Mi­crosoft boosts cloud se­cu­rity

• Azure also pro­tects against state snoop­ing

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Dina Bass Seat­tle

Mi­crosoft, work­ing with Intel, is of­fer­ing a cloud com­put­ing ser­vice with more pow­er­ful en­cryp­tion to se­cure data from hack­ers and gov­ern­ment data gath­er­ing.

Mi­crosoft, work­ing with chip maker Intel, is of­fer­ing a cloud­com­put­ing ser­vice with more pow­er­ful en­cryp­tion to se­cure data from hack­ers and to pro­tect it from se­cret gov­ern­ment data gath­er­ing.

Called Azure con­fi­den­tial com­put­ing, the tech­nol­ogy en­crypts data while it is in use, which is when most se­cu­rity breaches oc­cur, ac­cord­ing to Azure chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer Mark Russi­novich.

The new prod­uct works by plac­ing cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion in a vir­tual en­clave, es­sen­tially a black box that keeps any­one out­side the cus­tomer — in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft it­self — from ac­cess­ing the data.

That can keep cy­berthieves, ma­li­cious in­sid­ers and gov­ern­ments from get­ting in with­out cus­tomer au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

The new ser­vice also means that Mi­crosoft will not have the ca­pa­bil­ity to turn over data in re­sponse to gov­ern­ment war­rants and sub­poe­nas.

That is an is­sue at the heart of a Mi­crosoft law­suit against the US gov­ern­ment fight­ing the re­quire­ment to turn over client data, some­times even with­out the cus­tomer’s knowl­edge.

The con­fi­den­tial com­put­ing ser­vice is in­tended to re­as­sure cus­tomers that are con­sid­er­ing mov­ing data and ap­pli­ca­tions to Mi­crosoft’s cloud that the switch will not open them up to hacks, spy­ing and se­cret sub­poe­nas.

While many com­pa­nies world­wide have grown more will­ing to move even sen­si­tive data to in­ter­net-based com­put­ing in the past few years, some unease about se­cu­rity and pri­vacy per­sists.

“They can be sure that they can’t do any bet­ter than this on their own premises,” Russi­novich said. “This data is com­pletely pro­tected from us and from any at­tack­ers.”

Azure con­fi­den­tial com­put­ing, which en­tered a pre­view phase with ini­tial cus­tomers on Thurs­day, will of­fer two ways to cre­ate these se­cure en­claves.

One is based on Mi­crosoft’s own server soft­ware, while the other uses Intel chips with that com­pany’s built-in se­cu­rity fea­tures. Intel un­veiled this sort of data-en­clave ca­pa­bil­ity for desk­top ma­chines in 2015, but had not planned to of­fer it for the servers that un­der­pin cloud net­works for sev­eral years.

Russi­novich per­suaded the chip maker to speed that up, said Rick Echevar­ria, an Intel vi­cepres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of the plat­form se­cu­rity di­vi­sion. The Intel tech­nol­ogy is not ex­clu­sive to Mi­crosoft and will be sold to other cus­tomers.

Cus­tomers re­main on edge about net­work se­cu­rity af­ter mas­sive and dam­ag­ing at­tacks on com­pa­nies such as on­line por­tal Ya­hoo, re­tailer Tar­get, en­ter­tain­ment con­glom­er­ate Sony, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and, most re­cently, credit re­port­ing com­pany Equifax, whose breach put the per­sonal data of as much as half of the US pop­u­la­tion at risk.

Those com­pa­nies were stor­ing the data on their own net­works rather than with the big cloud providers such as Mi­crosoft, Google and mar­ket leader Ama­zon.com.

Be­tween cus­tomer needs and the ever-evolv­ing skills of hack­ers seek­ing to pen­e­trate net­works, Mi­crosoft and its ri­vals have been rush­ing to add lay­ers of se­cu­rity.

“As a cy­ber­se­cu­rity pro­fes­sional, it’s very tough to read the news ev­ery morn­ing,” Intel’s Echevar­ria said.

Intel and Mi­crosoft would prob­a­bly take the new tech­nol­ogy to the server com­put­ers that com­pa­nies used in their own data cen­tres, he said.

Google has been work­ing on its own chips, called Ti­tan, that of­fer a dif­fer­ent type of se­cu­rity.


Bet­ter pro­tec­tion: The Mi­crosoft logo on the LinkedIn build­ing in Los An­ge­les. LinkedIn was hacked in 2012 and now tech­nol­ogy web­sites re­port that the de­tails of 117-mil­lion users are up for sale.

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