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Cloud Expo: Article

A Cloud Security Conversation with the SMB

Why the cloud makes sense for companies with limited resources and modest budgets

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine. His name is AJ and he was particularly grouchy. He had just spent the last 12 work hours scouring month-old machine logs so that he could compile a quarter-end audit that met his company’s compliance requirement. AJ is the Director of IT for what would be considered an SMB. It’s a modest home warranty related company that deals with homeowner end users, finance and loan offices, mortgage companies and manufacturers. It does roughly 15-20 million in business each year and employs about 60 direct employees and maybe 100 contracted agents. AJ has a staff of three other IT professionals, but given the workload, could easily double that headcount.

AJ is very proud of his jack-of-all-IT-trades status. He is proficient at writing code as he is virtually installing access on contractor home devices or planning strategic IT footprint expansion. And it's this proficiency that has been making him grumpy. Because he can work some sort of magic with just about any application, the bosses have him wear many different hats. In fact, one of his online IT forum handles is “The Maddest Hatter.” But it is this reliance on his tribal knowledge and multidisciplinary acumen that keep the C-Levels saying “that sounds like it’s right up AJ’s alley.” AJ’s biggest problem is that there are only 24 hours in a day and he can only prioritize so many projects that are interspersed with hair-on-fire emergencies.

Now when I called AJ, it was not to sell him anything, but to see if he wanted to play a round of golf this weekend. However, the conversation soon turned dark, as he said that he would probably be in the office all weekend catching up on the work he would have been doing if not for the pesky audits.  I asked him if that were a regular happenstance, working through the weekend. He said it happened once or twice a month. If it wasn’t compliance, it was server repair, or backup tapes, or investigating why the website submission page transmits gobbledigook (his word, not mine).

“So what about your security policies?” I snuck in the question.

“What about them? Raul and Savino (his techs) usually take care of it-the provsioning, password stuff, whatever. I just step in when the feds come knocking and ask about compliance. Man PCI is just burying me.” (note...most of his company's users pay for service online using credit card--see last week's blog about PCI)

I sighed. “So you don’t know who’s accessing your network, if they’re friendlies. What they are looking at?”

“I know what you’re trying to do…you’re trying to sell me SIEM and Log Management. You know I’ve got it covered.”

“Do you? How secure are those home agents computers? Are they monitored by anything more than virus software? Do you know what sites they’re visiting, how open their networks are before they sign in an access your network? Heck are they using unsecured smartphones?”

“I know. I know. But I thought this call was about golf.”

“Just trying to help a buddy out.

I know from experience that too many SMBs do not enforce data security policies. Like AJ, they are spread too thin or don’t have the necessary budget to afford a holistic solution. Without these security controls they run the risk of losing data, stagnate employee (and agent) productivity, and open themselves up to a myriad of breaches, sabotages and carelessness. Any of which could bring their modest enterprise to a screeching halt.

For company’s like AJ’s, security-as-a-service is making more and more sense. It provides best of breed capabilities for a fraction of the cost. I told AJ that for what he pays currently in support and maintenance, I could provide an enterprise-class holistic solution-one that provides all the tools, plus 24/7 monitoring vigilance. And this is not to displace any person or process currently in house. They might have the expertise, but typically don’t have the bandwidth or the budget or the buy-in. Too many company’s like AJ’s do the bare minimum to maintain compliance, but that certainly leaves them vulnerable. In fact, the all the automated and outsourced functionalities can provide the breathing room to address not only business need and revenue generating priorities, but to allow a transformation from an infrastructure-based organization to a information-based one. AJ knows this and often crosses swords with the C-levels in that they need to upgrade security protocols because it is a matter of when (not if) a major security issue will occur and cost them not only dollars, but reputation as well.

Cloud-based security is not just a benefit for SMBs.  The residual benefit of cloud security is that IT no longer has to be in the Identity Management business, but still reap all the benefits and efficiencies. No more time dedicated to resetting passwords or setting up role based access every time someone is hired, fired or moved. It doesn’t have to be in the log monitoring business, but still is effectively and securely protected from intrusion and attack with 24/7/365 monitoring. IT department is no longer a compiler of data, but a conduit of information and evaluator of compliance audits and reports that meet the various industry standards and government requirements.

The good news is AJ is slotting cloud security migration for his 2013 budget. So I just may let him win the next time we hit the links…but don’t tell him that!

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.