Office networks across the globe are under attack. Not from hacking or a virus but from technology itself; technology that is taking physical networks and the storage of information away from the vaults and cupboards of organisations and placing it apparently high up in the digital ether. Cloud storage and cloud computing are the buzzwords of 2016-2017 and rapidly becoming the default solution for big business, tech-savvy small businesses, government institutions and individuals who need their data stored securely but also accessible anytime and more importantly, anywhere.
Everything from photo albums to personal documents and from speeches to government agenda are now finding their way onto cloud storage facilities across the world. Of course, like most things, a lot of this has come about due to cost; the cost of server hardware and the costs associated with space and maintenance of such installations has skyrocketed due to the sheer size now needed for most businesses.
Then there is the subject of security. Purveyors of cloud storage solutions will tell anybody who’ll listen about how much more secure their solutions are and how on-site networks are open to all sorts of potential threats; from the humble memory stick to full-blown server cyber-attacks. They’ll also wax lyrical about how taking your information off-site and into the ‘cloud’ will help prevent unwanted perusal and nefarious downloads of your information happening on-site.
What many won’t tell you is that all the data in the cloud is stored on various and not unfamiliar data centres across the world. Facebook and Microsoft, for instance, have some of their data pumping through servers in Siberia – the climate is conducive to high load temperature control and there are security benefits for any server being in a relatively remote location. Most are located in more mundane places, though; including the US mainland.
Many other internet based corporations that rely on vast amounts of data storage are heavy duty users of the cloud too: YouTube, Flickr and Instagram to name three. Then there are other more personally data sensitive industries that are cloud based; these include Gmail, Hotmail and banking Apps. All their data is ultimately stored on servers like those you will see in a large office.
In reality, much of today’s cloud storage should be viewed for what it is; an exercise in outsourcing storage whilst still allowing for the flexibility to access information for any network enabled device, wherever they are in the world, at any time.
However, this would work just as well if the information was stored on a local server. There’s an assumption that out of sight storage is automatically a more difficult system to hack and ultimately more secure, which is an understandable assumption but also incorrect. Taking the storage and physicality of storage out of the office will only alleviate the risk to data compromises on that site itself but these risks will remain just in an alternative location.
Since the servers storing the data on behalf of the cloud are largely the same as those languishing in darkened rooms and secure cupboards in almost every workplace, they are open to the same security weaknesses as any other server. What we are, in effect, doing is outsourcing our storage, paying third parties for the privilege, and relieving ourselves of its responsibility, both in terms of storage capacity and security.
The fact that this data is accessible at any time is a consequence of network technology such as Wi-Fi and data connections, and not a consequence of the concept of cloud storage itself. What cloud storage enables us to do is pay a nominal fee for huge amounts of storage space on, what we hope are, the very latest and most secure servers available.
They all use current technology, though, and any vulnerability inherent to server technology will be as prevalent on huge servers in Siberia as they would be on a much smaller one in your printer room. If one of these networks or servers is badly funded or maintained, insufficiently secured or vulnerable to inside attack, then there is no more security than if we kept our data on a server in the office and administered it ourselves.
From a cynical point of view, what we’ve done is potentially group all our data together in just a few places dotted around the world and without realising it made the prospect of one of these servers failing a pretty serious one indeed.
Cloud storage is good but it shouldn’t be the only place you store your information. Using it as a backup and using it for accessing your information anywhere and at any time is great but relying on it as your only source of data is as foolish as keeping your savings under your mattress. What if your house burns down? Unfortunately, our data is only as secure as the server it sits on; cloud or no cloud.