August 4, 2011
Cloud Computing – A Blessing or a Curse?
There’s no doubt that cloud computing has made a huge splash in our technologically ubiquitous society. Its benefits help businesses with productivity and give consumers more convenience about back-ups and data storage. Still, there are a few issues that should be addressed for anyone, whether a business owner or average Joe computer user, before making the jump to any cloud computing solution.
The popular concept of cloud computing involves offloading and archiving pertinent files and data to an off-site 3rd party company which guarantees virtually 100% uptime and secure access anytime anywhere. The problem is that you’re basically having another entity hang on to your confidential information which reduces the amount of control you have over that information. In addition, you have no idea where your information is being stored.
What if, for example, your data is managed by a 3rd party cloud service company whose computer servers are located in Niger and due to an anti-government uprising, the cloud company’s infrastructure is compromised? You would have no idea whether your data was saved and moved to another location or if the data itself was possibly compromised by unauthorized parties. Granted, the chance of this happening is probably low but the big picture is that you’re virtually powerless in safeguarding your own information against issues from the external environment. Regarding Murphy’s Law, many cloud service companies pitch a near-100% uptime guarantee but there is still a chance the service could be unavailable (due to system malfunctions or maintenance) during the time when you need it the most.
Using cloud services also presents a potential legal headache for both you and the hosting company. For example, cloud service provider Dropbox recently experienced a security breach in which all accounts were accessible by entering ANY password for approximately four hours. While Dropbox was able to rectify the issue promptly, one of their users is now filing a lawsuit for the security issue.
What if you had personal (or company) information that was compromised? What legal recourse would you have? Basically it means there would be extra work for you (and your legal team) having to deal with straightening things out, (such as breach of contract and/or having to find another cloud service provider). For cloud service users looking to store music into their respective digital lockers, external parties such as music label companies have raised a legal uproar about Amazon’s cloud music service which could make it difficult, in the long-run, about what type of data can be stored on a cloud.
While there is zero way to completely prevent any type of cloud service issue, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the chance of having one of these issues compromise your confidential personal or business information.
First, it would be logical to adopt a “Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket” approach which means only uploading the pertinent data that needs to be accessible to the necessary company personnel.
For example, if you have sales personnel traveling to Europe for a trade show and they need cloud access, it would be wise to not leave your Finance, Competitive Strategy and Company Financial Statements available on the cloud.
You can also specify exactly, which employee(s) are allowed access to your cloud servers and make them aware of the heightened security involved with such access. (Increased accountability with updated IT security access/policies)
Next, you can also use a 3rd party encryption program such as True Crypt and encrypt all information before uploading it to your cloud service. This provides redundant security on two counts.
First, your data would be useless if intercepted (in any way) by unauthorized parties. (unless they can break through True Crypt’s ridiculously-tough encryption)
Second, if the cloud service’s infrastructure is compromised, your information is still useless to anyone except you or your employees. You can also save a copy of all your confidential information on your own secure personal or company network which provides an alternative access point in case the cloud service goes down for any reason.
The big picture is that with all this technology that’s continuously revolutionizing our personal and company lives, you should always approach new technological solutions with a balanced perspective, weighing both the pros and cons while considering what steps can be taken to keep your digital life secure.