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Why I Don't Trust the Cloud

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Clouds“Cloud computing” has easily replaced “Web 2.0” as the current trendy buzzword. The state of California is even turning to it for government systems. I have to say, however, that I have serious reservations about heavily implementing cloud computing in my own work flow. I believe that cloud computing is the killer app of the future, but the future isn’t quite here yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I do make limited use of cloud computing applications, especially Gmail (s goog). But mostly, I don’t feel comfortable putting my entire computing life “in the cloud”. Here’s why.

Access. Putting all my data in the cloud means I need an Internet connection to be able to do my work. This limits the times and places that I can work, and makes it more difficult to develop a plan to keep my business running in case of a utility outage. I can’t complete work offline on my laptop’s battery power and then make a short visit to an Internet connection to upload it.

Backups. Very few cloud services provide for making a local backup of customers’ online data, leaving me to trust the service itself to do it. I prefer the security of having my own data backups.

Data Loss. One particular issue that I’ve experienced with cloud services is with those set to sync with other devices or services. If one of the sync locations experiences data loss, the other locations see the lost items as deleted and delete them from their storage as well. The multiple locations don’t act as a backup, because being synced makes them vulnerable to multiplying data loss that occurs at any one of the sync locations. So I have to keep data in an additional (not synced) location to have a true backup.

Service Stability. When I buy software for my computer, I have it for as long as it is compatible with my machine’s operating system. If the software’s designer goes out of business, I can continue using it. With SaaS cloud services, I am dependent on those services continuing to operate to be able to do my work. If a cloud service closes up shop, which has been known to happen literally overnight with startup companies, I can at the minimum experience work flow disruption and possibly total data loss. Even financially stable companies like Google sometimes discontinue SaaS products, forcing users to look for a replacement, and to find a way to port data between incompatible applications.

Privacy & Security. Last, but definitely not least, putting data in the cloud raises a whole host (pun intended) of security and privacy issues. It is easier to protect data that is held on a single local machine than it is to guard against breaches on a server-based cloud system. Having a public point of log-in raises the risk of security breach via compromised password, and data can also be breached in general server attacks, not even specifically targeted to your data.

Data held on someone else’s servers is also more vulnerable to being accessed legally by subpoena than data held on a local machine (which requires a search warrant to access). A cloud service usually has no reason to invest resources in fighting legal requests for data held on their service.

So for now, I’ll keep my data (or most of it) on the ground.

Do you trust the cloud?

30 Responses to “Why I Don't Trust the Cloud”

  1. This story is more true than ever now. Since the release Google Buzz and subsequent breach of security that has ensued, I’ve removed as much of my information from the internet as I can. I make sure to use encryption on all my internet apps and I would advise anyone connected to the internet to do the same. These companies don’t care about our privacy so we must do the duty.

    I feel like I’ve time traveled 5 years into the past but my information is behind my firewall now where it’s safe.

    p.s. Make sure to get a good backup strategy going or you’ll be putting your data in danger. NAS RAID drives are cheap nowadays, invest in one.

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  3. Those of you that claim fear of legal issues is because you are doing something illegal are missing the point. Each state has different privacy laws, as does each country. Each country outside the US has requirements for where Corporate Records are stored. The Patriot Act allows the US government to look at your data anytime they want to and oh yeah, if its encrypted you have to give up the keys. These laws affect normal legitimate corporations. They need to be cognizant of where their data is stored and if its stored in the US and the information is breached (or suspected of being breached) notify their customers in that state.

    Take the example a step further and if you are a company in Canada (strict privacy laws) using Cloud Computing and your data is moved to the US then you have exposed your customers to weaker US privacy laws (See recent case against Facebook). A fact that may not make your customers happy and just the perception that their data may be compromised may cause them to leave your service.

    The point is that the cloud offers tremendous potential but current laws have not caught up with that potential so you need to be aware of the risks.

