When I think of the future of cloud computing, I automatically think of my teenager. Then I smile. Broadly.
Cloud and my teenager have a lot in common, especially as they continue to grow in size and capabilities. Of course, my teenager doesn’t improve organizational agility, scale exponentially to keep up with new workloads, or come with a predictable subscription-pricing model.
And in much the same way I think a lot about my teenager’s physical and emotional security, I spend a great deal of time in my business role thinking about cloud security.
Good News for Business Leaders
Cloud computing has gone through dramatic changes in its short and rollicking life. It has quickly and boldly transitioned from a helpful, tactical resource to reduce costs and speed the delivery of IT services to become an important, strategic way to allow organizations to do more and better utilize our valuable people resources.
Now, cloud is quickly becoming a transformational source, opening up vast avenues of new opportunities to make our organizations and our communities more connected, useful, agile, and secure.
Exciting technology advances are dramatically accelerating the pace of innovation in and around the cloud. The growing symbiosis of cloud and artificial intelligence is changing everything from how healthcare organizations are using AI in the cloud to better mine data for better patient outcomes to how airline companies are reducing costs and improving safety using an AI-hypercharged cloud for real-time weather updates.
Securing the Cloud of the Future
As I said earlier, I worry all the time about my teenager’s physical and emotional security. But I also have a measured sense of optimism and confidence about the future of their digital security. And that’s because I’m incredibly upbeat about what the cloud community of suppliers, agents, and users has been able to do with security, and what we are all likely to do as we move into the transformative future of the cloud.
Let’s be clear: I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to the target-rich environment that the cloud has become and what it will be in the future. The potential threat vectors presented by hackers, organized cybercriminal gangs, and bad state actors over the next several years are breathtaking. So, it’s important for all of us to know what we’ll be up against as we necessarily and deliberately rely and depend on the cloud.
With more and more data—and with more of that data deemed mission critical—created, stored, and managed in the cloud, bad actors will naturally take aim. Developments like the Internet of Things are a great example of why: The fact that the IoT represents a multi-trillion-dollar target makes it a gigantic target for the bad guys. This is becoming even more an issue as “smart things” are connected to the cloud without sufficient integrated security or as users fail to adopt proper security hygiene.
The Changing Face of Cloud Security
With such a broad attack surface, in an always-on environment, fraudsters have already exfiltrated data and caused cyber mischief. So it’s up to us to do more. A lot more.
Already, some things are happening. One of the best is the imminent demise of passwords, which are giving way to biometrics and other steps in multi-factor authentication. Still, we cannot underestimate the intelligence, creativity, and determination of hackers, whether they are lone wolves (which they rarely are), part of digital crime syndicates, or state-sponsored bad actors.
They are coming after us in the cloud, and they will amp up their efforts in the cloud of the future. There’s good news, however: We’re all ramping up and fortifying our cloud security frameworks in anticipation of more penetration attempts.
Already, cloud environments are being fortified with machine language engines to analyze global data points in the hundreds of billions of cloud-based transactions. AI and machine learning normalize the and push out attack indicators that are more meaningful, timely, and accurate. This will make our detection efforts far better—an order of magnitude better, in fact.
Security is one area that really benefits from a large, wide, and deep cloud environment, because with the right analytics tools and enough processing power, global decision-making becomes easier and more accurate.
Cloud security also will become much more automated; again, machine language tools will drive huge process improvements in developing and deploying automated defenses. This will take considerable pressure off overworked security administrators and security operations centers to manually detect and thwart attempted intrusions as simple as garden-variety viruses or as insidious as malevolent ransomware.
In short, the cloud of the future is going to be a digital fortress, more robust and resilient than ever. Cloud security will be more intelligent, more automated, and more discerning, driven by advances in AI, machine learning, quantum computing, and other transformative technologies. Cloud security also will be designed and implemented with more of an eye toward a positive user experience, making security steps less obtrusive to the user and less likely to impact our business productivity or our personal enjoyment.
A More Secure, Functional, and Important Cloud Environment
As my child entered the exciting world of teenage-dom, I began to focus on what the future held and how my teenager would make their mark on the world.
I feel the same about cloud. As the cloud has evolved from a helpful business tool to an important resource, to the point where it is now transforming so much of our work and personal lives, I am exhilarated when I allow my imagination to run free and envision what the cloud of the future looks and feels like.
Maybe my teenager will even help shape the cloud of the future in some meaningful way. But I know one thing for sure: The cloud will change their world much, much more in the coming years than it already has changed mine.
Ann Johnson is Corporate Vice President, Cybersecurity Solutions at Microsoft. This article has been adapted from her chapter, “The Future of Cloud,” published in Volume 1 of the 2nd Edition of Navigating the Digital Age.