A false sense of (cloud) security

Hal Steger : Thinking Out Cloud
Hal Steger
Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Funambol. 20+ years of marketing & product management experience at high-growth, innovative global software companies.
| This blog is about personal cloud solutions, technology, trends and market developments. Its scope is to comment on and discuss several aspects of personal clouds.

A false sense of (cloud) security

Recently, I was home, the sun was shining, there were fluffy white clouds in a deep blue sky (really), birds were chirping, neighbor children were in backyards whooping it up and having fun, it’s a safe place. For a moment, though, I thought about how easy it would be for someone who was motivated to break in to our house or others on our block, particularly when people weren’t around. Fwiw, we have home security, we lock doors and keep windows shut, police patrol the area and neighbors look out for each other, yet break-ins are a fact of life.

Security is a state of mind, something many people take for granted. Although you might think really bad things rarely happen to you, over a lifetime, something unfortunate is bound to happen, sooner or later. This applies to data stored out of your control, in the cloud, despite the intentions of technology and people involved in the chain of safeguarding it.

What is the moral? Cue the dramatic music and ‘you are in good hands’ voice? As someone who has worked in the cloud industry since its onset and is a big advocate, here are my takeaways and advice.

I view the cloud mainly as a huge convenience for easy access, not backup or security. Although I store 99% of my personal digital data in the cloud, there is still 1% that I do not, such as sensitive password and financial information. I keep these offline so even if the internet blows up forever, I still have them (if the internet blows up, we will have other problems but that’s for an apocalypse TV show).

Btw, I am not referring to cloud backup, that is different and some offer guarantees about data loss, however, most consumers do not use them, especially for smartphones.

Even though I have never lost anything important in the cloud, there are countless horror stories of people who have. It’s not just loss but hacking and viruses.

I am aware of the ‘terms of conditions’ and contractual obligations of participants in the cloud value chain, from hardware vendors to cloud storage systems, software companies and providers of cloud services to users. Although everyone is well intentioned, they are also risk adverse. The bottom line is that as a user, there is no substitute for being aware of the limitations of the safety of your cloud data. As they say, ignorance is no excuse and it won’t help get your info back if it is really gone forever.

This post has stepped into admonishment territory of ‘buyer beware’ and ‘read the fine print’ which few people do. But the gist is most cloud users have false security. Even though they may be vaguely aware that a cloud is not a full back up, they believe it is, just like I believe my home is safe.

I view things in the cloud as a poor man’s backup. It is there, and if I need something, I can usually get it. This has helped me on numerous occasions, but at the same time, I would not be shocked if someday, my stuff in the cloud disappeared, became inaccessible or otherwise was unusable, perhaps due to a virus or who knows why. As they say, stuff happens, and when it comes to the cloud, it is no exception.

Before personal clouds, I, and many people, used email as a repository of important stuff. I’ve had the same email account for years from the largest provider and over time, it became chock full of valuable-to-me stuff. I rarely thought about it. Today, some people use Evernote for this.

My email provider, without warning (except maybe in fine print), deleted very old messages. If I scrolled through old mail, it would take a long time for attachments. My old stuff might be gone, and if it was there, it was an inconvenient truth to access it. This taught me that you must be careful about free services as they cannot be trusted to do the right thing for you.

This brings us back to a faux sense of cloud security. Consumers rely on free clouds. How long will it be until a free cloud acts like my email provider where important stuff disappears? It happens more than you think. As your digital life expands, it can happen unless you take steps.

How do you avoid a cloud horror story? I periodically backup important stuff on a small usb drive that has a large capacity. It is cheap and fast. I don’t backup whole computers or phones as there are often ways to get software back. It is not fast or easy to re-setup computers or phones, but it’s a compromise and small price for enjoying cloud convenience and avoiding data loss. I suggest others do the same.