Cloud computing data breaches a socio-technical review of literature


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As more and more personal, enterprise and government data, services and infrastructure moves to the cloud for storage and processing, the potential for data breaches increases. Already major corporations that have outsourced some of their IT requirements to the cloud have become victims of cyber attacks. Who is responsible and how to respond to these data breaches are just two pertinent questions facing cloud computing stakeholders who have entered an agreement on cloud services. This paper reviews literature in the domain of cloud computing data breaches using a socio-technical approach. Socio-technical theory encapsulates three major dimensions- the social, the technical, and the environmental. The outcomes of the search are presented in a thematic analysis. The 7 key themes identified from the literature included: security, data availability, privacy, trust, data flow, service level agreements, and regulation. The paper considers complex issues, pre-empting the need for a better way to deal with breaches that not only affect the enterprise and cloud computing provider, but more importantly, end-users who rely on online services and have had their credentials compromised.

Section I. Introduction

Traditionally, enterprise networks were managed by internal IT staff that had access to underlying infrastructure that stored and processed organizational data. Cloud computing has emerged to overcome traditional barriers such as limited IT budgets, increased use of outdated technology and the inability of corporations to expand IT infrastructure services to users when needed [1]. Cloud computing is Internet-based infrastructure and application service delivery through a controlled and manageable environment that is provided with a pay-as-you-go agreement structure. Cloud computing has acted to lower hardware and software costs [2]. Buyya et al. [3] analogize that cloud computing is similar to utility based-services such as water, electricity, gas and telephony. Cloud computing allows for adjusting resources on an ad-hoc manner for a predefined duration with minimal management effort [4].Customers only pay for what is utilized in an affordable manner and computing requirements can be scaled down when no longer needed [3].

While cloud computing is seen as a utility, [5] state that cloud computing models are undeveloped technology structures that have immense potential for improvement. This is despite that [6] argues that cloud computing concepts are not new and models have been adopted from technologies such as time sharing mainframes, clustering and grid computing. Yet [7] elaborates that cloud computing technology is far more advanced than other technology, exceeding the regulatory environment because it transcends legal boundaries. For example, cloud computing has allowed for data to reside somewhere other than the data owner's home location [8]. There are three layers generally acknowledged “as a service” within the cloud computing context: infrastructure, platform, and software. Business customers (e.g. online merchants), may opt for one or more cloud service layers depending on the needs of their company, and the needs of end-users (i.e. the customer's customer).

A. Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) enables the cloud consumer to acquire and provision hardware infrastructure services through the use of cloud provider web interfaces [9].Through an abstraction view of the hardware, consumers are able to provision infrastructure on a pay-as-you-go basis that can be adjusted on an ad-hoc manner [10].The IaaS delivery model also provides ability to provision system images, scale storage and processing requirements and define network topologies through the cloud provider's user interface management portal [10]. The infrastructure is offered through time-shared facilities that allows storage, processing and network services to be utilized as a service [1]. According to [6, p. 44] IaaS “allows companies to essentially rent a data center environment without the need and worry to create and maintain the same data center footprint in their own company”.

B. Platform as a Service

Platform as a Service (PaaS) enables cloud customers the ability to deliver web-based applications to its users [8]. PaaS also allows cloud customers to support facilities that provide on-demand web application utilization without the need to manage underlying complex network infrastructure. According to [8, p. 49], principle characteristics of PaaS are “services to develop, test, deploy, host, and manage applications to support the application development life cycle”. The added benefits of PaaS allows cloud customers to test developed applications without the need to utilize organizationally-owned infrastructure [6].

C. Software as a Service

Software as a Service (SaaS) allows cloud customers the ability to utilize software resources through a web-based user interface [8]. The SaaS model allows cloud customers the facility of utilizing software applications without the need for them to store, process and maintain backend infrastructure and platform repositories [6]. The level of abstraction increases as cloud customers migrate from IaaS to SaaS delivery models, hence responsibility is handed to cloud providers to handle the SaaS model [11]. Furthermore [12] discuss SaaS architecture through multi-tenant utilization as it shares common resources and underlying instances of both database and object code.

Section II. Security

Several authors [13] [14] [15] agree security concerns are among one of the biggest issues that will enable growth in cloud computing services. The use of public clouds demands tighter restrictions on cloud providers to incorporate into their service models. Legal complications that cloud providers must adhere to are yet to be standardized and as a result remain the biggest obstacle to continued substantial growth of the cloud model [14]. Svantesson and Clarke [5] emphasize that the issue of security within the cloud computing context should be reviewed rigorously by potential business customers and end-users before adoption to ensure that confidentiality, integrity, availability and privacy policies are addressed by the provider.

