Just a few short weeks ago I saw little value in storing my data in some faraway place where I was promised it would be safe. Aside from the benefit of relieving my trusty little laptop of a few heavy, ancient files I had every confidence in my pretty folding friend. Sadly, that friend is no more and I now wish I had invested more time backing-up years of precious information on Cloud. Despite these sad circumstances I can rest assured that any data lost was only lost to me, could only be accessed by me and there is no one to blame but me. How much could I accept a security breach or loss of data had I entrusted my personal information to someone, or rather something else?
The silver lining?
Aside from the odd song on Dropbox and a couple of albums on Photobucket, I really haven’t exposed myself to any of the risks associated with Cloud computing, this does mean that I am not benefitting from all that these services have to offer but a little research into the safety of these systems has me wondering whether it’s that good an idea. Is it not safer to just invest in multiple external hard drives and hope not to be a victim of fire of robbery?
As a writer I may have a great deal of data stored up and I am obviously keen not to lose it however my worries were put into perspective after reading a survey conducted by ComputerWeekly.com that found that about half of US-based companies with revenues of $1 billion or more ‘either have enterprise applications or business processes running in the cloud or will begin migration in the next year.’ Clearly if they’re not worried I shouldn’t be either, right? Or is the worrying thing that they’re taking what is essentially a leap of faith very lightly by placing the protection of their data in external hands? Back when companies only stored data internally, they at least had a handle on their own processes with their own firewalls and anti-virus software, giving this power away means that not only will the data stored in Cloud not be backed-up in case something does happen (because that would defeat the purpose of using Cloud), but control of security measures is also completely relinquished.
Thunderstorms and Information Thieves
Yes, actual thunderstorms. Late this June the Cloud industry was reminded that the health and safety of their systems are as susceptible to external factors as the rest of the IT world when heavy electrical storms hit Ashburn, Virginia and with it one of the major data centres of Amazon. The subsequent electricity outages resulted in extended downtime for many on-line services including Netflix, Heroku, Pinterest and Instagram who had to apologise to users and put up embarrassing explanations about the unforeseen technical difficulties. Amazon has since stated that no data was lost but thunderstorms can’t exactly be controlled and who knows what will happen next time. This isn’t the first time either – the same centre was hit in April, causing outages for Reddit, HootSuite, Quora and FourSquare.
Electrical faults could also provide an opportunity for hackers to infiltrate the systems. A U.S. government committee on commerce, manufacturing and trade has been debating the idea of migrating more classified federal data onto Cloud. The panel’s chairman, Mary Bono Mack had the following to say on the matter following the thunderstorm crisis – “…powerful thunderstorms, along with the massive disruptions they caused, exposed some of the vulnerabilities of cloud computing… But I also believe the problems extend way beyond consumer convenience and customer service. There are some serious privacy issues which we need to look at as well.” Mack said more questions had to be asked ‘about safeguarding personal data and whether cloud services can truly provide continuous access to information when it is needed most.’ Concerns were also expressed about the vulnerability of cloud services to cyber attacks. Despite the constant reassurances from Cloud companies that they utilise extremely high security measures it’s worth remembering that every breached security system was once thought to be infallible and this is no different.
It’s also possible that your Cloud service provider could change it’s procedures due to amendments in data law or just of their own volition – users will not have a say in this and the way they do business could be compromised while they stand helplessly by. If something of this nature were to happen, users may choose to change their providers and migrate their info but how easy will this be, could data be lost and what kind of cost will be incurred? If Cloud clients offset these risks by creating countermeasures then is it even worth investing in Cloud if you need your own cloud behind the cloud? Surely the whole point is to cut costs by not investing in maintaining local data servers? According to ComputerWeekly.com, ‘The internet lacks the fundamental security protocols necessary to secure things as they are. By building consolidated piles of data on top of this shaky foundation, enterprises and other organisations are looking for trouble.’ Leveraging the net to store everything that’s important to you seems like a case of ‘all your eggs in one cloud’ – something we’re always warned against, so what’s so different in this case?
So, what am I going to do?
Mary Bob Mack obviously has worries about the safety of federal information, although this is often encrypted we’ve all seen enough movies to believe that there’s people out there who can make quick work of deciphering their code. Speaking to the Washington Post, Mack added on the subject of Cloud computing that it “…has an enormous upside when it comes to storing and accessing information. But have we really thought through the downside posed by cyber- terrorists, hackers and even naturally occurring threats such as thunderstorms? I’m not so sure.” Well Mary, neither am I, but luckily I am not the U.S. Federal government, I’m a freelance writer and my laptop has just packed-in. I’ve accepted that I need to keep all my data somewhere else, access it on the move and hopefully not pay a cent for any of this. I’m beginning to think that Cloud might just be the best option for me.