[sc:internet-category ]Pretty much everyone is talking about the cloud, Google, Apple, Microsoft and every other technology vendor. But what does it really mean for the average person? What concerns does it have for the future?
Your data is important, it’s yours and it can reveal the deepest darkest wants and desires. Letting someone else hold on to that gives them a significant incentive to abuse you. Even the best intentioned people will take advantage of others if they don’t feel there is going to be any consequences to their actions, or that they will never have to face the person they have harmed.
The recent rash of high profile hacks (Sony being the biggest) even takes this concern farther since even if the company you have entrusted your data to honours their commitments to not abuse your it, the hackers want it for that exact purpose.
And the larger a cloud provider is, the more hackers want to break in as it will lead to a bigger payday for them.
Cloud storage is the epitome of bad security by bad design choices. There is in fact only a single cloud service I have so far seen that has designed its security properly and that is Mozilla’s Firefox Sync service. Your data is encrypted on your PC before it leaves for the cloud. This makes it impossible (well it would take an extreme amount of time at least) for anyone but you to see the data. The service provider cannot abuse the data even if they wanted to and it makes the service a bad choice for hackers as even if they get in to the service, the data is useless to them.
There are few cloud services that I use and they do concern me to various degree’s (rated 1 low-5 high):
-  Opera’s Link Service: This sync’s your bookmarks and other data across systems, the data is pretty low security as it does not include passwords (looks like the next major release will support this) but even so, much can be gleaned from the browsing history of a user and I would prefer it to act more like Firefox’s Sync and encrypt the data first.
-  FireFox’s Sync: As mentioned above, the best design for this kind of service, it could still be brute forced, but I won’t be alive to see it.
-  Microsoft SkyDrive: Microsoft offers 5 gig of space for free on SkyDrive, but like most of these services all you need is the users password to get in and read all of the data. I only use this to store some OneNote files to share between my desktop and phone and to store some encrypted backups (using TrueCrypt).
-  Microsoft LiveMesh: Much like SkyDrive, LiveMesh has issues, but on top of all the rest it can also share desktops. I’m pretty much at the point where I’m going to remove it as there’s nothing it does I can’t do another way.
-  Private Servers: I run server servers, including Exchange and web services, but they are secured and patches regularly, with only the minimal exposure to the net that is required. Communications are secure with encryption.
I included my private servers only because you could call them a private cloud, they offer me services no matter where I go as long as I have net access.
Other than the above, everything else I have is stored locally, synced to other devices from my own computers and does not require anyone else to know about my data.
The Internet started out as inter connected servers, sharing services between them. As the PC industry grew and infiltrated the Internet the idea that computers need not be servers but instead be consumers grew as well. Until today when we have devices (like tablets) that do not really add any value back to the Internet and are just used to consume services offered by servers.
This centralization is epitomized by the rise of cloud computing, with its consolidation and polarization of computer resources. There are few idea’s left that espouses the original vision of the Internet, but they are interesting:
- BitTorrent: The ultimate example of all computers being equal, BitTorrent makes everyone a participant in the Internet.
- Opera Unite: Making the web browser and web server is a radical idea, but it makes sense and it gives the freedom to everyone to publish anything they want.
In the tech industry there has been a shift to and from centralized computing over the years, this time its been labeled cloud computing but it’s the same thing. Each time the balance has swung back to more distributed models, how long will it be until this happens again?
Either way, I think it is important to remember that it’s your data and keeping it private is your right and in fact something you should always strive to achieve. Never let someone else have access to your data or charge you for that access when you can do it yourself.