A recent study [16] focuses on explaining the concerns over network boundaries in the cloud computing model where the risk of attacks are increased as a result of outdated security solutions. The continued usage of cloud computing will result in more devices being connected outside the traditional network boundary, which will in turn mean that the underlying data that is stored may be compromised. Similarly, [7] states whereas once a user was only allowed to log on if they were on the physical network, they can now log on from almost any device that is connected to a network connection. In traditional enterprise networks, organisations had access to security settings and configurations, whilst in the cloud computing model the network boundary is managed by the cloud provider.

Subashini and Kavitha [17, p. 3] state “guaranteeing the security of corporate data in the cloud is difficult, if not impossible”. The state of cloud security is under stress as security threats and vulnerabilities may not be noticed by the cloud customer and their end-users [18]. This in turn raises alarms for disaster recovery plans to be specified in service level agreements to avoid contract breaches. Kshetri [15] elaborates that security and privacy issues come to the fore as customers start to be concerned that data may be used without the explicit consent of the end-user. To complement the latter, [13] details further concerns such as loss of control over data via malicious or un-malicious intent, an issue that can never be completely eradicated.

A. Cloud Computing Data Security Encryption Keys

There have been numerous studies conducted seeking to secure the cloud computing model from risks and threats but this has had little impact on the overall industry [19].The outcome from [19] proposes key-based encryption through simulation modelling that allows data to be stored on cloud infrastructure, with participants accessing certain data according to their encryption key permission. To critique the former, [20] state that security mechanisms that involve encryption key solutions degrade performance levels and do not meet scalability requirements in cloud computing environments. With the issues of performance and scalability on encryption keys, Esayas [13] also elaborates that encryption keys might not meet business requirements as the effectiveness of such a technique is not suitable for all cloud computing services. Implementing security is essential in overall cloud models, although it increases overheads that diminish the return and benefits.

The influence of many industry and academic experts, state that encryption keys will pave the way for secure cloud computing, from a perpetrator and insider attack point of view. Insider breaches are becoming more common as attacks may be deliberate or simply administrative error [21]. In review, [18] detail that traditional security solutions change when enterprises adopt cloud computing and existing encryption standards are outdated for the cloud computing model, inhibiting effective use for privacy protection. The ability to overcome these issues will allow the cloud customer peace of mind with respect to data integrity and end-user confidence [22].

Another method to encryption key security is demonstrated using a simulation approach to protect data from unauthorized access and violation. The concept introduces data coloring to protect different types of data. This distorts the original data and only owners that have the same color key can view the data. Yet [13] and [20] argue that security keys are highly volatile in cloud environments, that if the decryption key is mismanaged, the data will not be able to be decrypted. To add further criticism, the data coloring security solution simulation-based approach has limitations on overall usefulness as it provides simplistic arithmetic calculations [13].

B. Disadvantages of Traditional Security Practices in Cloud

Perpetrators and insider attacks are considered high impact security threats to cloud computing. Pek et al. [23] detail security issues are not being offset by either hardware or software protocols. In assessment, [17] surveys existing traditional security solutions and believes that cloud data needs higher levels of security to overcome vulnerabilities and threats. Traditional security models such as intrusion detection systems, intrusion prevention systems and network firewalls do not effectively address the security issues that are being experienced in the cloud computing model [17].

Salah [24] introduces the proof-of-concept cloud-based network security overlay. For this simulation, Salah [24] uses security intrusion detection systems, network firewalls and anti-virus tools that are intended for cloud environments. The results demonstrate that significant cost savings can be achieved with this implementation although network latency and increased network bandwidth utilization is recorded.[25]emphasize that cloud environments are far greater in complexity and design than traditional enterprise environments. Physical and virtual machines are rapidly being deployed in data centers and the security management protocol for this environment using the traditional security methodology is dormant and unrealistic. For example, Salah [24] has not included solutions for when an intrusion has compromised a particular virtual machine, and how a cloud provider and customer should respond.This is of particular concern as [25] state that once a virtual machine has been compromised then the attacker can gain access to the lower level hypervisor of the machine.

C. Data Security Issues in Virtualised Environments

Virtualization first came on to the market in IBM mainframes through the use of its hypervisor to initiate virtual machines [21]. Virtualization concepts and technical background explanations are not being explicitly detailed to the cloud customer adding to security concerns. Sensitive data that resides on the cloud computing model are acceptable to threats and vulnerabilities using virtualization techniques [26]. A primary design issue is to denote the sensitivity of the data that is being stored and assign low and high security controls for that virtual machine. According to [23], sensitive and nonsensitive data should not be stored on the same physical machine, although this has not being publicized to cloud customers.

Data in virtualized environments according to [17] is an important topic as data location and data ownership is a key enabler to increasing trust relationships between provider and customer. To complement the former, [14] elaborate that trust can be diminished with concerns relating to data breaches. Data security breaches in virtualized environments can occur to one or many tenants that reside in a single physical machine and at times without notifications being issued to customers or consumers [14]. As many tenants reside in a single physical machine, customer data may be accessed by unauthorized personnel if the virtualized environment is compromised [27].

