As a vendor of security products, I see a lot of Requests for Proposal (RFPs). More often than not these consist of an Excel spreadsheet with dozens—sometimes even hundreds—of questions ranging from how our products address business concerns to security minutia that only a high-geek can understand. RFPs are a lot of work for any vendor to respond to, but they are an important part of the selling process and we always take them seriously. RFPs are also a tremendous amount of work for the customer to prepare, so it’s not surprising that they vary greatly in sophistication.
I’ve always thought it would be nice if the SOA gateway space had a standardized set of basic questions that focused vendors and customers on the things that matter most in Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC). In the cloud space, such a framework now exists. The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) has introduced the Security, Trust and Assurance Registry (STAR), which is a series of questions designed to document the security controls a cloud provider has in place. IaaS, PaaS and SaaS cloud providers will self-assess their status and publish the results in the CSA’s centralized registry.
Providers report on their compliance with CSA best practices in two different ways. From the CSA STAR announcement:
1. The Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire (CAIQ), which provides industry-accepted ways to document what security controls exist in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS offerings. The questionnaire (CAIQ) provides a set of over 140 questions a cloud consumer and cloud auditor may wish to ask of a cloud provider. Providers may opt to submit a completed Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire.
2. The Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM), which provides a controls framework that gives detailed understanding of security concepts and principles that are aligned to the Cloud Security Alliance guidance in 13 domains. As a framework, the CSA CCM provides organizations with the needed structure, detail and clarity relating to information security tailored to the cloud industry. Providers may choose to submit a report documenting compliance with Cloud Controls Matrix.
The spreadsheets cover eleven control areas, each subdivided into a number of distinct control specifications. The control areas are:
- Data Governance
- Facility Security
- Human Resources
- Information Security
- Operations Management
- Risk Management
- Release Management
- Security Architecture
The CSA hopes that STAR will help to shorten purchasing cycles for cloud services because the assessment addresses many of the security concerns that users have today with the cloud. As with any benchmark, over time vendors will refine their product to do well against the test—and as with many benchmarks, this may be to the detriment of other important indicators. But this set of controls has been well thought through by the security professionals in the CSA community, so cramming for this test will be a positive step for security in the cloud.