back to article Sysadmins: Keep YOUR data away from NSA spooks

During a meeting this week I had a question put to me that almost every client asks at some point: will our data remain our data even after we send it rocketing into the cloud? I love this question simply because it means I’m making progress getting companies up to speed on their IT requirements. What set this encounter apart …

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I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

...because that, in a nutshell, is why we should leave the EU....

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(Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

Re: I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

Somewhat tortuous logic...

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Re: I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

The UKIPpers bang on about the big bad EU (which isn't all bad --- it's the EU that's trying to stop the British police from retaining DNA on innocent suspects "in case they offend again") but have always completely failed to realize that the USA is the biggest threat to British sovereignty. (Even before PRISM, there were US spy bases in the UK and American control of Trident.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

@Larry: Were these "spy bases" in any way secret or hidden you may have a point, but you only need to go onto the moors near Harrogate and you'll see that secret and hidden are two words which really don't apply. Everyone knows what's done up there, with a heavy dose of conspiracy bollocks thrown in for good measure, mind.

As for the US having control over Trident, I seriously doubt that the UK would have abandoned its existing delivery system were it not to have full control over the new one. Also, just to re-iterate, Trident is the delivery system, not the warheads, which are British.

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Re: I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

Leaving the EU won't affect the problem.

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Re: I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

@Larry: Were these "spy bases" in any way secret or hidden you may have a point, but you only need to go onto the moors near Harrogate and you'll see that secret and hidden are two words which really don't apply. Everyone knows what's done up there, with a heavy dose of conspiracy bollocks thrown in for good measure, mind.

Which is why the UKIPpers have no excuse for ignoring the real threats from the US.

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Re: I didn't know the Register supported UKIP...?

In fairness, they have an indirect point- if we were to leave the EU we would become an absolute insignifance on the world stage, certainly no use to America or other European countries, which would mean that there would be no real cause for anyone to spy on us- we would just be an abject non-entity in global terms.

Europe may notice us if, like Norway, we were to be subject to EU law but have no hand in deciding it, but only to point and laugh.

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As usual

It all depends on what you mean by 'cloud'. It looks from the article as though we're talking about Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc hosting your applications and/or data across some global network of data centres. But then we come to: "There are some things it just makes sense to use the cloud for." In the sense of 'cloud' used above, I think there are a relatively small set of circumstances where cloud services make business sense, irrespective of all the hype we read (startups and new web services where demand is hard to judge just about cover it).

Of course, some proponents of 'cloud' like to boost the concept by using the term to mean anything that isn't hosted on your own servers sitting in your own data centre. But colo services are significantly easier to control and there's no need to use some global player if you don't feel comfortable with them, there's usually some local player who are just as capable and operate under the same legislative framework that you're already subject to.

Bottom line: if you want someone else to host your (sensitive) data - use encryption. But for myself (I'm paranoid, but am I paranoid enough), I wouldn't recommend hosting any commercially sensitive data on services where a foreign government may have the ultimate say over who gets to see it.

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Re: As usual

The thing is, it's the Internet & stuff, so is it possible to be 'too' paranoid? Probably not.

Beer because its Friday and a wonderful weekend is in the offing.

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Couldn't agree more - if you're going for a cloud provider, go local, and go small (within reason). If you're not in a massive company, then the provider will care far more about your business and your specific needs.

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We do it all locally

The only way to be sure.

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Re: We do it all locally

Indeed. the cost of doing it locally however, implies someone you trust building it for you. And that is not trivial in terms of expense.

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Anonymous Coward

No mention of cryptography? Very interesting topic at the mo., especially in this context.

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No point in encryption

If you are using a cloud service then the machines in the cloud have to be able to process the data. If the data is encrypted then the machines will need the decryption key - which means that NSA etc will still have access to your data.

Cloud services should only be used for data that you do not mind everyone seeing - if the data needs to be kept secret then it MUST be kept in house.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No point in encryption

Negative. Encrypting your data locally BEFORE putting it into the cloud ensures the hosting service (& the NSA) only see an opaque blob of data. Metadata generated/owned by the hosting service will obviously be vulnerable to snooping but your data will not.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No point in encryption

Not necessarily. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=cloud+cryptography

...but regardless... Even if you manage to find a local service you trust, what about the pipes?

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Re: No point in encryption

Encrypting it BEFORE putting it in the cloud implies you are only storing it.

The types of cloud service mentioned is around infrastructure or software as a service, so you're spinning up applications and servers which will perform processing in the cloud, therefore it's likely the app will need unencrypted access to the data, ergo someone other than you has access to the keys.

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Re: No point in encryption

Not necessarlity. Since you'll have a connection to your in-house data center (where you store the keys,) your application will be able to restart and make a secured request for the keys... And it occurs to me that causing your application to dump core will create a cloud copy of the keys...

Never mind. You're correct.

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Re: No point in encryption

Is that true? encrypted data is encrypted data, and unless you need it to me metamorphosed you dont need to decrypt it.

