Michigan CISO Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann, Chief Information Security Officer, Michigan Photo courtesy of Dan Lohrmann

Everyone's talking about cloud computing. Some proponents even claim cloud computing will eventually take over the IT world and consolidate most technology departments under a few remaining CIOs who will be left to run the cloud. National Public Radio even proclaimed we may soon think about this new "utility computing" in the same way we think about using electricity - with all the information we need made available to businesses, homes and mobile workers by simply plugging into the cloud.

Meanwhile, skeptics point to a host of problems, including security. How can we trust the cloud, Net or whatever "it" is if we can't know where our data resides? Even if the bandwidth is available and the total cost of ownership is appealing, who will be in control? Isn't this a recipe for more breaches? What about legal compliance?

Both sides have good arguments. My initial take: Anything with the power of Google behind it had better be taken seriously. Even Microsoft's getting onboard, albeit somewhat reluctantly. But don't go look for another job just yet.

There are so many different definitions of cloud computing that answering today's questions can be difficult. No doubt, the potential benefits are immense - if not somewhat hard to believe. The promises of eliminating the pain of an operating system, automatic integration between services, instant 24/7 access, scalability on demand, total redundancy and no more worry about application development are certainly desirable.

While it's easy for technology professionals to mock such claims, be careful. There are real benefits and new opportunities that likely will make skeptics eat some crow over the next few years. Many U.S. organizations already outsource functions domestically or overseas, and many of those services are secure and working well. There's little doubt that more functionality will be delivered to us over the Internet, but here's the real question: How far will this pendulum swing back toward the centralized mainframe days versus staying local?

I was surprised by a recent presentation at ITEC Detroit that demonstrated a complete "virtualized Web desktop" available right now over the Internet using Web 2.0 technology built on Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML). This vendor boasted that all desktop functions, which were running on faraway servers, were easy to manage from one administrative console. All that was needed for an end-user device was a browser.

The security advantages to this approach are vast. They include a single logon for Web, Windows and hosted applications. This company also claimed "better application access control by user, group, organizational role, time, date, IP address, subnet browser or operating system."

This model seems appealing because of the threats hitting laptops currently that also will soon be infecting powerful cell phones (that are actually multifunction minicomputers). If we move security threats to centralized servers and secure them well, we can improve the situation by reducing risk on access devices. With an exploding number of mobile devices now showing up, support costs could be reduced.


So what am I advising?

No. 1: Educate your team about cloud computing. Don't just ignore this topic as hype - the future is in this direction. Go to Cloud Security and other reputable online resources to learn more about cloud computing security implications.

No. 2: For now, the cloud consists of your outsourced vendor relationships. The required security and trust comes in terms of good contract language, the payment card industry and the National Institute of Standards and Technology 800-53-compliant solutions, and ensuring data privacy. You can do this by always knowing where your data is, encrypting when needed, knowing who has access and who doesn't, and ensuring good management of your outsourced vendors - which isn't easy.

No. 3: Try new technologies but be careful with new startups and know who you're really dealing with "in the cloud." Get compliance guarantees with your data - even on short-term pilots.

In conclusion, one IT analyst from Data Monitor said, "Cloud computing is a way of delivering services independent of applications - and I hope it works."

Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann  |  Contributing Writer

Daniel J. Lohrmann became Michigan's first chief security officer (CSO) and deputy director for cybersecurity and infrastructure protection in October 2011. Lohrmann is leading Michigan's development and implementation of a comprehensive security strategy for all of the state’s resources and infrastructure. His organization is providing Michigan with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with Michigan assets, property, systems and networks.

Lohrmann is a globally recognized author and blogger on technology and security topics. His keynote speeches have been heard at worldwide events, such as GovTech in South Africa, IDC Security Roadshow in Moscow, and the RSA Conference in San Francisco. He has been honored with numerous cybersecurity and technology leadership awards, including “CSO of the Year” by SC Magazine and “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine.

His Michigan government security team’s mission is to:

  • establish Michigan as a global leader in cyberawareness, training and citizen safety;
  • provide state agencies and their employees with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with state of Michigan assets, property, systems and networks;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive security strategy (Michigan Cyber Initiative) for all Michigan resources and infrastructure;
  • improve efficiency within the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
  • provide combined focus on emergency management efforts.

He currently represents the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on the IT Government Coordinating Council that’s led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also serves as an adviser on TechAmerica's Cloud Commission and the Global Cyber Roundtable.

From January 2009 until October 2011, Lohrmann served as Michigan's chief technology officer and director of infrastructure services administration. He led more than 750 technology staff and contractors in administering functions, such as technical architecture, project management, data center operations, systems integration, customer service (call) center support, PC and server administration, office automation and field services support.

Under Lohrmann’s leadership, Michigan established the award-winning Mi-Cloud data storage and hosting service, and his infrastructure team was recognized by NASCIO and others for best practices and for leading state and local governments in effective technology service delivery.

Earlier in his career, Lohrmann served as the state of Michigan's first chief information security officer (CISO) from May 2002 until January 2009. He directed Michigan's award-winning Office of Enterprise Security for almost seven years.

Lohrmann's first book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, was published in November 2008.  Lohrmann was also the chairman of the board for 2008-2009 and past president (2006-2007) of the Michigan InfraGard Member's Alliance.

Prior to becoming Michigan's CISO, Lohrmann served as the senior technology executive for e-Michigan, where he published an award-winning academic paper titled The Michigan.gov Story — Reinventing State Government Online. He also served as director of IT and CIO for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget in the late 1990s.

Lohrmann has more than 26 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a U.S./UK military facility.

Lohrmann is a distinguished guest lecturer for Norwich University in the field of information assurance. He also has been a keynote speaker at IT events around the world, including numerous SecureWorld and ITEC conferences in addition to online webinars and podcasts. He has been featured in numerous daily newspapers, radio programs and magazines. Lohrmann writes a bimonthly column for Public CIO magazine on cybersecurity. He's published articles on security, technology management, cross-boundary integration, building e-government applications, cloud computing, virtualization and securing portals.

He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

NOTE: The columns here are Dan Lohrmann's own views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the state of Michigan's official positions.

Recent Awards:
2011 Technology Leadership Award: InfoWorld
Premier 100 IT Leader for 2010: Computerworld magazine
2009 Top Doers, Dreamers and Drivers: Government Technology magazine
Public Official of the Year: Governing magazine — November 2008
CSO of the Year: SC Magazine — April 2008
Top 25 in Security Industry: Security magazine — December 2007
Compass Award: CSO Magazine — March 2007
Information Security Executive of the Year: Central Award 2006