In [28], the definition of sensitive data relates to software configuration data, network configurations and resource allocations for virtualized environments. If we compare this with [14], they define sensitive data with respect to an individual's social information. Throughout the study, [28] state that current security measures for virtualized environments are lacking and increased prevention, detection and protection measures need to be in place. These measures include an increase in the level of policy standards and managerial say during cloud provider assessment for cloud services. [29]emphasizes that the lack of service level agreement acknowledgement during cloud provider assessment plays a pivotal role in ruling out important components of cloud services.

D. Outsourcing Sensitive Data to Virtualised Environments

When cloud customers outsource their workload to a cloud provider due to resource constraints or volatile computation requirements, [20] state that “current outsourcing practice operates in plaintext - that is, it reveals both data and computation results to the commercial public cloud”. This should be concerning to cloud customers, as they very often store data that is likely to contain sensitive information (e.g. corporate intellectual property). The management practices of data security in virtualized cloud environments according to [14] are simply inadequate for sensitive data to be stored.Rocha et al. [21] detail that system and network administrators have log-in credentials to access the virtualization management layer of the physical machine. With this level of access coupled with plaintext data, outsourcing demonstrates that virtualized cloud environments are not suitable for data storage [5].

E. Cloud Security Auditing and Certification Compliance

Standards that include auditing and certifications are considered to be inadequate for the cloud computing model [15]. To complement the former, [30] state that auditing and certifications have not been widely implemented and adopted by cloud providers. A set of security standards and best practices are being developed by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), although current cloud providers are yet to demonstrate enthusiasm or optimism that these will play a role in avoiding security breaches [15].

F. Billing Monitoring Security Concerns on the Cloud

The continuation of monitoring services from cloud providers offers timely and effective billing solutions for cloud customers. However, this is also a security matter, given providers need to monitor customer traffic to bill accordingly [31]. The lack of standards for monitoring services increase privacy concerns, as cloud customers cannot apply security metrics nor monitor on what is being scanned [30]. Pek et al. [23] supports accessing the management portal of the cloud computing model as integral to the overall security status and virtual environments.

G. Cloud Security Requirements and Modelling Approach

In their proposed framework modelling approach, [32] address privacy and security requirements analysis for cloud customers through a rigorous process that selects the most suitable cloud vendor. The conceptual framework incorporates different cloud computing stakeholders, iterative requirements processing and a security modelling language. The authors demonstrate the main limitation of this proposed conceptual framework is privacy being a subset requirement of security. [33]agree that the lack of service level agreement analysis during the conceptual framework process is a major contributor to ineffectively measuring cloud provider services.

Chen and Zhao [27] develop a data life cycle conceptual framework through a semantic review of current literature. The various stages address initial data generation from cloud customers to how data destruction is performed by cloud providers once a cloud service is terminated. Throughout the conceptual framework, the lack of monitoring service level agreements in respect to data location, sharing, privacy and security is of particular concern. The conceptual framework process does not provide insights into the overall compliance and regulatory status. [5]emphasize that cloud customers and end-users need to acknowledge the importance of cloud provider compliance and regulation status.

The architecture proposed by [34] is a proxy based cloud service to enable collaboration between multi-cloud consumers and providers on an ad-hoc basis. The concept allows data sharing and processing without establishing agreements or negotiation contracts and business rules. In another study, [25] elaborate the significance of establishing standard service level agreements and contracts for cloud services and how to monitor them on a continuous basis. Modi [25] also describes underlying internet protocol (IP) and proxy services vulnerabilities. Through this, attacks can include man-in-the middle, domain name system (DNS) and address resolution protocol (ARP) spoofing that can be targets for proxy based cloud models. Comparatively, [34] and [35] looked at collaboration with multi-vendor and customers clouds in an alternative way. Yang's [35] simulation involved service level agreements for customers whilst participating in cloud federation services. The measured components of the SLA had Quality of Service (QoS) attributes such as connection latency, bandwidth and threshold limits. The security that [35] incorporated in the simulation had encryption and authentication methods that were standard practice for online activities.

Yang and Jia [36] introduce their concept of enabling dynamic auditing of data that is stored on a cloud service through a conceptual framework. They define the key categories that need attention: increased confidentiality, dynamic and batch auditing. The results were compelling as decreased costs to processing these audits were achieved. The intervention through a third party auditor within the process enabled the avoidance of bias in the results. [17]emphasizes that compliance and regulatory status of cloud providers is crucial to the cloud customer. The lack of acknowledgement of [36] to include the attitude of cloud vendor participation and approval was a key difference in the studies. Cloud vendors may inevitably avoid these scenarios and lack participation for data confidentially checks.


Section III. Data Availability

A. Multiple Availability Zones

Cloud vendors that have multiple availability zones use this functionality as a method to distribute network load and offset critical services to a larger amount of geo-redundant sites. Sun et al. [26] state that replication technology is used for multiple availability zone setups to avoid data loss, although this method is prone to cross-border activities, if stored in different regulated jurisdictions. The study by [37] aimed at data availability to be effected through the use of virtualization and raised security issues. Sun et al. [26] focused on data availability through offloading services to alternative servers for load distribution. Comparatively, [37] insisted to keep high data availability applications in-house until further developments are made to the cloud computing model, although this article is now somewhat dated.

