Dan Lohrmann, CTO, Michigan Dan Lohrmann, CTO, Michigan Photo courtesy of Dan Lohrmann

I recently received an e-mail advertising an upcoming online seminar. The intriguing title was Cloud Computing -- Faster, Better, Cheaper, Greener and More Secure. I paused, reread the session description and thought, "Oh, dear." If this premise is true, let's just move everything onto the cloud right now. We can save beaucoup bucks in government and sleep better at night at the same time. But while I can buy the first four outcomes, I'm not buying the last -- that it's more secure -- at least not yet. Here's why.

First, I want to offer the obligatory praise for cloud computing in general and the undeniable efficiencies available to state and local governments in particular. Yes, Michigan -- the government I work for -- has an exciting cloud strategy, like many other states. In fact, most technology vendors I know have one or more game-changing cloud offerings.

But this is about cloud security and specifically whether cloud computing is more secure than whatever your government is doing now. If you currently have weak security controls, you may be tempted to hand over your sensitive data to a cloud provider -- but read on before you do.

Proponents argue that the "big boys" like Microsoft and Google can secure systems better than most companies or government employees. At a recent panel discussion in Grand Rapids on this topic, I was challenged by other panelists with one-liners like: "Do you really think your security team is better than Google's?"

"Perhaps not. But that's not my point."

So what are a few of the most pressing cloud security problems?

  • Our duty is to protect sensitive information, not just systems. Even if large cloud providers can protect servers better, your legal responsibility is to secure the information end-to-end.
  • Off-the-shelf cloud policies, processes and procedures will probably not meet your need to comply with legal mandates, such as the Payment Card Industry compliance. By design, the more you demand specific requirements, the less the solution looks like cloud computing. If detailed terms and conditions are applied to services, cloud solutions will start to look like an outsourced contract and cost more.
  • Where is your data? The global cloud knows no international borders, allowing for cheaper hosting overseas. But do laws (in other countries, like China) provide adequate protection of your rights if your provider goes bankrupt or doesn't comply with agreements? In addition, what if foreign countries don't enforce their own laws? What recourse will you have?
  • Who owns (and has access to view) the logs at your cloud provider? Does this satisfy your audit responsibilities? Are e-discovery issues addressed? 
  • In the event of a data breach, will your cloud provider be responsible for relevant costs? In most cases, state governments cannot indemnify contractors (or hold them harmless). Talk to your lawyers about relevant terms and conditions.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The more you specify unique security requirements, the harder it becomes to obtain the benefits of cloud computing. I do believe that new offerings will emerge in the coming years to address the essential requirements that most governments must address. However, I think we're a few years away from those opportunities becoming reality.

So what's a government technology leader to do in the meantime? First, you can start piloting the technology and create an internal government cloud. This will allow new flexibility to provision the infrastructure and software you need while maintaining more control over sensitive data within your environment.

Second, utilize cloud computing for publicly available data that's already accessible via the Freedom of Information Act. Large amounts of our government information can be placed in the cloud without risking breaches or many of the other issues identified.

Third, start talking with your vendor partners about new ways to secure your data in the cloud. There are many innovative technologies that are coming soon. I believe that the opportunities are huge over the next decade, and we need to build legal compliance into our plans.

Finally read about Google's recent experiences in China, which showcase some of the challenges that everyone faces as cloud computing progresses. Meanwhile, for the time being, our government technology future looks partly cloudy.


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