The Risks of Cloud Computing

This is an opinion piece.

Cloud computing is something that has changed the way normal people and businesses interact with data in the past 7 years or so.

Our Interactions with Data Changed

Regarding storage, prior to the age of cloud computing, we would have to carry and access our data in a more primitive way: USB flash drives, emailing ourselves attachments (albeit with size limits), burning onto CDs/DVDs. Now we can save things in cloud storage and access it from home or while on vacation.

Regarding applications, prior to cloud computing, our applications would have to be bought in stores and installed with a CD. Life would be cumbersome if we wanted to use the program on another computer. We would have licensing issues, copyright issues, and platform issues (remember programs that were only available in Windows??). Now, all our favorite programs like Microsoft Word, Intuit Quickbooks, and Adobe Photoshop can be accessed in an internet browser, whether it’s on our desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone.



However, as our data trends towards the cloud, it becomes more vulnerable.

Security vs Convenience

Cloud computing has changed our lives for the better by making data access more convenient. Data security is always a concern however, and with cloud storage, all it means is that our security concerns are exponentially increased.

Security is something that many people ignore or consider an afterthought.

In some offices I’ve seen, many people write passwords on a post-it note and then put it on their desk or in their drawer. Obviously, it defeats the purpose of a password to have it written in plain-view or nearly plain-view, but for the user, security is not as important as their convenience.

For a digital example, I notice that most people do not have passwords on their personal phones. Yes, inputting a password everytime you want to use it is annoying, but consider this: if you get possession of a person’s phone that is not password-protected, you will most likely be able to do all of the following:

Read their email, see their photos, access their cloud data, update their Facebook status, buy something on Amazon.

Vulnerability Evolves As Well

Cloud technology has meant that data that was once private and closely-held, can now be hacked by talented individuals from remote locations. Two great examples of this was the leaking of personal photos from Jennifer Lawrence’s iCloud account (source) and the mass data-hack at Sony (source) by North Korean-sympathizing hackers.

20 years ago, a CPA would keep his client work files in cabinets. His main security concern was to keep only his office secure from intruders.

To prevent a possibility of complete loss of files, the CPA would make copies of all his work papers periodically or daily. He would have to store them off-site (storage facility, archive, or at home) to prevent a single point of loss. Now however, the CPA has increased his vulnerability — the CPA now depends on a 3rd party to keep his files secure. Data redundancy creates vulnerability.

Flash forward 20 years, the CPA has hopefully adopted new technology and is now backing up work papers digitally to save time. The CPA still relies on a 3rd party, but this time, instead of the data being in an off-site storage center, it’s digitally stored on a server somewhere, accessible remotely. Now, being secure means being secure from intruders potentially all across the world, who have internet access. The CPA now depends on the vendor to provide this security, with no knowledge of their security protocols or the physical security of the physical servers.

There is no going back

The foregone conclusion is this: cloud computing is here to stay; the pros of it outweigh the cons. The main concerns is simply that people using the technology do not understand basic risks and security principles.