B. Enhancing Data Security to Maintain Data Availability

In the study by [38], enhanced security was achieved through the utilization of security mechanisms such as double authentication and digital signatures. Data availability was achieved by enabling the data to be securely stored and retrieved. In comparison, the study by [39], aimed to increase data availability through a two stage process: using a trusted third party to maintain visibility of the security mechanisms that are used, and using enhanced security mechanisms to protect the data. Thus, [38] proposes the solution through an experimental-based case, whereas [39] only demonstrates this through expected security tools and their capabilities. In contrast, using a literature review, [40] indicate that virtualization security is very important to data availability. With their analysis of current security mechanisms, virtualization security is under-managed and in need of enhanced management practices.

C. Data Availability Priorities

Sakr et al. [41] in their cloud computing survey, aimed to investigate cloud challenges that arise by utilizing their developed model. While they identified several advantages, such as utilization and bandwidth improvements, there were substantial drawbacks from cloud storage techniques that raised concerns. Their findings indicated that the availability of service use, highly impacts the cloud computing model, as the slightest downtime and service degradation would impact the use of the service. Similarly, the study by [42] indicates that performance delivery through the availability of the service was the most significant issue. To critique [42], findings were empirically based as compared to [41] where findings were derived from a literature survey.

Section IV. Privacy

A. Defining Information Privacy in Technology

Meanings of information privacy vary across disciplines. According to the Australian Privacy Law and Practice Report 108: “Information privacy, [is] the establishment of rules governing the collection and handling of personal data such as credit information, and medical and government records.” It is also known as data protection [43]. Information privacy can be considered an important concept when studying cloud computing. It has four sub-components [44]:

  • Psychologically: people need private space;
  • Sociologically: people need to be free to behave… but without the continual threat of being observed;
  • Economically: people need to be free to innovate; and
  • Politically: people need to be free to think and argue and act.”

It is important to note that information privacy is not only something that is important to a cloud computing business customer, but also an end-user who is likely to be an everyday consumer.

B. Technological Advances Outpace Privacy Regulation

The Australian Privacy Law and Practice Report 108 noted that the “…Privacy Act regulates the handling of personal information.” Although the Act was exclusively designed for public sector agencies, now the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) have a broader reach [43, p. 138]. Complicating the issue of privacy, especially information privacy, is how it is interpreted, or for that matter ignored, by different legal systems.Gavison [45, p. 465] summates the problem of privacy in an ever-changing technological world when he writes: “Advances in the technology of surveillance and the recording, storage, and retrieval of information have made it either impossible or extremely costly for individuals to protect the same level of privacy that was once enjoyed.”

C. Sensitive Data Storage on Cloud Infrastructure

The EU Directive defines sensitive data as personal data that includes health records, criminal activities, or religious philosophy [14]. Similarly, [27] define e-commerce and health care systems data as sensitive. [28]defines sensitive data that includes personal attributes and security configuration files. Subashini and Kavitha [17], state that sensitive data holds value to the end-user and needs to be protected. In addition, [46] discusses that each cloud customer needs to assess suitability and evaluate the security controls that the cloud provider offers. Sun et al.'s [26] key focus is that cloud customers must first acknowledge that their sensitive data is stored on cloud computing infrastructure, and cloud providers need to assure that it is kept confidential. [15]states that cloud customers are cautious while utilizing the cloud computing model to store sensitive data. [14]state that protecting sensitive data in cloud computing is the biggest challenge for cloud customers.

Cloud customers are especially anxious about the release of their information to third party vendors, exclusive of acknowledgement [22]. Sensitive data that is stored on cloud provider infrastructure is often non-aggregated. All data is tightly coupled thus allowing stakeholders that can access the data to utilize it [47]. [17]detail that cloud customers that have non-aggregated data are vulnerable to insider breaches, as data can be taken without cloud customer acknowledgement. All non-aggregated data that can be seen as selective elements are either weakly encrypted or clearly visible. Ter [48] also discusses the importance that cloud customers need to decouple sensitive data from non-sensitive data as a minimal standard if cloud computing is utilized. The ability to process large quantities of data and query datasets at immense speed is available using cloud computing [47]. Yet this very capability raises concerns about privacy and sensitive data security mechanisms. Privacy concerns are raised as the cause for data retention, and deletion from the cloud provider with respect to virtualization techniques have not been elaborated [28].

D. EU and AUS Data Privacy

King and Raja [14] detail privacy rights that cloud customers have if they choose to store data in an EU-based cloud. It follows that cloud providers need to assure that they act according to local regulations. The complexity arises when a cloud customer in Australia, for instance, is subject to foreign laws as their data is stored in another jurisdiction [46].

