Monday, 15 October 2012

Is it safe to trust in the cloud?

Posted by Gary Newell  |  at  21:38 20 comments

Introduction

I have written a couple of articles about Peppermint Linux in the past few months (http://www.everydaylinuxuser.com/2012/09/peppermint-3-cloudy-future.htmlhttp://www.everydaylinuxuser.com/2012/08/peppermint-linux-3-mint-with-no-holes.html).

Peppermint Linux is a lightweight distribution which provides the perfect link between a desktop distribution and "The Cloud".

If you read the comments at the bottom of these articles you will see that there is some cynicism about how safe the cloud is.

This article is being written to go some way into explaining why I think "The Cloud" is a good thing and whilst I don't necessarily think we should all go full tilt and get rid of our hard drives, we can use the applications and storage provided online safely and without fear.

So what is "The Cloud"?

Well as far as I can tell "The Cloud" and "Web 2.0" etc are just buzz terms devised by marketing people. In reality "The Cloud" is broad terminology for using the internet for multiple purposes.

For instance I see "The Cloud" as being a mixture of web applications such as email, word processing and spreadsheets, file storage such as image hosting and file hosting, online banking and basically any function that ordinarily would have been performed locally but which can now be performed on the web.

Should we fear "The Cloud"?

Should we fear "The Cloud"? My answer to this question is absolutely not. Of course we should all be careful and make clever judgement calls but not adopting a good idea because it might go wrong would have left us with rollers instead of wheels.

I think a great example of where the cloud has moved us forward is with banking. Now in the UK we love to hate banks and bankers. They are greedy,slimy,money grabbing and unethical (and that is just the good ones). However advances in banking in the past 20 years has really made a difference.

Some of you will remember the time when to withdraw money from bank accounts you had to walk to the bank, join a queue and wait patiently to get to the front hoping that you could get there before a couple of the tellers went away for lunch.

Then came cash machines and telephone banking. Withdrawing and depositing money became easier because of cash machines and transferring money became easier because of telephone banking. Today we have online banking and I don't know about you but I can't live without it. For years I have received paper bank statements which were at least a month out of date by the time I received them and their only use was to try and match the payments against the home finance application installed on my computer.

Now I know where my money is going instantly. I can transfer money between savings and current accounts to make sure I don't go overdrawn and receive extortionate fees. I can apply for credit and with the aid of some of the newer sites I can lend money in small amounts to people.

If I didn't trust the cloud I would lose the benefits of online banking.

One of the comments I read against the cloud is that if everything is on your own computer it is in your possession therefore you are fully in control of it. Lets consider this in banking terms. To have everything in my possession means storing all my cash in a tin under my bed. Is that any more secure than my money sitting in a bank account with a major bank covered by regulations and government guarantees? If my bank gets robbed I lose nothing, if I left my money in a tin under my bed and my house gets burgled then I lose the lot.

Banking isn't the only area of the cloud that has improved my life. The ability to write documents online using Google's office suite has proved invaluable. Of course I can use desktop applications like LibreOffice for writing documents but using Google gives me extra benefits. If I want access to my documents created with LibreOffice I either have to carry them on a pen drive, external hard drive or upload them to the web somewhere where I can access them. If I upload them to the web then I am in fact using another cloud service.

So which is safer, carrying my documents around on a pen drive or having them stored on a service such as Google? If someone guesses my password or gets past my security question then of course they have access to all my documents, however if my pen drive falls out of my pocket then I not only lose my documents someone still has access to my documents and even if they are encrypted certain people would be able to crack the encryption given enough time.

Another great online service is the ability to store all my family photographs online and share them with friends and family. In the past I would have had to send a film off to Truprint, pay £1.99 and wait a week or two for my film to come back. I then had to work out which pictures were worth getting copied to send to family and friends. Now I can use the digital camera and instantly delete the photos not worth keeping and upload the rest online.

The great thing about such services is that I can now access those photos from absolutely anywhere. The great risk of course is that the service is removed without warning and that I lose all the photos. I think it is only prudent to keep a backup of all the photos on DVDs but I also think that this isn't just the case for cloud services but for normal desktop computer use. If you store all your documents and images on your hard drive it is a good idea to back them up somewhere in case something bad happens to your hard drive.