  4. With Dropbox all of your files are synced up locally, on the could, and any other computer that you have granted permission to. Plus Dropbox keeps revised backups of your files.

    If anything cloud computing gives you so many more options to be mobile and have all of your content with you.

  5. I totally agree with you, Nancy. It’s not that cloud services have no value, but rather that I trust my PERSONAL computer more than any connected service. It’s just one less thing that can go wrong. Not only that, but if we shift our reliance to the cloud, what we will essentially do is go back to the mainframe server, remote terminal model that was prevalent before personal computing. I don’t want to give up the empowerment inherent with personal computing, and nobody else should want to either, IMHO. Do you really trust corporate and government interests over your own?

  6. Saundra Washington

    Nancy, I’m with you on cloud computing. There are security issues that still need to be worked out. A recent example occurred earlier this year when a hacker was able to access confidential corporate documents that Twitter execs had stored in the cloud. The hacker was able to exploit a series of security weaknesses, including weaknesses created by a Twitter employee who used the same password to access both personal e-mail and those cloud docs at work. The incident pointed out that we all still need to be careful about what we store in the cloud and about the personal and corporate security measures we take.

  7. I totally agree with you, Nancy. It’s not that cloud services have no value, but rather that I trust my PERSONAL computer more than any connected service. It’s just one less thing that can go wrong. Not only that, but if we shift our reliance to the cloud, what we will essentially do is go back to the mainframe server, remote terminal model that was prevalent before personal computing. I don’t want to give up the empowerment inherent with personal computing, and nobody else should want to either, IMHO. Do you really trust corporate and government interests over your own?

  8. One thing about this generation is the wiliness to allow everyone access to his or her inner most valuable information. In the coming years thought this generation will discover just like during the J. Edgar Hoover error the power of information. They will discover a file on each and everyone that contains information collected for the web and that includes clouds. Are we forgetting about the USA Patriot Act or have you read it lately. A conspiracy theory no it is simply what is going on in the world today. Private companies are collection and stockpiling your movement on the web. Cookies in themselves are recorders however, every week you hear about another one that collects personal information. If you think for one second, a career in any sensitive discipline will not result in employers performing background check think again. Employers are using this today, information placed on craigslist are creating people grief.

    What the hell, it will make great reading. People working hard to create a business only to discover some long ago writing while discover oneself is published by a competitor. I know this will never happen to me. The difference today, not only will your parents and close family member remember your secrets anyone willing to pay for the information will also. Good luck and my your thoughts be published soon.

  9. Storing data in the cloud isn’t something of the future – it’s here today. First, you should already have 24/7 web access via your home connection and mobile device. Services like SafeCopy Backup allow you to access your data via an iPhone app, while most of the online backup services give you a web interface to access your data from any web browser.

    If you’re concerned about security of your data, when you install the backup software, generate your own private key. Then, save the key on a USB drive & put it in a firebox, as if you lose that key, you won’t be able to decrypt your data. The plus side, however, is only someone WITH that key can decrypt your files. Most backup services will encrypt your data, then transfer it to the fileserver via an encrypted connection.

    SpiderOakfeatures a “Zero Knowledge” data privacy policy, not only encrypting the files and the connection, but also the file and folder names, so employees don’t even know what you’re backing up.

  10. Cloud developer

    This is one of the most ignorant articles about cloud computing I have read. The author needs to educate themselves a bit more about how cloud services really work before spreading such crap. Honestly!

  11. Is this not just the age old problem.

    If you keep your data in a single location, you are vulnerable to any number of things happening that will lead to it’s loss?

    We all know that many people don’t back up at all until the day they loose all their data and find out why it is so important.

    So if you keep your data locally then we all know that you need to keep a copy of your data somewhere else. USB drives are good (and cheap), services like Mozy are better because they are “somewhere else”.

    So if you primary copy of your data is in the cloud then the obvious answer is that you keep a copy locally.

    But your comment on applications is a lot more important. What if that application you rely on for your business stops (for whatever reason)?

