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Encryption practices vary widely in the cloud, survey finds

A survey by Ponemon Institute of 4,205 business and IT managers around the world found that more than half now transfer sensitive or confidential data to the cloud, while taking various approaches to encrypting that data.

Another 31% said they expected to transfer sensitive data to the cloud within the next 24 months, while 16% said they did not.However, only 35% of U.S.-based respondents indicated they knew what steps are being taken by the cloud provider to protect this sensitive data, which was not much different than the response from other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan and Brazil.  Nevertheless, 57% expressed confidence that "my organization's cloud providers have the ability to safeguard sensitive or confidential data within the cloud."

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Sponsored by Thales, the survey showed that encryption of sensitive and confidential data is often being applied either before the data is sent, or used in the transfer process, or the cloud provider encrypts it when it's stored in the cloud.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said their own organizations take steps to encrypt data as it's transferred to and from the cloud service over the network. Thirty-one percent said they encrypted the data before transfer to the cloud. Eleven percent said the cloud provider encrypted their data in storage, while 11% of organizations handled the encryption process themselves in the cloud environment. The remaining 10% said "none of the above" or "not applicable." The survey notes that the various deployment options for encryption in the cloud environment were relatively uniform for all three types of services, SaaS, IaaS and PaaS.

Management of encryption keys used to secure cloud data was another question asked. Twenty-nine percent said their own organization manages encryption keys when data is encrypted in the cloud, while 26% said it was a "combination" of both, 23% said it was the cloud provider alone and 21% said a third-party service (not the cloud provider).

The internal IT organization was most likely to be managing the encryption keys for IaaS environments, while in a SaaS environment, it's most likely to be a combination of the organization and the provider managing the keys.

In a question about the relative importance of the encryption protocol called "Key Management Interoperability Protocol," 27% called it "very important" or "important" now, while 33% said KMIP would be important to their encryption strategy in the next 12 months. The areas of importance were named as cloud-based applications and storage, storage systems, application infrastructure and network infrastructure, while it was seen as less important for remote applications or end-user devices.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: [email protected]

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