits and regular testing.

Cloud computing is not so much a new technology as it is a new delivery model, but its impact will be enormous. Research firm IDC estimated that worldwide cloud services in 2009 were $17.4 billion, and are forecasted to grow to $44.2 billion in 2013. The economies of scale and centralized resources create new security challenges to an already stressed IT infrastructure.

This concentration of resources and data will be a tempting target for cyber criminals. Consequently, cloud-based security must be more robust. Spend the time to evaluate the security and make sure it is designed in and not added on after a breach. Partner with a trusted vendor. And if in doubt, seek advice.

About the Author

Steve Campbell, an HPC Industry Consultant and HPC/Cloud Evangelist, has held senior VP positions in product management and product marketing for HPC and Enterprise vendors. Campbell has served in the vice president of marketing capacity for Hitachi, Sun Microsystems, FPS Computing and has also had lead marketing roles in Convex Computer Corporation and Scientific Computer Systems. Campbell has also served on the boards of and as interim CEO/CMO of several early-stage technology companies.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled o Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Intel Touts Silicon Spin Qubits for Quantum Computing

February 14, 2018

Debate around what makes a good qubit and how best to manufacture them is a sprawling topic. There are many insistent voices favoring one or another approach. Referencing a paper published today in Nature, Intel has offe Read more…

By John Russell

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Safeguard Your HPC Environment with the World’s Most Secure Industry Standard Servers

Today’s organizations operate in an environment with ever-evolving threats, and in order to protect themselves they must continuously bolster their security strategy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Intel® are addressing modern security challenges with the world’s most secure industry standard servers powered by the latest generation of Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Read more…

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended to make it easier, faster and cheaper to train and run machi Read more…

By Doug Black

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Singularity HPC Container Start-Up – Sylabs – Emerges from Stealth

February 8, 2018

The driving force behind Singularity, the popular HPC container technology, is bringing the open source platform to the enterprise with the launch of a new vent Read more…

By George Leopold

Dell EMC Debuts PowerEdge Servers with AMD EPYC Chips

February 6, 2018

AMD notched another EPYC processor win today with Dell EMC’s introduction of three PowerEdge servers (R6415, R7415, and R7425) based on the EPYC 7000-series p Read more…

By John Russell

‘Next Generation’ Universe Simulation Is Most Advanced Yet

February 5, 2018

The research group that gave us the most detailed time-lapse simulation of the universe’s evolution in 2014, spanning 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution, is back in the spotlight with an even more advanced cosmological model that is providing new insights into how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed, and where magnetic fields originate. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This