Far from chilling cloud take-up, the Snowden effect could eventually be its making

The possibility of NSA snooping has had barely any effect on the willingness of US IT professionals to commit sensitive data to the cloud, according to a snap survey of attendees at last month’s RSA Show.

Questioning 280 show-goers, security firm Lieberman Software found that 33 percent were discouraged from using the cloud because of NSA surveillance while 80 percent preferred to keep important data within their own networks.

This could be interpreted as either a good or bad result but was actually an improvement compared to a survey the firm carried out more than a year which found 48 percent were worried about the cloud being colonised by the NSA.

The survey isn’t remotely scientific (the people questioned were obviously different in the two surveys) and it applies only to show attendees at one US-based event, an interesting but not necessarily representative group. Doubtless, the same question asked in another country would have got a much more negative answer on the NSA question.

An alternative explanation is that people now believe all networks are insecure and perhaps a well-implemented cloud encryption system actually boosts cloud security above that of a data centre.

“The fact that the government is snooping within our IT environments and on our phone calls isn’t a big revelation, and when the NSA scandal broke it should not have come as a big surprise to those who work in the security industry,” suggested Lieberman EMEA VP, Calum MacLeod.

“Security professionals realise that the major cloud service providers offer very comprehensive security and ultimately their willingness to invest in technology to protect their clients probably offers a more secure environment than off-shoring companies, particularly in India who seem to think that everything can be solved with cheap labour.”

The conventional 2013 view is that Snowden’s revelations have put the cloud in a fix, cooling people’s willingness to put their data there. That doesn’t seem to be borne out by surveys such as this which show a degree of indifference, or at least show no deterioration in anxiety from the time before he became a household name.

Intriguingly, it is also possible that far from being its assassin, Snowden has given the cloud a huge favour by spurring the security industry to speed up the deployment of sophisticated encryption technology that this sector desperately needs if it is to advance. Cloud encryption is going through a boom right now and his name figures inside every sales brochure.

US vendors selling network infrastructure would probably disagee but at least two sectors, security gateway makers and cloud providers, could eventually emerge from this era of uncertainty with their bottom lines in better shape.