The Role of Cloud Forensics in Business Continuity

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By: Kevin Jackson|

In today’s globally connected world, data security breaches are bound to occur. This, in turn, increases the importance of digital forensic readiness, or the ability to access and trust computer log data in the identification of a breach and the determination of what datasets may have been compromised. As organizations rapidly move into the cloud, the complexities of this multi-jurisdictional and multi-tenancy environment has made the importance of cloud forensics even more pronounced. This reality has also drastically heightened the legal risk associated with information technology operations. Cloud and digital forensics readiness are therefore critical to business disaster recovery, continuity of business services and cloud ecosystem management.

The benefits of digital forensic readiness include:

  • Reducing the cost of cyber investigations;
  • Quick determination of relevant attack vector;
  • Reduction in the cost for data disclosure;
  • Faster restoration from damage; and
  • Cyber insurance discounts.

Forensic readiness will also help your organization regain control after any sort of data breach. It will help limit the damage and costs from just about any digital incident. When forensics readiness is taken into account, post breach digital investigation often become simpler in that retrieval of digital evidence can occur without running into some of the better known challenges. Even more important is when forensics is part of the business continuity plan, digital evidence is actually acquired and stored before an incident occurs without interrupting business operations.

Cloud and digital forensics should be looked at across three separate dimensions: technical, organizational, and legal. The technical dimension is mainly focused on:

  • Forensics data collection;
  • Elastic, static and live forensics;
  • Evidence segregation;
  • Investigations in virtualized environments; and
  • Pro-active preparations.

The organization dimension is strongly influenced by the roles played by the relevant cloud service provider and the cloud service consumer. To establish a forensic capability, these organizations must define a staffing structure that fulfills the following critical roles:

  • Investigators: Responsible for collaborative investigation allegations of misconduct in the Cloud and working with external assistance or law enforcement when needed.
  • IT Professionals: System, network, and security administrators, ethical hackers, cloud security architect, and technical support staff in the cloud organization.
  • Incident Handlers: The team that responds to a variety of specific security incidents, such as unauthorized data access, accidental data leakage and data loss, breach of tenant confidentiality, inappropriate system usage, malicious code infections, malicious insider attack, (distributed) denial of service attacks, etc.
  • Legal Advisors: Staff familiar with multi-jurisdiction and multi-tenant issues in the Cloud that will ensure that any forensic activities will not violate regulations under respective jurisdiction(s) or confidentialities of other tenant(s) sharing the same resource(s).
  • External Assistance: Typically, it is wise for the cloud organizations to rely on a combination of its own staff and external parties to perform forensic tasks such as e-discovery, investigations on civil cases, investigations on external chain of dependencies. The responsibility of any external party should be determined in advance and made clear relevant policies, guidelines and agreements.

The legal dimension primarily revolves around multi-jurisdiction and multi-tenancy challenges and the terms of use as specified in the CSP Service Level Agreement (SLA). Specific topics that should always be addressed within the SLA include:

  • Service provided, techniques supported and access granted by the CSP to the customer regarding forensic investigation;
  • Trust boundaries, roles and responsibilities between the CSP and the cloud customer regarding forensic investigation;
  • How forensic investigations are secured in a multi-jurisdictional environment in terms of legal regulations, confidentiality of customer data, and privacy policies; and
  • How forensic investigations are secured in a multi-tenant environment in terms of legal regulations, confidentiality of customer data and privacy policies

Experts recommend a focus in three primary aspects:

  • Preparation: Create and maintain the conditions that enable you to respond timely and effectively to any digital incident.
  • Partnering: Forge relations with and external specialists and stakeholders when it comes to dealing with digital incidents before a crisis occurs.
  • Evolving: Periodically rehearse, evaluate and update your response plan.

Forensics is a core requirement of good organizational hygiene, alongside business continuity and disaster recovery and should always be specified in standard contract clauses. Businesses without forensic readiness planning and testing in place are just as negligent as those that fail to plan for business continuity or disaster recovery. By implementing and testing their forensic readiness, a business can prepare itself to be in a much better position when – not if – a security incident occurs.

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About The Author

Kevin Jackson

CEO/Founder, GovCloud Network

Kevin L. Jackson is a globally recognized cloud computing expert and Founder/Author of the award winning “Cloud Musings” blog. Mr. Jackson has also been recognized as a “Top 100 Cybersecurity Influencer and Brand” by Onalytica (2015), a Huffington Post “Top 100 Cloud Computing Experts on Twitter” (2013) and a “Top 50 Cloud Computing Blogger for IT Integrators” by CRN (2015). Mr. Jackson’s professional career includes service in the US Navy Space Systems Command, Vice President J.P. Morgan Chase, Worldwide Sales Executive for IBM and NJVC Vice President, Cloud Services. He is currently part of a team responsible for onboarding mission applications to the US Intelligence Community cloud computing environment (IC ITE). He is also a National Cyber security Institute Fellow. His first book, “GovCloud: Cloud Computing for the Business of Government” was published by Government Training Inc. and released in March 2011. His second book, released in 2012 by the same publisher, is titled “GovCloud II: Implementation and Cloud Brokerage Services". His next publication, “Practical Cloud Security: A Cross Industry View”, will be released by Taylor & Francis in the spring of 2016.

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