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Netflix leverages cloud computing characteristics for security

Company’s cloud security architect talks about advantages over data center model.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Netflix sees practical advantages for security in the cloud compared to the traditional data center model.

In a presentation at the UNITED Security Summit held here earlier this week, Netflix Cloud Security Architect Jason Chan described how the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company got to a point where it couldn’t build data centers fast enough to keep up with its growing streaming movie business. Today, the company is nearly 100% in the cloud, he said. Netflix uses Amazon Web Services, and wants to “be able to use clouds, not build them,” he said.

Businesses clearly love the cloud, but there are ways security professionals also can leverage cloud computing characteristics to their advantage, Chan said. 

In the data center, applications are long-lived, code is pushed to running systems, and it can be difficult to enforce deployment patterns, such as patches, he said. “There’s a snowflake pattern.”

For Netflix, every application change is a new AMI (Amazon Machine Image), so there’s no patching required. File integrity monitoring is easier if systems aren’t changing, as is vulnerability management “if you have more confidence in the versions running,” he said.

Traditionally, tasks such as adding a user account, changing firewall configurations or forensic analysis usually require multiple steps and interfacing with multiple systems, Chan said. “These tasks are a simple API call with cloud.”

AWS enables the creation of security groups; systems are added to groups that control the connectivity. Unlike the traditional firewall, “there’s no one chokepoint,” he said.

Cloud computing involves “ephemeral nodes,” he said. If you’re running an instance in the cloud, you should expect it to disappear and be able to survive that, he added.

“The key lesson we learned is you have to leave the old ways behind,” Chan said, referring to methods tied to the old data center model. A generic forklift of an application into the cloud is a mistake, he said. “Adapt things for this new model.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done on the cloud security front, he said. With ephemeral nodes, security monitoring is problematic since many monitoring systems are based on device history. Identity integration is another area where improvement is needed, he said.




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