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Re: No point in encryption (@ac 19th July 2013 09:04 GMT)

"Encrypting your data locally BEFORE putting it into the cloud ensures the hosting service (& the NSA) only see an opaque blob of data"

Or so you say. The PRISM Scandal seems to suggest that the NSA has -or can obtain if it wishes- access to every level of the cloud service. That would include ways of hacking into the VMs themselves to spill the presumedly secure data. I'd bet my money that some skulduggery with security certificates and the VM's BIOS/UEFI/whatever would do the trick.

You're trying to protect your data from the guys that [have/can gain] total control over your VMs. An uphill battle, methinks.

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Go local? Does that not depend on just who owns your local provider, but hey if your that worried what are you doing using any American products like microsoft, Google et al?

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re: Does that not depend on just who owns your local provider

You will already be operating under the same legal and sovereignty restrictions as your local provider. So providing you're already obeying the law you are under no more risk by using a local cloud service provider.

Using a Microsoft OS is a long way from giving them all your data to host.

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Anonymous Coward

...and whether the "local" service uses *any* US (or Chinese - allegedly) wares its self... even if the company isn't spying on you, how can you be sure none of their switches, routers, etc is?

(Your != you're btw)

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I used you're and your correctly, if you're going to be a grammer nazi get it right else you just look like a bell-end.

And I'm fully aware that any hosting company may be compromised. But that applies to all of them, wherever they're located. This article is about which government has sovereignty over your data. Didn't you read it? Too busy imagining grammatical errors?

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Anonymous Coward

Shit!

Sorry, I have jumped the gun. You're grammer is impeccable but mine sux. I'll go and read the article now....

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This post has been deleted by its author

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@sabroni

My comment was in reply to "Martin 47" ...our posts overlapped. Not sure what the motivated the other AC to interject immediately above. This exchange has suddenly turned very bizarre.

--AC08:58

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@sabroni

Oh, I get it. "The other AC" is you, apologising to yourself on my behalf!

...and you called me a "bell-end"!

Try to get out more.

--AC08:58

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Re: @sabroni et al etc.

I always knew that a situation like this would happen eventually.

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Pint

Re: @sabroni

You think it's bizarre...I think it's amusing.

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Meh

Re: @sabroni

Get a login.

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Unhappy

I try NOT to use American products, but its hard...

No option but a US OS on my phone (this is why I really want firefox OS to be a success on mobile!)...

No option but to use google/bing if I want decent results (please someone tell me of a UK/EU based search engine with Google quality results, I beg you!)

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Head in the cloud's.....again.

Would you hand your wallet to a stranger?...........No, I thought not.

So why even consider handing the family jewels (your data) to a stranger?

If you cannot keep it in house and encrypted, your IT model is wrong.

Simples.........as those TV rats would say.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Head in the cloud's.....again.

With comments like that all I can say is "Welcome to 1985".

You're exactly the type of IT staff that forces business users to find they're own solutions.

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Headmaster

Re: Head in the cloud's.....again.

"their" - unless you are implying that business users actually embody the solution.

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@AC 10:00

I get that a lot: We don't employ anyone over the age of 50, because all they do is say: "We tried that in 1985 and it didn't work". To which the only sensible answer is: that's exactly why you need (some) people over 50.

Business users define IT requirements, if they're defining your IT solutions, your operation is FUBAR.

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Re: Head in the cloud's.....again.

I do give my wallet to strangers. They're called "banks".

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Re: @AC 10:00

"Business users define IT requirements, if they're defining your IT solutions, your operation is FUBAR."

+1 on that. I wish more people would make the important distinction.

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All very well, but ...

Before you worry about where you're going to host your data and who might have access or sovereignty over it, you first have to UNDERSTAND YOUR DATA.

You cannot make carte blanche statements if you don't who what the data is. OK, so it's "sensitive", "secret", "confidential", "private" - but what does that REALLY mean. Sensitive to who, under what measures.

Employ a decent data architect in the first place and you'll not only improve your business process and data life cycles but you'll make the job of the infrastructure team much easier too. And probably save yourself £££ on duplicate storage of redundant data.

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Happy

This promotional message was brought to you by Velv Data Architects plc, your one stop shop for Data Architecture!

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Anonymous Coward

No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

FFS, every techno geek and company is coming out of the woodwork screaming "buy our crypto" as if that was a solution.

Your crypto and/or security is entirely irrelevant if a government official can legally force you to disclose all under the threat of a jail sentence for non compliance.

The problem, and thus the solution, is NOT technical. It is law. As things stand, at the moment it is a VERY bad idea to have you HQ in the US if you want to credibly offer a degree of containment against abuse of intercept laws. It is simply NOT possible, and no amount of marketing spin and magic crypto sauce is going to change that.

I think it's very generous of US lawmakers to give the rest of the planet a chance to sell services by nuking any residual credibility of US based providers. Applaus!

/sarcasm

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Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

Your crypto and/or security is entirely irrelevant if a government official can legally force you to disclose all under the threat of a jail sentence for non compliance.