Section V. Trust

Cloud providers interpret trust as either being a security or privacy issue [15]. In comparison [18] state that trust is strengthened by having tighter technical and social means to enable transparency for cloud customers. End-users of cloud computing (i.e. everyday consumers), lack trust as cloud providers limit the amount of information provided on data transfer, storage and processing to them directly. End-users may also be concerned about confidentiality [49]. A large subset of cloud end-users have concerns that their data may be used inappropriately for other purposes. Nguyen [7, p. 2205] expresses that cloud customers: “[m]aintain personal property on a third party's premises, he or she retains a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if that third party has the right to access the property for some purchases.”

A. Increasing Cloud Trust with Security Technology Solutions

Wu et al. [50] in their research, enable trust by increasing levels of security. They introduce a trusted third party to provide the secret key for encrypting data storage. This enhances the probability that consumers have higher security solutions to prevent data violation in the form of secure envelopes. This kind of solution however, incurs higher network traffic costs. In agreement [19] and [20] discuss that enhancing security encryption degrades systems performance and scalability.

The dispersion of cloud customers and data centers globally alters the current domain trust relationship as cloud customers and servers might not be in the same trusted domain [20]. In comparison with the latter, traditional methods on enabling and enhancing trust are simply unrealistic as the amount of data to process is growing exponentially [49]. Integrity mechanisms that were once used in traditional enterprise data centers focused on independent and isolated servers. The method for hashing the entire file(s) is not feasible in cloud data center technology [49]. This creates uncertainty for cloud consumers that do not have background knowledge in cloud computing. It was also found that cloud customers have little or no knowledge of trust-related issues in cloud computing.

B. Enhancing Trust from Social and Technical Perspectives

Enabling trust is notably difficult to sustain as it is dynamic in nature and subject to other factors that may influence the cloud customer's behavior [26]. The ability to improve trust using cloud computing is not solely a technical issue; it needs to include social structures [22]. Throughout, [15] describes security and privacy issues as being formed by emotions, authority and power by the individuals that use cloud computing resources.

Kshetri [15] details the importance of increasing security while lowering privacy issues by enhancing trust relationships between cloud provider and customer. To support the latter, King and Raja [14] state that security weaknesses will relate to lower consumption of cloud computing and a further decrease of customers handing off data.King and Raja [14] uphold that policymakers need to enforce standards and practices within the cloud computing industry. With respect to customer trust, [51] states that enhancing transparency with respect to security will only act to better support trust.Relating to social trust issues, [28] describe trust in relation to technological and virtualized concepts. To enable trust between virtualized systems is to overcome vulnerabilities in hardware and software design. A key security platform used in virtualized environments is the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which is an industry standard for enabling root trust in hardware design and components [28].

Cloud customer trust concerns are likely to continue as failures in both technical and social structures of cloud computing remain unresolved [14]. Kshetri [15] states that this is conclusive and ongoing as cloud providers lack giving cloud customers adequate and meaningful information, further diminishing trust. Trusting cloud providers with corporate transactions needs better management [17]. Cloud customers with sensitive data will continue to rationalize and investigate cloud computing. Further research is required in the area of constructing regulatory frameworks that cover trust relationships between all parties in a service level agreement (SLA) [14].

C. Increasing Trust with Service Level Agreement Visibility

According to [5], cloud providers grant minimal visibility for their offered service acceptance terms and agreements. The increased response time to service deployments are critical factors for end-user acceptance. Enquiring and reading through the terms and agreements of the proposed service are dormant as most customers (and their end-users) will have not read or even become aware of the terms and agreements they sign up to [5]. King and Raja [14] state that trust will be jeopardized as privacy and security concerns continue to rise. [5], [14] and [15] discuss perceptions that trust will be further diminished as cloud providers lack the enthusiasm and impetus to address these concerns. As a result, cloud providers continue to have full authority over customer data [52]. Although this has recently changed with many suggesting mandatory data breach notification, and even commensurate penalties for untimely communications about breaches.

Section VI. Data Flow

A. Data Flow Between Multiple Jurisdictions

In network operations, data flow is essential to overall planning and lifecycle management tasks for IT departments. To understand where the data is being transferred, impacts the type of cloud computing model chosen and overall data storage techniques. Critical and sensitive data that belongs to end-users of cloud solutions may store personal information which cannot be shared with third party vendors. Fears amongst end-users of cloud computing models are greatest when cross-border data flows occur without the pre-warning of the cloud provider. Esayas [13] examined the EU Data Protection Directive, which dated back to 1995, and stated that privacy protection was rather limited to the cloud customer as data was being transferred between jurisdictions. In support, [31] detail privacy acts and regulatory bodies in various jurisdictions which clearly lack the sufficient power to withhold cloud providers the right to keep data to be transferred to another jurisdiction.

