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Cloud-Based Services: Secure Storage or Slippery Slope?

March 18th, 2012

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In recent years the term cloud has come to mean not only floating pockets of precipitation in the sky, but also floating stores of data in the ethers.  Incepted originally as a way for computers to pool their resources to meet fluctuating demands, cloud-like services were used only in the highest levels of IT Departments. Rising in popularity since 2006, when Amazon first offered cloud computing to its external customers, in the last several years the term “cloud” has become associated with what could potentially be one of the most powerful and controversial technological developments of our time. With the evolution of Apple’s mobileMe and the more recent iCloud, cloud based services and storage are now a part of the average consumer’s online experience.

More Options than Ever

Using cloud technology is not only a convenient addition to our lives as we float across the web, it’s also pretty fun, too.  We can use it to back up our data through services like Carbonite, take advantage of a nearly infinite amount of storage through online file storage on iCloud and have the ability to access that information anywhere in the world with an internet connection.  Cloud computing has also streamlined file sharing through services that we all use everyday such as YouSendIt and DropBox.  All of these services utilize cloud technology.  Amazon has now rolled out a new feature where if you purchase a digital file (like a music album), you now have the option to save the file directly to Amazon’s “Cloud Drive”, rather than taking up space on your computer’s hard drive.  It’s really hard not to want to take advantage of this technology. While cloud services offer fantastic incentives, cloud computing can turn stormy.

Proceed with Caution

To start with, there are numerous security and privacy issues that come along with trusting an authority or company to keep all your information secure.  For the avid hacker or cyber-criminal, who prey on weak security to obtain their loot, cloud services are some of the biggest prizes to go after, containing hugely concentrated amounts of personal information ripe for the picking if there is some kind of security breach.

Hackers aren’t the only threat to these information hubs.  MegaUpload, a cloud based file sharing and storage service, was recently shut down by the US Government for copyright infringement.  Not only did all their users get their data confiscated, they also were informed that MegaUpload will be forced to delete it all.  Without any recourse all their personal data was gone and could never be retrieved.

Access is Everything

Since you need the internet to access a cloud based service, it’s obvious that without an internet connection, you also don’t get access to the information, data and services that are stored there.  The new MacBook Air laptops are now coming with reduced amounts of hard drive storage space to encourage users to use the cloud for their data, rather than the physical hard drive.  While internet outages are not incredibly common, they still exist, and without a connection, all your data would be isolated and out of reach.

Cloud Computing is Here to Stay

The silver lining to cloud computing is that these services can be used wisely.  It’s clearly an amazing and convenient technology, but it’s still in its infancy, with many privacy and legal issues still yet be addressed.  File sharing and storage services are great for redundancy, but it’s not wise to rely on them as the sole method for storing your personal data. Keeping local, physical copies of your most important and private information is still an absolute must.  If you do store personal data in a cloud, don’t store anything that you wouldn’t want someone else seeing.

As cloud technology evolves and proliferates, use common sense to keep your feet on the ground, and only your expendable or repeat data in the cloud.

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