FFIEC issues Cloud Computing Guidance

Actually the document is classified as “for informational purposes only”, which is to say that it is not a change or update to any specific Handbook and presumably does not carry the weight of regulatory guidance.  However, it is worth a read by all financial institutions outsourcing services because it provides reinforcement for, and references to, all applicable guidance and best practices surrounding cloud computing.

It is a fairly short document (4 pages) and again does not represent a new approach, but rather reinforces the fact that managing cloud providers is really just a best practices exercise in vendor management.  It makes repeated reference to the existing guidance found in the Information Security and Outsourcing Technology Services Handbooks.  It also introduces a completely new section of the InfoBase called Reference Materials.

The very first statement in the document pretty well sums it up:

“The (FFIEC) Agencies consider cloud computing to be another form of outsourcing with the same basic risk characteristics and risk management requirements as traditional forms of outsourcing.”

It then proceeds to describe basic vendor management best practices such as information security and business continuity, but one big take-away for me was the reference to data classification.  This is not the first time we’ve seen this term, I wrote about examiners asking for it here, and the Information Security Handbook says that:

“Institutions may establish an information data classification program to identify and rank data, systems, and applications in order of importance.”

But when all your sensitive data is stored, transmitted, and processed in a controlled environment  (i.e. between you and your core provider) a simple schematic will usually suffice to document data flow.  No need to classify and segregate data, all data is treated equally regardless of sensitivity.  However once that data enters the cloud you lose that control.  What path did the data take to get to the cloud provider?  Where exactly is the data stored?  Who else has access to the data?  And what about traditional issues such as recoverability and data retention and destruction?

Another important point made in the document, and one that doesn’t appear in any other guidance,  is that because of the unique legal and regulatory challenges faced by financial institutions, the cloud vendor should be familiar with the financial industry.  They even suggest that if the vendor is not keeping up with regulatory changes (either because the are unwilling or unable) you may determine on that basis that you cannot employ that vendor.

The document concludes by stating that:

“The fundamentals of risk and risk management defined in the IT Handbook apply to cloud computing as they do to other forms of outsourcing. Cloud computing may require more robust controls due to the nature of the service.”


“Vendor management, information security, audits, legal and regulatory compliance, and business continuity planning are key elements of sound risk management and risk mitigation controls for cloud computing.”

…as they are for all outsourced relationships!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Join Our Community

Related Posts