B. Cloud Infrastructure Outpacing the Legal Framework

Adrian [46] argues technology developments generally outpace privacy and regulatory issues as a key contributor to privacy concerns. This is particularly important to cloud customers as the legal framework is outdated and insufficient for current cloud computing models [46]. The ineffective use of outdated privacy laws and regulations are difficult to be tied to cross-border data flows, as foreign corporations have data ownership to the data that was transferred [5]. Complications and confusion occurs when legal frameworks become uncertain to cloud customers. To add to the severity of the problem, cloud customers are often unawares of the specific physical storage location of their data. Australia's lack of updating and enhancing of the Privacy Act 1988 is particularly problematic for cloud customers [46]. Svantesson and Clarke [5, p. 392] state that cloud computing “extends beyond mere compliance with data protection laws to encompass public expectations and policy issues that are not, or not yet, reflected in the law”.

C. Australia and EU Legal Frameworks Compared

The transfer of data over the Internet, that cloud providers perform, does not correlate to the cross-border transfer of data within the Australian Privacy Act 1988 [13]. In comparing the Australian Privacy Act 1988 and European Union (EU) Data Protection Directive 1995, [14] explicitly mentions that the EU Directive prohibits member states from cross-border data transfer activities that have below acceptable laws and regulation. In contrast, [46] mentions that conflicting judgements often occur, as enforcing these rules becomes difficult to sustain in foreign countries.

King and Raja [14] explain that EU member states have far tighter privacy laws and regulations compared to Australia when cross-border data flows come into question. The EU Directive gives cloud customers basic rights to their data, and knowledge of where their data is physically stored. Cross-border data flows out of Australia are dissimilar, as the common law is applied to these scenarios, which have far less restrictions compared to the EU Directive [52]. Simply, the EU Directive states that cross-border data flows cannot occur if foreign jurisdictions do not have the same levels of enforcement[53].

Compliance and regulations restrict certain jurisdictions from transferring data to foreign jurisdictions, the location from which the data originated and where it is being transferred [17]. With respect to the EU Directive, even if the cloud consumer is located outside the EU, the data that is generated within the EU cannot be transferred outside the EU [14]. To determine data transfer between jurisdictions is often difficult to answer as the flow of data between jurisdictions can be altered at any time without the cloud customers acknowledgement [14].

The concern for cloud customers over sensitive data is often overlooked and underestimated as cloud providers continue to transfer data to other jurisdictions. This has also raised concerns particularly with sensitive data that end-users of cloud services generate from online applications. Sensitive data that is stored within traditional enterprise networks have been controlled by authorized personnel with tight restrictions using an access-control matrix. These restrictions are both physical security as well as security solutions such as authorizations and cryptography. Regardless of data location, cloud consumers need to have control over data flow between jurisdictions [17].

D. Google Docs Privacy Policy: An Example

In their analysis of Google Docs Privacy Policy, [5] state that cloud end-users of the Google SaaS model have a minimal amount of knowledge on where their data is being transferred and processed. In complement, [53] declare that Google's service agreements bear no liability for any privacy and security of cloud end-user data. Their privacy policy does not provide fundamental information about how third party gadgets collect, manipulate and store cloud end-user data when using Google Docs [5]. This is somewhat inclusive as data residing within the EU cannot be transferred to non-EU jurisdictions even though the data owners are not EU-based residents [14]. The confusion for end-users of cloud computing is high as cross-border data flows are often not highlighted and detailed to the cloud end-user during signup of a cloud-based application. The claim made by cloud computing providers is that cross-border data flows allow for higher service guarantees to the cloud customer and their respective customers. Acceptable service level agreements for cloud consumers can be taken into consideration whilst developing cloud strategies. A unified service level agreement will help improve confidence for future cloud computing migration [54].

Section VII. Service Level Agreements

Buyya et al. [3] in their seminal study describe the importance of service level agreements in cloud computing. Service level agreements provide the needed protection between cloud provider and cloud customer. Similarly, [55] also detail that SLAs are important documents that set expectations for both the cloud customer and the provider. With cloud computing being dynamic in nature and resources being adjusted on an ad-hoc basis, [56] discuss the need for the SLA to be self-adaptable and autonomic. For uninspected service disruption to be avoided, cloud providers need to assure that service guarantees are meet in a timely fashion [57].

A. Cloud Computing Service Level Agreement Importance

The issues associated with cloud computing continue to exist and several factors considered by [17] are raised as being important. These include: service level agreements, security and privacy constraints. Service level agreements are pivotal in establishing a contract between provider and customer in the adoption of cloud computing technologies and services. Cloud customers need to be selective and to incorporate security technology and privacy prevention policies within service level agreements [2]. Interpreting SLAs on behalf of cloud customers will enable proper decisions to be made by key managerial staff. SLAs provide customers with the ability to terminate a contract if service levels are not met by the cloud provider.

