Cloud Computing and Your Data

cloud computing

Cloud computing, everyone is doing it, but should you be concerned about your privacy?

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Since the revelations divulged by Edward Snowden earlier this year, the topics of data sovereignty, privacy, and espionage have become hot issues, particularly in relation to the increased adoption of cloud computing. In this blog post we’ll talk about some of the issues faced by the users of cloud computing, and whether it is a concern for your business.

Snowden

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, now in exile in Russia.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing makes use of software and services “in the cloud”. Essentially, cloud computing has become a popular buzz phrase to refer to a group of technologies which have already been around for a number of years. But what does it really mean?

If you’ve ever seen diagrams of networks connecting together over the internet, typically the internet is drawn as a cloud. This is where the phrase “cloud computing" originates. So put very simply, when you make use of cloud computing, you are using a form of software or service that resides on a server on the internet. This typically means your data resides there as well.

Cloud computing keeps everything "in the cloud".

Examples of popular cloud computing services and platforms include Apple’s iCloud, Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox, and many more.  If you have used these services, you have used cloud computing.

What does this mean for my data?

When you upload your data to a server residing on the internet, that data needs to pass through a number of routers, networks, and related systems in order to reach it’s destination. For example, take that venerable stalwart of the internet: email. Whenever you send an email, it does not disappear from your outbox and instantly appear in the inbox of the recipient. Rather it hops from system to system, network to network, until it reaches it’s destination.

Real life espionage, not a laughing matter.

This means that at any point along the way, your data can be (and most likely is) snooped on by one or more intelligence agencies. This is not a new revelation. It is common knowledge that this has been happening for a number of years, and really shouldn’t come as any surprise. What was revealed this year, however, by Snowden, is that the extent of the snooping goes far beyond what anyone had previously imagined, and that the cloud service providers were essentially coerced into providing the authorities with easy access to your data, all the while touting strong privacy policies for their customers.

Should I stop using cloud-based services? 

Despite these revelations, life goes on exactly as it did before. When you send data via the internet, it can and will be monitored. This has been happening for many years already. If you trusted your data to cloud-based services before, would you reconsider now? Essentially the golden rule to follow is: if you don’t want your data to be spied upon, do not transmit it via the internet. If you have data that you consider to be sensitive or critical for your business, do not transmit it via the internet.

The internet of tomorrow?

There are some strategies you can consider in order to help to protect your data, such a encryption or maintaining data sovereignty by hosting with a provider inside your country. However the fact of the matter remains that most encryption used today for securing data can be broken by the authorities. Even if you are storing your data on a cloud-based service locally, it can still be tapped by local agencies during transmission, and these agencies may have data-sharing agreements in place with foreign intelligence partners.

The key issue: trust 

What does all of this mean?  Well for one, trust is now more important than ever when using a cloud-based service. You are entrusting these companies with your valuable data. Remember those horribly long and complicated terms of use and privacy policy documents you read when you signed up? You did read them, right? These policies detailing what happens to your data are now more critical than ever. 

But it goes deeper than this. What was revealed by Edward Snowden is that these policies only stretch so far. If you’re using cloud computing in any form and from any location, your data is being transmitted via the internet. This data can and will be monitored. Therefore, the trust we place in our authorities, is of utmost importance. One can only hope that due process is being followed, and that this significant power is not abused for unethical purposes.

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