    But there is another reason why a lot of people use cloud based application. They are either cheap or free.

    So the upcoming Microsoft office seems to have the right idea. A desktop based application but with a web back end. The 2 work together giving you the best of both worlds. BUT. You can expect a $500 price tag to go with it.

    So with money, you can have it all. For the rest of us, we need to compromise.

    • I don’t understand how everyone is ignoring offline access to cloud computing applications.

      Ubuntu One is a cloud computing application to help with backup of your data. but if the service happened to ever go down it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t save your data.

      GMail is a cloud computing application that has gone down several times recently, but it was always still available through IMAP and Google Gears.

      Cloud computing is a concept of networked computing. It doesn’t mean that you can ignore proper computing techniques. You still need to observe security measures, you still need to back up your data in several locations.

  12. …Oh, and about security, I believe there’s as much risk as on the cloud. We always hear stories about hackers who stole sensitive datas stored in your computer (remember the latest porn video you made with your girlfriend and that everyone watch on the Internet?). People are always against innovation in a first time until it has been widely accepted. Let’s just not be too paranoid, that’s all.

    • Jeeremie, I’m certainly not under the delusion that my data is perfectly safe on my local computer. I just think putting it into the cloud introduces a higher level of risk, such as from server attacks and the lower legal standards necessary to secure access to it. All it takes is a compromised password (easy to do without a lot of technical skills) or a subpoena to access cloud data.

      The subpoena issue especially concerns me. If you were the target of legal action, would you want your data’s defense in the hands of a cloud service that has no financial interest in actually protecting you? They aren’t going to take a lot of interest – or spend a lot of money – in opposing a subpoena for data held on their service in most cases. I’d rather have a lawyer working for me defending my data.

      • cloud developer

        Ridiculous! You’re actually stating that the cloud is unsafe because you are afraid of litigation and what *might* happen to your precious data … what are you worried about? Are you doing something illegal with your data or are you just paranoid.

        I think your argument about cloud services and security is too heavily tied to your fears of litigation – you seem to focussing on the wrong issue here. The cloud isn’t at fault if you do something that get’s you into hot water legally – you are!

        Are you going to blame your cars tires because you got caught speeding too?

  13. I share kevin’s opinion. I have more faith on the cloud than on my external hard drives. I save my backups on Drpobox too (only the most important datas), on a 16gb USB key and on an external hard drive. We are never too carefull.

  14. Oddly enough I have just blogged about the vexatious problem of security and my opinion is go for it. I have a fairly serious backup option involving Mozy, Dropbox and an external hard drive but I have not experienced any problems. In fact the only problem I did have was when an external hard drive got fried and I lost everything so I have more faith in various cloud based options than I do with my own system!

    • I’m actually planning on getting set up with Mozy in the near future because it seems wise living in hurricane/wildfire territory to have an offsite back-up. But I will continue to use my Time Machine drive as well when I do that. Double redundancy!

  15. It’s hard to believe that a Web worker has never heard of Google Gears. NOTE:

    These fears of access to your cloud computing data sound more like lack of understanding of the systems you’re using. Since GMail is the one cloud computing system you mentioned… THERE IS OFFLINE ACCESS TO GMAIL!

    Furthermore, GMail has extensive backup abilities by allowing IMAP and POP connections to storing your data into a desktop client if need be; although I personally would believe that the massive data centers of the largest Internet company in the world are more reliable than my personal desktop. (link:

    Data synchronization is a very different topic than data loss. Again, why write an article about cloud computing when you are really talking about the problems with certain system synchronization methods?

    These privacy and security issues are very valid, but business is built on trust. I personally trust Google to implement better security measures than I am familiar with. I worry a lot about people who talk about legal subpoenas and the like… are you planning on building your Web working business on illegal activity that would really make you fear government investigation?

    Cloud computing IS the future, but with people giving false worry and incorrect information it will take a lot longer for the future to become a reality.