...but at least you'd be aware of when an which government(s) were pwning your data!

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Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

Yes it is partly a technical problem - because that is what allows other gov to see your data without your knowledge or permission. Cryptography means they need to obtain the key(s) by one means or another, which could be stealthy (e.g. trojan a machine on your system and sniff it that way) or by the more obvious means of a court order.

However, if it is under your control, then at least you know the request has been made by your courts. And it is under a law that, theoretically at least, you have a democratic input on it. You don't get that with a foreign gov, by definition.

As to the possibility of a gagging order, if that mattered a lot (e.g. wistleblower site) you could split the keys to two holders in different legal regimes so they need to gag under to sets of laws. Possible, but it ups the effort and so is only likely for really, really, important stuff. And lets face it, most people/comentards have a far higher opinion of their importance that spooks are likely to have.

Of course, if it is software-as-a-service or similar the data is unencrypted while in use, so not technically practical to protect in most cases. But you could have some shared/useful things like email and dropbox-like document sharing that is decently protected by encrypting the data before it is sent/hosted and relying on client-side processing that works through the encryption layer.

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Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

Is there a country that has an "always legal to disclose" policy? Put half of your key there and don't tell anyone.

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Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

This is the problem with Data Sovereignty. I simplified it immensely for this article but the topic is so very broad and has implications that are so far reaching we've only just scratched the surface. Every single piece of data we let loose online has the potential to be sovereign to a Foreign Power. Its not just the bytes we elect to store in massive data centers of the "Official" Cloud service providers that we need to be concerned with when we consider data sovereignty. We need to consider the pipes too, but that's another article altogether.

The law is notoriously slow to respond in cases like this. First it will attempt to press some law(s) already on the books into active service to solve, or at least provide a stopgap solution to, the problem at hand. Then, once all of the political posturing is over, they (may) eventually produce a law. It might even be a good law. It won't make a lick of difference.

One way or another a government is GOING to get their hands on your data. Chances are they already have the keys they need. Frankly I'd rather deal with the one who's jurisdiction I choose to live under than one who considers me an enemy combatant simply because I'm not a citizen.

Companies will always be sovereign first and foremost to the laws of the land in which they are headquartered. If you think that encryption will save you, I beg to differ. Give me a datacenter and your password hash and I'll have your data unencrypted in a jiffy. Oh you used a randomised 64 character password stored in a centralised cloud password service? Even better since they're located in the same jurisdiction as your data.

Welcome to the joys of the Internet era. We're entering an era of unprecedented interaction with companies sovereign to powers we have no rights with. If we want rights we're going to have to fight hard for them. The best, and safest, way we can fight is to do so with our wallets. Don't trust that multinational company with your data? Don't pay them money, or give them your business. Find a local cloud provider you can (and do) trust. It's really the only solution we have at the moment.

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Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

Actually, there is a very elegant technical solution to this and cryptography is at its core.

Encrypted data requires keys to decrypt it. Assuming you encrypt your data with a key length and algorithm which isn't easily broken, then you end up with data + keys. You can then store the data in the cloud, but keep the keys local.

Now assuming that the data isn't actually decrypted by an application running in the cloud environment. The only way to decrypt the data is to come to your keystore, get a key, and decrypt it.

Thus if you were to encrypt your data and store it in Dropbox or Skydrive but retain the keys in your own sovereign state. If Microsoft were to get a legal request, they would, as per their own practice, hand over the data. But it would be the encrypted data and the next step is one of the following...

1. The organization requesting attempts to brute force the crypto.

2. The courts now have to come to you to get the keys.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

...but at least you'd be aware of when an which government(s) were pwning your data!

Not if they exchange it between "friends" like the NSA and GCHQ appear to be doing...

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Re: No, no, no, no and no - this is NOT a technical problem

One way or another a government is GOING to get their hands on your data.

I would put this a little differently... you cannot stop a government from getting their hands on your data if the REALLY want to. However, I believe you can make it harder and more expensive. Possibly so expensive that if you are not a major target they will choose to spend their resources elsewhere instead. And, of course, that also helps with protecion against more run-of-the-mill thieves who do not have the resources of governments behind them.

But that is a small disagreement really. I agree with your point that "We're entering an era of unprecedented interaction with companies sovereign to powers we have no rights with". The only way Microsoft or Google or Amazon are going to get international cloud service business from now on is if they successfully get their government to provide their users (even when not US citizens) with significant rights.

It will take a while, but I think it will happen eventually -- the campaign contributions from US high-tech companies will dwarf even those of Hollywood. And we all know how many laws they bought!

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Cloud

ownCloud is not bad. Gives you basic cloud services and storage running on your own servers, with https access. No NSA worries.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cloud

"No NSA worries."

Where the hell did that come from? Are you suggesting that "ownCloud" operates on a plane above secret legal instruments *and* corruption *and* that the NSA is incapable of MITMing your piss-poor SSL "security"? Seriously?

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