man with umbrella clouds (Maksim Shmeljov/

In a pandemic, the cloud looks less risky

The crucible of the COVID-19 pandemic may burn off some long-standing resistance to cloud services, according to a Department of Homeland Security program manager.

Norman Speicher, who works in DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate’s first responders group to help state and local public safety agencies leverage technologies, said “COVID has forced risk management.” For some smaller agencies, owning and managing their IT infrastructures felt more secure than a cloud platform, he said. When the pandemic hit, it put a glaring spotlight on the fact that some risk is inevitable, he said, which made cloud’s more diffuse operations more palatable.

As COVID-19 risks have forced agencies to modernize IT functions and platforms to stay functioning, it’s also forced IT managers to think differently, according to Speicher and others speaking at a May 14 ATARC webinar on compliance and security during a crisis.

“The answer can’t be ‘no’” to new ideas, Speicher said. “You can’t function with ‘no.’” Still, he said, “I’m anxious to learn the ‘lessons learned,’ or how the curve has accelerated” for agencies shifting to modernized platforms.

The forced modernization that agencies have scrambled to do to extend their IT operations to support 100% telework hasn’t been easy, said Lon Gowen, chief technologist and special adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The huge shift, however, has also forced agencies to think in more detail about priorities.

“Don’t forget the old saying that ‘haste makes waste,’” Gowen said. Shifting systems to cloud or other fundamental platform change in the middle of a crisis “boils down to the system.”

If the system is simple and scalable, it’s an obvious immediate candidate to move. If a move entails big, detailed operations, such as setting up enclaves with cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services or IBM, he said, it’s best to wait.

A rushed set-up of those kinds of operations could also leave “gaping holes” in security, Gowen said. “Some bad guys could get in at the start and own you for years. You have to be deliberate in how you do it.”

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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