Whilst I am talking about backups what about file hosting services? Ubuntu One, Google Drive and Dropbox give you the ability to backup important files to the cloud where they can be retrieved from anywhere. You can also choose to share the files with other people.

Again the issues with such services is security and also whether the service is going to be removed at any point in time. This basically boils down to choosing good passwords and choosing reputable companies to do business with.

Summary

If you wanted to you could totally restrict yourself and stay safe in your house by bolting all the doors and windows shut every night. The same can be said for the internet. You can restrict your computer usage and not embrace new technologies 

Sometimes bad things happen and the written press do nothing to help with people's fears. Yes servers get hacked in the same way people get mugged in the street. Does a mugging in a street stop any of us getting out of bed and going to work in the morning? Of course it doesn't. 

Life goes on and the web will move on whether you are or I am ready to embrace it. I am delighted at how the web has moved on. It remains as the most important invention since the wheel.

Thanks for reading.



About the Author

Gary Newell started the Everyday Linux User blog in 2010 and has written reviews on dozens of different Linux based operating systems. He has also written a number of tutorials.

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20 comments:

  1. And what happens when you're out and about with no Internet access? You're screwed.

    What happens when your provider's service has problems?

    You're screwed.

    The cloud? No thanks. It's just something that provides water for me.

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    Replies
    1. Bit of a strange point. I can't think of anything I do that at the end of it doesn't end up requiring an internet connection with the exception of playing games. With mobile broadband and wireless hotspots everywhere it is a very rare occurrence that I am without an internet connection.

      Every so often a service is restricted such as online banking as they perform updates and maintenance but for other tasks such as storing photos and files it is about choosing a service that is reliable. I can't ever remember there being a time when Google was down.

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  2. When you have to write an article saying our product is safe.... honest... trust us... everyones red flags should go up...

    save you cloud for your own personal tyranny.... we don't want it... read some history before you hand over your freedoms it never turns out well. Neither will the cloud... and you are currently part of the problem with these types of articles trying to convince people to give up control, privacy, security and person computing freedoms...

    if you don't own it, you don't control it... period.. no hard drive = no freedom

    Why don't you take some advice from some of the greatest minds of our time, like stallman and wozniak and their personal views of cloud computing... stop being a mindless lemming.

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  3. Your reasoning makes no sense whatsoever,,, just because you may do online banking or participate in email does not give good reason to hand everything over...

    I hear this stupid argument all the time... email is the cloud, banking is the cloud.... so what... sending snail mail is also insecure but you don't see me publishing my journal in the paper because well my snail mail could be intercepted so I might as well hand all my information over.. so stupid.

    Also this spineless no backbone attitude that well "Life goes on and the web will move on whether you are or I am ready to embrace it." Can you be anymore gutless?

    Oh all these guys are headed at me trying to shoot me in the head. Our well its pointless I might as well draw a bullseye on my face because there is nothing I can do... please... you woos... grow a pair.

    Oh they are going to do it anyway so I might as well grab my ankles and grin... totally spineless and brain washed... good luck to ya sweetie.

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    Replies
    1. I think you have missed the point there. The point being made is that you can be over the top worrying that bad things might happen. If you are careful with the information you store online then I don't see any harm in using what in essence are very good services.

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    2. No the point is, I put myself in a position where is far less likely that bad things might happen, because bad things happen anyway so I should try to keep them to a minimum. But then again thats what a sane person thinks.

      And are you missing the point of the cloud? Its not just about you being safe anymore since you handed over your freedoms you now have to worry about them being safe and nothing happening... in which you have absolutely no control over...

      come on man... these arguments you make have to be willfully stupid and purposely deceitful.

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  4. The "cloud" is an insecure DMZ. Don't put anything in it that you can't afford to lose. It's that simple.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I'm only guessing you removed your own post because you realized how stupid it sounded.

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  5. Probably the dumbest argument I've ever read...

    "So which is safer, carrying my documents around on a pen drive or having them stored on a service such as Google? If someone guesses my password or gets past my security question then of course they have access to all my documents, however if my pen drive falls out of my pocket then I not only lose my documents someone still has access to my documents and even if they are encrypted certain people would be able to crack the encryption given enough time."

    ARE YOU KIDDING?

