Government software in the cloud, now what?

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Government software in the cloud, now what?

Over the past year, a growing number of government agencies have been transitioning from legacy systems to the cloud and reaping the immediate benefits: agility, simplification, streamlined processes and cost reduction. As with many organizations, agencies' cloud computing deployment often begins with email migration, website hosting and basic software as a service, leaving some parts of their infrastructure in traditional data centers and activating hybrid cloud models to meet their IT needs. The advantages of cloud can’t be ignored, and organizations, including government, are moving to it to thrive in today's rapidly evolving IT landscape.

Because cloud-based tools and services are fairly new, however, there are concerns about protecting information stored there. For government agencies, whose information in the cloud can be sensitive and even classified, security must be a top priority. Unfortunately, the approaches of the past are not enough to protect today’s complex cloud environment.   

Moving to cloud means rethinking the web application security paradigm and activating a more robust approach to protection after launch. The days of prelaunch penetration testing and post-launch maintenance -- in which uncovered vulnerabilities may take several days to fix while applications are exposed -- are gone. To make the cloud more secure, IT teams must adopt a proactive, real-time approach to protecting it, taking advantage of agile software development and better monitoring capabilities.

How can government agencies ensure their cloud and web application protection plan is solid?

Ensure breadth of coverage: Cyberthreats will continue to plague agencies, so building a strong security foundation that protects against different types of attacks (SQL injection, cross-scripting, etc.) in various components of an application  is a fundamental part of any security strategy. With different employees having access to various levels of classified data, it is crucial that the security system be flexible enough to protect each level and component in the network.    

Bridge the gap between old and new: The phrase “yesterday’s technology to protect today’s data” is frequently heard describing the government sector, which is often behind the times when it comes to the latest technologies. As agencies modernize their legacy systems, they should support web languages besides Java, including Python, Ruby on Rails and Node.js.

Get out of a static frame of mind and into real-time protection: Real-time protections require improvements in processes. Few agency networks can afford to shut down when a threat or possible breach occurs. A system that can evolve and continue to function when it is under attack or being repaired is a necessary part of this solution. Look for an agile security solution that works to identify vulnerabilities, risks and threats while stopping attacks at the first sign of penetration.  

Make sure it's easy: Agency systems with custom infrastructure and patches in their code can pose security challenges when new applications are rolled out. Embedded security software should adapt to an agency’s existing infrastructure and applications and work within minutes of installation, avoiding tests and trial-runs that can expose application and data.

An agency’s goal is to build extensive security without slowing down IT. The new development and operations process agencies use to move to the cloud should also be applied to security. Security should be as proactive, forward-thinking and resilient as the cloud is. Security software along with processes and protocols that make protection effective must be put in place, especially when dealing with sensitive government data.   

About the Author

Mike Milner is co-founder and CTO of IMMUNIO.

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