B. Service Level Agreements and Negotiation Strategies

Karadsheh's[58] findings proposed a security model and SLA negotiation application process. This was derived through understanding business security requirements prior to facilitating cloud computing activities. Throughout the study, the concept was to build confidence in the enterprise by applying the right requirements. Karadsheh's[58] first point was to illustrate due diligence in the cloud provider and then apply the needed security policies, and whether the cloud provider would be able to adhere to them. The remaining component was to negotiate SLAs. Questions based on data location, privacy agreements and backup strategies were performed as measurable attributes, and if successful, a cloud provider would be selected. To complement [33] and [58] discuss the importance of understanding the SLA prior to cloud computing usage enabling all parties to set their legal and technical expectations.

C. Public Cloud Provider SLA Content Analysis Approach

Pauley [59] designed a transparency scorecard framework to measure security, privacy, auditing and SLA attributes. The scorecard framework questions were based on SLA guarantees, SLA management procedures and record of SLA usages. The scorecard was designed to allow cloud consumers the ability to note the cloud provider that best suited their application of use. Pauley's [59] approach compared cloud customer requirements with publicly available information from cloud providers and used the self-service method for analysis. In comparison, [60]analyzed cloud provider applicability with SLAs, without reference to security, privacy and audit. Qiu et al. [60] gathered SLAs from public cloud providers that had no restrictions to view their SLAs.The sample size was larger than in [59]. Qiu et al. [60] also applied the content analysis technique to analyze the data within the SLA and followed up with a case study and interview method with the cloud customer.

The findings by [59] detailed that out of six public cloud providers chosen (Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM, Terremark, Savvis) only two scored greater than 50% in the SLA scorecard. The results were masked and the cloud providers were not identified. Qiu et al. [60] analyzed further SLA attributes than [59] providing greater insights towards the true value of SLAs for cloud computing. Some of the added attributes in the second study that proved significant were definitions of data protection policy, backup policy and regulatory compliance policy that were originally missing from the first study.

Baset [29] details the importance of understanding the variability of SLA from the cloud provider perspective. The author introduces the attributes of service guarantee, time period, granularity, exclusions, service credit and service violation monitoring. These are the key attributes that are going to be analyzed throughout the study using context analysis of the publicly available SLAs. Qiu et al.'s [60] study has additional attributes that define the obligations from both provider and customer points of view.An important finding from the study of [29], is that service violation incident reporting for all cloud providers were not available on the actual SLA, save for Amazon Compute, which had 5 (five) days of incident reporting factored. Cloud customers that stipulate acknowledgement from cloud providers that have a data breach, disruptions or security related incidents occurring are alarmingly noted as “not available” within the service level agreement. The study from [29] also indicates SLAs that were analyzed from October 2008 to April 2010, indicate that SLAs do not change and reflect actual cloud provider technology status. Baset [29] also discusses that enterprise SLAs should comprise more than just availability and performance, but also privacy, security and disaster recovery.

D. Measuring Cloud Provider Service Level Agreements

Throughout organizational use of cloud computing the important aspect of defining SLA is crucial. The service being utilized will be directly affected if the SLA does not fit the cloud consumer's requirements. In the framework that is being proposed, [61] evaluate and rank SLA attributes of cloud providers. They utilize the service measurement index (SMI) and the attributes are accountability, agility, cost, performance, assurance, security, privacy and usability. The authors extend on this concept and introduce user experiences as another attribute. This introduces the Analytical Hierarchical Process (AHP) for cloud consumers to evaluate and rank cloud customers based on the attributes of the SMI. The framework is utilized in a case study approach that consists of three cloud providers (Amazon EC2, Microsoft Azure and Rackspace). Based on the user requirements, the attributes are given a ranking matrix and results in total weight of the quality of service attributes. The final outcome of the proposed study concluded that S3 (service provider 3) anonymously given name was the best in terms of performance, although S1 (service provider 1) provides the best quality/cost ratio. To compare [29], [59], [60], [61]–introduce the known SMI and AHP frameworks that are used to evaluate and measure attributes on known metrics, rather than analyzing from an individual customer's perspective.

E. A Brief Analysis of Google Service Agreements

Svantesson and Clarke's [5] analysis of the Google Docs service terms discuss that cloud customers have very little knowledge how their data is used and where it resides.[53]also details that Google's service agreements provide no protection on both privacy and security issues for cloud customer data. With respect to cloud customer protection, [62] summates that Google's service agreements state that the Internet search giant has the right to use the content that is obtained and publicly displayed through its Google services. Google can willingly use customer data by accessing, indexing and caching without the end customer's knowledge [62]. These agreements are enforced often without the knowledge of the cloud customer or the cloud customer's customer [5].