    Unbelievably stupid, "if someone guesses my password or gets past my security", you forgot to include unsavory employees that work for the cloud service and the entire internet of possible hackers trying to access that particular clouds information all day. An oh yea you also forgot to add the unfair predatory anti-competitive, privacy breakers called corporations that willfully steal your stuff everyday. Or don't you read tech news?

    Funny how those things slipped your mind... and the argument still is that "even if they are encrypted certain people would be able to crack the encryption given enough time", that laughable. For one, how many people could actually crack it? Probably very few, and how many would try to crack it if they didn't know who you were? Probably next to none.

    The real scenario if you encrypted your files on a pen drive and lost it is that someone would find it and reformat the pen drive and use it for whatever they wanted...

    Weak arguments dude. Pitiful debating skills and insight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that if the world of possible hackers is so interested in my family photos and fairly mundane email account then it says a lot about the hackers.

      The arguments you are putting forward remind me of the film Conspiracy Theory in which Mel Gibson locks himself in a room full of books and conspiracy theories believing that people are following him, never taking the same route back to his flat at night. Someone could just as easily break your window and steal the laptop or desktop computer that you are using.

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    2. its not about your boring life, its about everyones freedom. Think outside yourself for a change.

      Delete
  6. Cloud has its use, but you shouldn't use it for all possible things. If you can do it doesn't mean you should.
    Email - yes(to a degree)
    Banking - yes(so you won't walk every day to the bank, but only if you can choose your encryption/security level from almost all security aware technologies. CC number in the cookie sure isn't one of them!)
    Shopping - yes(to a degree, if they purge CC numbers and you have to type them every time. Also security measures should be clearly stated - "we use encryption" "what encryption?"...."oh, well, secure encryption, btw" is a no no. I'll tell you what's secure for me, you just name the technology you use)
    Backup - yes(3rd backup, client side encrypted)
    Main storage? - no, hell no!
    Computing power? - yes(to scale a site, not to use as workstations and infrastructure service. There's private clouds for that aka. good 'ol inhouse datacenter)
    Documents - no, you really don't want to write/edit/use from web for that. If you really like the freedom having all in browser, pay some developers to port the opensource desktop application to web application - if they don't already exists - mostly do.

    Cloud is only a modern word for loaned mainframes, use it only where it's really needed.

    Personally, on the contrary I try to bring as many services inhouse, you can't beat the control and the security on that. The public cloud should only be used as a temporary stopgap for a temporary problem. If your permanent problem finds its solution into the public cloud - you will only lose. Not today... but tomorow?

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  7. I guess we all have a choice. Mine is to not use "the cloud". I don't mean services like banking. I do mean services like Google docs. I back up my stuff. If I have a fire, yes it could all be gone, but so will the rest of my life. Aside from that, I have better control. A USB drive, well mine are encrypted if it falls out of my pocket. Other than a total hack, running software for a long time, (I use strong encryption) no one is accessing what I have, and I doubt anyone would want to, I lead a boring life. I agree access can be a problem with the cloud, if your site is down. Anyway, we all have a choice, I will respect yours, please respect mine.

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    Replies
    1. I think you have actually hit the nail on the head there. If someone goes to the bother to hack my email and other services all they will get access to is stuff relevant to me. It contains nothing of interest to anyone else. There will be the odd presentation and the odd letter to companies such as Orange complaining about their poor customer service.

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    2. still short sighted gary, if no one cared about your "useless" information , facebooks, googles, twitters, etc etc would not exist nor have any other "free" services to offer you. i think we can safely say billions are made from your "useless" information. but then again how is billions valuable to anyone.

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  8. Again, that is your choice. I do not do Facebook, Google, Twitter or any other social media, or any IM. A post now and then, but that is about it. Keep my browser cleaned up too. I doubt anyone will find much of use from me.

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  9. Grrrr, I hate cloud. Cloud killed my Pa. Personally, I use online services to backup and have access to my School work. I, sometimes forget my flash-drive and these services have saved my ass. If they want to read my essay on "1948", or my secret HTML/CSS files, so be it. Whether or not someone uses cloud services are a preference, and such decisions should be weighed out appropriately. If one doesn't trust the service, or it does not fit their needs/wants, than do not use it.

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