Risks of the Cloud

Computer forensic scientists have some similarities with digital preservationists in that they need to know a lot about the digital information they study, before they can draw conclusions. Digital preserv ation has adopted some of their tools and habits, for example in the process of making disk images without harming the original object. So, if they see challenges, we might learn from them.

The recent NIST report (NIST being the National Institute of Standards and Technology) gives an overview of the challenges the digital forensic scientists face when the information they are looking for is stored in the Cloud. The Cloud has some characteristics of which these challenges are a consequence. The NIST defined 5 such characteristics of Cloud computing: On-demand self-service (no need for human intervention);  Broad network access (by mobile, laptop, PC etc.), the resource pooling (multi-tenant model, location independence); the rapid elasticity (you can ask for more or less space at an instance) and the Measured service (optimized resource use).

Related to this Cloud infrastructure in the report they identified over 60 challenges for forensic science. The next step in the report is correlating the cloud technologies and functional capabilities with the forensic science challenges. If you map the challenges to where they are manifest, you might be able to identify where a possible solution lies. Is it the Architecture, is it Legal, related to Role Management or Training or could it be solved by Standardization?

The report is interesting for digital preservationists too; to become more aware of the risks of storing your collections in the Cloud. The report shows that to a certain degree you will lose control. Topics of the identified risks are for example provenance information, log file information, unclear handling of metadata between cloud providers, lack of transparency, difficulty to reconstruct the chain of custody, difficulty to identify the dependencies between various partners in the cloud provider. If these challenges will be solved by the digital forensics, we from the preservation community will certainly benefit. One challenge however is missing: the long-term accessibility of the digital evidence in the cloud. How will the forensic scientists be sure that the data they need are accessible in an “authentic” way in the long(er) term? Perhaps here digital preservation can assist them!

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