Section VIII. Regulation

Managing cloud computing regulations in the U.S. have yet to mature and in certain circumstances lack adequate protection for cloud customer data confidentiality, integrity and availability [14]. Comparing U.S. cloud computing regulation to the EU is challenging, as the EU have tighter restrictions on what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable [14]. Current regulatory rights lack the ability to protect data that is owned by cloud customers from different jurisdictions as to the location of the data owner [18]. Conflicting regulatory rights from different jurisdictions enforce foreign laws to be applied. Adrian [46] describes that new regulation for cloud computing models are inevitably risky and costly as change would impact individual entities.Constructing new regulations would impose burdens on existing and established rights as all entities would need to learn and adapt to new regulations [46]. Similarly, imposing new regulatory laws into an ecosystem that has not yet matured can be a challenging task for all participants involved [20].

Robison's [62] discussion on United States Stored Communication Act (SCA) implies a strong and deterministic approach on legal infrastructure is simply outdated for today's technology, including cloud computing. The author describes and contrasts cloud providers to incorporate terms of service (ToS), privacy policies of the agreed service.In comparison, [7] discusses the Stored Communication Act (SCA) imposing recommendations and future frameworks. Their recommendations include: removing the remote computing services (RCS) and electronic communication services (ECS), toward the incorporation of requiring warrants, and implementing a statutory suppression remedy in the SCA. The two studies utilized the SCA as a foundation, although [62] rather intended to cooperate and provide guidelines for future use of cloud computing. Nguyen's [7] objective in his study was rather to propose the alteration of the legal infrastructure itself. Robison's [62] and Nguyen's [7] aim was to satisfy the objectives of reasoning with cloud providers and cloud customers and allow privacy protection to be strengthened. The component of removing the ECS / RCS and issuing a warrant avoids and prevents “searches from turning into fishing expeditions” [7, p. 2213]. The current court orders require less ground to impose search for data, while warrants will allow for searches that are on reasonable grounds.

Section IX. Conclusion

This paper has used a social-technical approach to review literature in the field of cloud computing. From an analysis of the technical-related works in the field of cloud computing, it is conclusive that security concerns are among the most critical issues facing stakeholders of the cloud computing value chain. It is apparent that most previous studies have focused on enhancing security technology without focusing or reviewing the actual attacks that have been successfully launched against cloud providers. This indicates that cloud data breaches are ill-defined and under-researched in cloud computing scholarly works. There are two concerns that are fundamental to cloud computing security that need further attention. The first concern is with pre-cloud computing data breach manageability and the second concern with post-cloud computing security manageability. Scholarly works have focused largely on simulating security solutions, although they have underestimated the importance of incorporating externalities within the studies. Externalities focus on government and industry related regulations which are integral components that are presently only scantly mentioned in the literature. Importantly, social, technical and environmental concerns have been largely overlooked, with works only focusing on either social-technical, technical-environmental, without reference to all three aspects of the cloud computing value chain.

The second part of this paper examined the social aspect of cloud computing and consisted of privacy and trust-based concerns in previous works. The studies found in this area, demonstrated the importance of privacy and trust within cloud computing as not only supporting continual usage of these services, but also to state concerns with utilization. At the very heart of cloud data breaches are privacy and trust. Scholarly works that were reviewed also identified issues with respect to environmental concerns; such as data flow issues, regulation and service level agreements that were either misinterpreted or missing from government statuary legislation and potential cloud provider's terms of service. It was obvious from the review of literature that a lot of research to date in the cloud computing field has focused on technical solutions than the actual social implications of cloud computing data breaches. This not only signifies the need for a balanced approach, but also specifically with respect to the social requirements, especially of cloud customers, and the end-users of cloud solutions who may not even be aware that they are using cloud services.

In terms of the environmental aspect of cloud computing, what we found is that “systems” today have not only a global reach but technology itself is sprawled over a global landscape. Cloud providers do not simply operate from one location but for the purposes of redundancy, cost, and legal boundaries could operate various components of a system scattered all over the world. It may even be impossible for the cloud provider to denote which part of a given transaction is occurring locally as opposed to across the border. Previous works, with the exception of a small number of papers, have not addressed this regulatory/ legal aspect of cloud computing. And even fewer studies, say anything significant about the vulnerability of cloud computing end-users (i.e. everyday consumers) with respect to regulation once a data breach has occurred. What happens when hackers successfully breach a cloud computing service, and the details of personal data from a cloud customer's services are stolen or leaked? Who is informed? How are they informed? When are end-users of the cloud customer notified of a breach? How is a cloud customer supported for damage to their brand by the successful security breach, and more importantly, how does a consumer of a service based on cloud infrastructure, reclaim their personal information once it has been compromised and compensated for the loss? In conclusion, there is an urgent need for research that takes a balanced approach to cloud computing data breaches and incorporates the end-user, not just the cloud provider and cloud business customer into the study. There also needs to be a balance struck between social, technical and environmental aspects covered in finding a practicable solution to security breaches as they continue to occur, for these are inevitable.


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Citation: David Kolevski, Katina Michael, "Cloud computing data breaches a socio-technical review of literature", 2015 International Conference on Green Computing and Internet of Things (ICGCIoT), 8-10 Oct. 2015, Noida, India, DOI: 10.1109/ICGCIoT.2015.7380702