Tuesday, June 30, 2009

OWASP Security Spending Benchmarks Project Report for Q2 Published

Today the OWASP Security Spending Benchmarks Project Report for Q2 was published.

This project measures security spending in the development process. This quarter we focused on cloud computing. We were trying to measure how much use companies are making of cloud computing, how this affects spending, and how they are dealing with related legal and business issues.

We are lucky to have some great security folks volunteering their time on this OWASP project - Jeremiah Grossman, Rich Mogull, Dan Cornell, Bob West, and others have all provided valuable feedback and support. We were also very fortunate to have organizations like the Open Group and the Computer Security Institute (CSI) join our project over the last quarter. They join organizations such as eema, Teletrust and companies such as nCircle, Cenzic, Fortify and others that have been actively contributing to this effort. A full list of partners can be found on the project website.

Cloud computing gets some people's eyes rolling because it sounds like a marketing gimmick or meaningless term. But whatever you want to call it, infrastructure, platforms, and software are resources that are increasingly being outsourced or externally hosted. This has enormous security implications because it undermines the traditional notions of ownership and management that security has been based on in the past.

Here are the key findings in the OWASP Security Spending Benchmarks Q2 report:


1. Software-as-a-Service is in much greater use than Infrastructure-as-a-Service or Platform-as-a-Service. Over half of respondents make moderate or significant use of SaaS. Less than a quarter of all respondents make any use of either IaaS or PaaS.

2. Security spending does not change significantly as a result of cloud computing. Respondents did not report significant spending changes in the areas of network security, third party security reviews, security personnel, or identity management.

3. Organizations are not doing their homework when it comes to cloud security. When engaging a cloud partner, only half of organizations inquire about common security-related issues, and only a third require documentation of security measures in place.

4. The risk of an undetected data breach is the greatest concern with using cloud computing, closely followed by the risk of a public data breach.

5. Compliance and standards requirements related to cloud computing are not well understood. Respondents report having the greatest understanding of PCI requirements relating to cloud computing and the least understanding of HIPAA cloud requirements.


1) The fact that SaaS is reported as the most prevalent of all cloud models is not surprising at all. Leveraging Platform-as-a-Service requires a level of expertise and sophistication many companies still do not have. And Infrastructure-as-a-Service has been dogged by performance issues and has yet to really supply an appropriate ROI model.

2) It is more perplexing that organizations do not report significant spending changes as a result of cloud computing. On the face of it, one would expect that cloud computing would result in lower expenses in a number of security areas, particularly network security. The fact that this has yet to occur may mean that organizations have been slow to adapt security budgets as a result of their cloud activities. Over time, both budgets and the role of security management will be increasingly focused on managing and auditing cloud relationships. Which brings us to number 3...

3) It is also somewhat surprising that organizations are not doing their homework when it comes to cloud computing. The survey found that only a third of organizations ask for the security policies of cloud partners. With all the talk of cloud security dangers, you would expect there to be heightened awareness and that companies would take the time to look into cloud partners' security narratives. That this has not been happening indicates that companies see cloud computing in the same vein as other outsourcing arrangements - the actual under-the-hood operations or security are not that important as long as the issues are contractually addressed. This approach may be more a result of necessity than choice, since for a small company with significant operations in the cloud it is hard to see how they could make any significant assessment of their cloud partner's security posture.

4) Data breaches are and will always remain the main fear factor driving the security industry. While compliance has always a bit fuzzy (especially when it comes to non-technical regulations, where there is a lot of wiggle room), the same cannot be said of a breach. You have either been breached or you haven't, which probably accounts for the greater concern survey respondents reported. It is interesting however that despite this very high level of concern with data breaches, organizations are still doing very little to vet cloud partners. Most organizations seem to have come to the conclusion that although there are many data security dangers related to cloud computing, there is not much they can do to mitigate this risk.

(5) Compliance is the issue that is really raining on the entire cloud computing parade. While PCI has fairly detailed supporting documentation to guide companies, other standards and regulations are much more vague so it is easy to see why people are confused. Regulators are still struggling to understand Web 1.0, so I do not expect we will be seeing much concrete guidance in this area in the near future.


I gave a whole bunch of caveats the last time we published our survey results about why web surveys need to be taken with a healthy grain of salt. This still holds true for our cloud computing survey, and probably even more so because no one seems to agree on what cloud computing is. But even so there are some important take-aways from the data we collected.

The most significant warning sign in the survey results in my opinion is that companies are moving to the cloud without really inquiring about the security policies and posture of their cloud partners. And when they do ask about these issues, they rarely ask for documentation. This does not bode well for the future security of cloud computing. Although smaller companies rarely have the resources to truly assess the security of their cloud partner, asking for written documentation of security policies at least forces the cloud partner to maintain a security narrative they share with customers. As more customers inquire about security, this security narrative takes on an increasingly strategic role for the cloud partner.

You can read the full report here.

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