Google Says Its "Mission Impossible" Cloud Platform is the Most Secure


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Neal Mueller, Security and Networking lead for Google Cloud, recently was interviewed about security and other important aspects of using the Google Cloud Platform to host websites, online retailers and other data intensive applications.

Should I move our online applications to the cloud and is it secure?

We get that question less and less these days. There are big advantages to moving to the cloud. You get to have all of the scale that you want immediately when you want it. You don't pay for it when you don't use it. And you don't have to worry about the maintenance of the underlying machines. The advantages are so big, in fact, that we seldom get the question of, should I move to the cloud? More often, the question that we get is, how can I move to the cloud safely?

Where does Google's responsibility for security begin?

It's simple. Google's responsibility is to control the underlying infrastructure. Your responsibility is to secure the data on top.

Why use Google as a cloud provider?

One of the reasons that we talk about a lot is that Google is the right cloud provider for you because we've got over 500 security engineers. These are 500 people that are foremost in their fields. They've been in peer-reviewed journals, they're experts at security.

Let me give you an example of just one team within the 500. It's called Project Zero. These are forward-facing engineers whose job it is to discover 0-Days, that is, new vulnerabilities, never before seen or disclosed. They discovered Heartbleed, which affects anybody with a browser. It's a TLS vulnerability. They discovered rowhammer, which affects anybody that has a computer with RAM and they discovered 15 of the last 21 KVM vulnerabilities, which is really important to Google because we use KVM as our chosen hypervisor technology. All of these vulnerabilities, as soon as we discover them, we immediately disclose them so that the world is a safer place thanks to the work of Project Zero.

Can you tell us more about this?

Let's talk about the word provenance. It's a word in English that means come from. It's a fundamental tenet of how we think of secure systems. We don't just buy hardware that's off the shelf. We return to first principles, figure out what functionality we need from the hardware and which ones we don't, because functionality that's included in the hardware off the shelf might introduce vulnerabilities that we don't want. This leads us in many cases to custom-build secure systems. So we have custom-built ASICs, custom-built servers, custom-built racks, custom-built storage arrays inside custom-built data centers. All of this leads to a much more secure data center.

Infrastructure security, doesn't that go beyond hardware?

Sure. It extends to the people inside that data center, too. These are full-time, badged Googlers that have submitted to a background check and have an array of physical security to make their job easier. We're talking about stuff that you've seen in "Mission Impossible"-- biometrics, lasers, vehicle barriers, bollards. All of this is custom-built, also, to make the data center more secure.

So is this unique to just Google?

Yeah, it's unique to Google, but not for long. Part of being Google is giving back to your community. So as part of the Open Compute Project, just last week with Facebook, we released our design for a 48-volt rack. This is a very high-density, highly efficient, highly green rack. And although Google is the only one that can build it, now that everybody has the designs, everybody can build data centers as efficient.

What other cool stuff is Google Cloud doing?

What's next? So with 500 security engineers on staff, there's a lot that's up next. But let me tell you about just two things that spring to mind. The first one is BeyondCorp. Here, we have separated ourself from the traditional enterprise security model. Traditional enterprise security has a hard firewall to guard the perimeter. However, we've seen what happens with recent breaches-- what happens when an adversary gets inside that perimeter. He has relatively unfettered access to the resources inside the internet. What Google does is device authentication which allows our applications to be accessible by the internet, but be just as secure as if they were only accessible by the intranet. We believe that this makes our public cloud more secure.

What's the second initiative?

On Google Cloud Platform, data at rest is encrypted by default. This is a real differentiator for us. We believe it's good practice and good business. We've seen what happens when adversaries get a hold of breached PII and we think that encryption by default is a good preventative measure against that.

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