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Google Fights Back

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2008-06-26 Print this article Print

Although Google has made some key security acquisitions and added talented security pros to its team, many IT and security managers still won’t trust their enterprise applications to the company’s cloud offerings.

Google Fights Back

Google’s team believes there’s no need for businesses to boycott its software offerings due to security concerns. First, the company claims it has done a sufficient job hardening its software and its service infrastructure with enterprise-class security. Even though Google has chosen not to disclose security details—including where its data centers reside, how many people it employs in its security department and specifically how it protects its server farms against attack—its security bigwigs say appropriate steps have been taken.

“Security is a philosophy here at Google,” Feigenbaum says. “The way we develop applications is through a security process whereby one person develops it, then the code goes through a security tool to look for vulnerabilities, and another person QAs that and looks for common vulnerabilities.

“Your grandma says you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but here, we do put all our eggs in one basket—but we guard that basket really well.”

Feigenbaum hopes that in the future, Google will be able to work with other SaaS vendors, such as Salesforce.com and Amazon, to develop security standards or accreditations to assure users that Google is taking the right steps. In the interim, he says, Google is doing its best to give business customers peace of mind through alternative means. For example, the company brought in a third-party auditor to look over its practices in detail and come up with a report Google can provide to potential customers in lieu of giving them access to conduct their own audits.

“We can’t let everyone audit us,” Feigenbaum says. “Most Googlers don’t even know where our data centers are, let alone visiting one. We don’t open up our doors and share that, but we did bring in an independent third party to look at what we do, and we are offering those reports to our customers or prospective customers.”

Even though Google doesn’t publish any details about its data centers, Feigenbaum says its application uptime should speak for itself. “Our uptime rivals the uptime most organizations have for their in-house e-mail,” he says. “Every single bit of data Google gets from an Apps customer is replicated multiple times within a single data center and multiple times within another data center. So it already has a built-in backup and recovery. Even if an entire data center went down, a user wouldn’t know.”

In some ways, Feigenbaum says, putting company data in the cloud is more secure than the existing model. “Since we’re a multitenant environment, Company A’s data is literally spread out and shared across the entire Google infrastructure,” he explains. “So, even if you managed to make it into our secret data centers and penetrate all our physical security, you’d still be searching for a needle in a haystack.”

In addition, Feigenbaum says Google is able to turn one of its biggest risks into a security team asset. “Regardless of Apps, Google had a big target on its back from the search businesses,” he says. “It’s a very sexy thing to attack and break, which is really great, believe it or not. I can say there’s a whole bunch of criminals out there doing really bad stuff, or I can say there’s a whole bunch of security researchers that allow me to make my team smarter. We can learn from any attack against Google.com or our other businesses and use that knowledge to protect our infrastructure.”

Feigenbaum adds that Google has been able to prove the security of its offerings by relying on them for its own day-to-day business operations. “If an offering can’t work and run in a complex environment like Google, we can’t expect our customers to use it,” he says. “All our classified, confidential information is stored in the same way on the same machine we’re using to store our customers’ information. That’s why everything goes through extensive testing and internal deployment before we release it. Security is baked in from Day 1.”

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