Apr 18, 2011

The Fear, The Cloud And The Chance

I thought a little bit about what's the problem, the chance, and the fear people have. It's a controversy, and it looks like it's always the same. Keeping on old structures, and fight new ways of seeing things. It must be in our DNA, that new things are considered bad and dangerous, while old things are sometimes even more dangerous, but you got used to the kind of danger.

Recently I chatted with a friend. His Android phone was replaced and he whined about how long it takes to enter all the contacts again on the new device. I asked what the heck he is talking about. Just enter your creds of your Google-Account and anything will be there immediately. He said he never used Google for his data. He doesn't trust the cloud and Google might even have a connection to the NSA.
I was stunned. Okay at that point, I couldn't argue anymore. If you truly think it's very important to make sure the NSA is not getting your contact-list, well then don't use the cloud. Don't use a cellphone. Don't use the internet. Watch what you're saying. Best is not to get out of the house...

Seriously, we talk about having the data not on your computer, which isn't in almost every case not even near as secure than you think, but on an server connected to the internet. The so-called cloud is nothing public, if you don't want. Only you have access to the data stored in there. I have put out some points pro and con to give you a little overview about the things you might want to know. Please keep in mind, that every person has different needs when protecting data. A normal person doesn't need to treat his contacts like a gold bar in Fort Knox. Others need to do exactly that. It's insane to keep your music off the cloud. These are nothing which the leaders of the world are after :). You won't trying security of a service with your private unclothing videos :). But then again, there is no place for that. I don't know how many thought it would be safe on the own computer and having fun when the partner is looking at it :)

  • Data availability. In a time where we have more than one computer (yes, your new mobile phone does count as one), it's so much better to have access to your data from all of your devices. No sync, no unnecessary juggling of data, no USB-sticks (with your data) flying around. It's simply there, everywhere you need it. There is however some limitation. Check the cons.
  • Shareable. Yes if you want to send your photo, video or other data, you don't need to upload it every time. It's already in the cloud. Just give the link (with access restriction etc.) and here you go. This is already possible for years on YouTube, Picasa, Flicker and so many more.
  • Security. What? Why that? Isn't that a big negative point? Not if you deal with normal confidential data. The problem is, almost any computer is vulnerable. You always have to check and watch your computer. Chances are that sometime your data will be compromised. And you don't know about it, or know very late. Unless you are a computer wizard that knows your system in every detail and having deep knowledge in computer security, it's safer to keep the data in exactly those hands. Big companies like Google does a lot of insanely good things to protect your data. I always like to talk about the example of a mail server. When people bitching about GMail for security. The really rent an own mail server to "have total control" over their data. Then their mail server get hacked and used for spam and even worse things, because they just don't know how to make it secure. And it is very hard to make it secure. Companies have an armada of people that know what they are doing, and this is why there are very, very little security breaches in those professional hosted services. But there are also risks. See Cons for that.
  • Backup. Off-site backup is important, And with the cloud, you have it! At no further cost. Off-site backup means, you have to have your data not only in your home, where your computer is, but outside in case of a fire or disaster. Your data, already in the cloud, can be backed up at your home. In addition, good cloud providers do make their own backups, too. So this is something like a triple off-site backup. Something you normally won't do at home, right?
  • Energy consumption. Instead of running your own server, the cloud is shared space in a server-park. So the energy usage of a single person is much less than your own machine running without someone actually using it. And for you who don't care, you don't pay for the energy at all.
  • Security. Again? Yes. If you really have very sensitive data, for a big company e.g. it won't be a good idea to put it in the cloud without further protection. Be honest, is your data important for your or others life? Are you a target of industrial espionage? Are you a celebrity chased by the whole press to find out how long your eyelids are? Yes? Then don't put it in the cloud, or make a strong encryption of your files before uploading it. You need to trust the cloud service, no question. But if you're not afraid of the NSA getting your contact list and invite your friends to a free dinner, some are trustworthy enough.
  • You need to be online. That's the biggest concern in my eyes. We all face some internet downtime. It's rare in most cases, but it's the hard truth. If you don't have access to the internet, you don't have access to your data in the cloud. You should make a local backup anyway, but it's a lot of effort to get to those data, if you used to having the easy cloud at hand.
  • Price. Yes, I said you don't pay for energy usage. But you pay for the service. There is such a big difference. You need to see what offer fit your needs and who has the best price. But basically, if you really want to get into using this, you have to pay.
I'm sure there are lot of more things that could be covered here. But those are the most important, I'll guess. I think the cloud is safe more than enough for consumers. But don't do it if you're 007 and being on a secret mission... or if you're running now for your tin foil hat.