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Cloud computing is cool… until you’re caught with your pants down


There’s been a lot of talk about cloud computing of late. I am pretty sure this won’t change any time soon. That is okay. I don’t want it to. I love the cloud.

What is the Cloud?

For those of you with your heads in the… sand, let me explain: cloud computing refers to software and services that are provided over the internet, rather than through your laptop or PC.

For example, at the moment, many people save information on their computer hard-drive. Other people, who don’t want to waste hard-drive space on their computers, might instead save this information on someone else’s servers and access this information through the internet (or “cloud”).

As another example, whereas some people might load up said laptop or PC with software, such as Outlook to manage their email, some people might choose to use a service like Google’s alternative Gmail.

With the latter email option, all the user’s important emails are not saved on the hard-drive but on Google’s servers, accessible via the internet.

Naturally, this prompts immediate concerns and suspicions about security.

Just how do you guarantee your security, whatever you deem it to be, when you are saving and sharing your information “in the cloud”?

Well, unlike actually being in a plane and in the clouds, security and safety online is really up to you, the user. (A seat belt, a sick bag and the foetal position won’t help you should you erroneously put your trust in a unsecure cloud service provider.)

The level of trust you put into any cloud-based system is entirely your choice. Do I really need to tell you this?

Well, yes.

While a lot of talk is done about cloud security by both vendors and users, the reality lies somewhere between “completely secure” and “oops my pants are down”.

A matter of precaution

Ever since our earliest ancestor put an animal skin front door on their cave, we’ve been playing a game of leap frog with the bad guys.

Of course, we’ve also been battling to remember to close the frickin’ door in the first place.

The same thing applies in the cloud. If you want it secure, secure it yourself.

I have a confession to make. I am not a security expert. I don’t give a rats about levels of encryption on communications, site certificates, how trustworthy a vendor is, where their servers are, how big their site security guards are and whether they are armed or not.

What I do care about is knowing before things go bad that I’ve taken appropriate precautions.

I like to know that I have closed the door and locked it. I also like to know all windows are secured and the back door is bolted too! What happens after that I accept to be a residual risk.

What I am talking about is securing your important stuff before it goes to the cloud.

But the cloud is as secure as anywhere else, you might say.

True security begins at home

Now, before all the geeks out there explode and start posting comments, stop and think: only the owner of the data can answer this question. Not you!

The first contact a lot of people have with the cloud these days is via online file storage. We are putting files in the cloud as if they were on our hard disk at home. We are using tools like SugarSync or DropBox to keep multiple systems, users and devices synchronised with the same data. These sorts of things are awesome, especially for technophobes and people new to technology.

However, all systems are prone to human error.

So, when I want to be sure a file is only viewable by me I put a password on it, or I 7-zip it with a password, and sometimes it even lives inside a TrueCrypt military strength encrypted volume… in the cloud. This is also something that anyone with basic software can do, when saving a file.

Password protect it!

Locking the file properly at home once means you don’t have to worry so much about it escaping from the cloud or anywhere else. Your home security is automatically migrated to everywhere else.

Data security lives at home. I don’t suggest you sit in a rocking chair on your front porch with a loaded shotgun.

You should, however, take responsibility for your data wherever it is. And encrypting your files within the cloud is one way to avoid getting caught with your pants down.

David Moore has 25 years experience in the computer industry and is now Principal PC Hater at ihatemypc.com.au.

Image by BasicGov