Is Cloud Computing Raining On Cyber Security?
Cloud Computing is one of the latest buzzwords to hit the IT world. In a world that is dominated by its buzzwords, Cloud technology is making a big enough splash that the concept is worth knowing more about. For small to medium sized businesses, the Cloud has potential to put them on a level playing field with corporations with multi-million dollar IT budgets.
Most recently, a hack on the infidelity website known as Ashley Madison made the identities of thousands of formally confidential members public. Despite the disadvantages of these hacks, they can teach us some important things about cybersecurity.
So what is the Cloud? First of all, Cloud is more of a concept than any one thing. The Cloud is really just a fancy word for the Internet. Not so long ago, there was no such thing as the Internet. Now, “connectivity” is nearly as important to our lives as water, gas and electrical service. This is one the paradigms which is driving Cloud development- computing services as a public utility.
Cloud Computing As A Public Utility
The public utility model for computer services has many exciting implications. In the early days of personal computing, users were limited by the capacity of their individual machines. The amount of storage available on a portable thumb drive is greater by orders of magnitude compared to entire desktop work stations just a few years ago. The server farms that drive the Internet can be be harnessed as “warehouse sized computers”, and they can be accessed by anyone with a connection to the ‘net.
The business world is just beginning to explore the implications of having this much computing power at their disposal. The most obvious use of the Cloud is simply storage. The general public sees it in services like Dropbox and Google Drive, but this just scratches the surface. There are also “Software as a Service” (SaaS) schemes which provide business software and other applications. This service works like any other software, the difference is that it runs remotely rather than on the computer the user is interfacing with. Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allow users to take advantage of state of the art IT technology at a fraction of the actual hardware purchase price.
Cloud Security: An Oxymoron?
The biggest drawback of the Cloud, or Public Utility Computing is security. It is hard to imagine that data which is streamed out into the Internet could ever be as secure as it would be if it was kept locked in a secure server on the business’s premises. In someways, however, the data is even more secure in the Cloud.
Even hard-copy data, printed on paper and kept in file cabinets, is vulnerable to fire or flood damage. The same is true of a hard drive or server in the office. Although we refer to the Cloud as a nebulous place, the data stored there is physically stored on a server somewhere. The operators of these server facilities spare no expense to keep them as physically secure as possible, but anything can happen. However, due to the nature of the Internet, all data can be backed up on multiple servers located around the world.
Data is routinely encrypted to protect it from hackers and other potential intruders. Although there are numerous horror stories about malicious hackers, even the government, invading networks, the truth is that the greatest danger to data security comes from the end user.
It is easy to forget the basic practices needed to keep your data safe. Remember to use unfathomable passwords and change them often, especially when accessing cloud services in a public place or Wifi hub.