I like doing the USA Today puzzles. Because they aren’t on the Kindle edition, I sometimes pick up the paper version. Although I don’t rely on this for all my hard news, I do enjoy reading the news snippets from various states, baseball stats (in season), and the sections with travel, tech, the TV/movie pages – oh yeah, and those puzzles.
In last Friday’s edition of the paper, a few articles caught my eye. There were a couple about general hacking techniques and recent Chinese hacking of US systems and servers. Another article was about Google’s new Chromebook laptops and their reliance on “cloud” storage and technologies. Does anyone else see a potential disconnect between these topics?
OK, I’m going to back up here and admit I’m old. I remember when computers crashed fairly often and business backups were on big tapes or disks that dwarfed frisbees – they looked like cake plates. I remember punching key cards. I remember programming parts of my own IBM-clone system in DOS. I remember the TRS-80, the Commodore 64, and the TI99 (which we bought our son in the 80’s, and on which he learned to program “if-then” propositions and created his own games.)
I’ve been a big fan of backups for twenty-five years. I used to need a whole packet of floppy disks for each backup. Now I own a couple of portable external hard drives (each smaller than a stack of “floppies”) that I use for backup and storage. It will take me quite a while to fill them. I despair of being able to buy a new computer in the future that will allow me to keep my own software, data, and written thoughts privately, though.
Of course, I know that e-mail, search engines, online shopping and banking, social media, and blogs are all part of the cloud – and I’m pretty careful about what I choose to access or share online. I remember, many years ago, reading that Bill Gates envisioned a time when we would “rent” software like Office so we could always have the current versions, and we would no longer need to buy large amounts of storage on our own computers for such programs. We would even be able to store our personal files and photos (can you say Flickr?) in cyberspace, so we could get to them from any computer. That time is here (welcome to Windows 8®), and it’s got the nice, friendly name of cloud computing.
But, well, here are my questions about the cloud. Although our data will probably never be lost to us (though formats and vendors/fees may change), how can we really be sure it’s always available ONLY to us? Hackers access military, financial, and social sites – and just think about how (for example) some hosts can mine our files for tags, email content, etc. The various different host sites on the cloud will put layers of protection around our data (as hacked military, financial, and social sites have done), and store it in more than one place, because after all, this is all about storage, and we’re trusting these folks not to lose our stuff. So how do we know if a host is trustworthy?
And security aside, what happens if I’m not able to access the internet? We’ve had several power outages here in the past few years – internet and even cell phone access have been lost. On those days, I was glad I’d loaded some of my Kindle books right on my device and not on the cloud. Do I really want to lose access to all my files (and programs) if internet access is interrupted or lost?
Also (I really don’t know), can I ever absolutely completely delete something that’s stored on the cloud? Will I ever know if somebody else accesses it? And here’s a bonus question: When was the last time you updated your Facebook, Google, WordPress, and other passwords?
I probably should digress again here and confess that I’m not any kind of tech expert, just a relatively fearless end-user. I have no idea how hacking really works, or how excellent my firewalls and clever passwords really are, or how concerned I should reasonably be. We Scots (even second generation) love our technology and inventions, but we’re also a skeptical (we like to say canny) lot. There’s always that tiny suspicion that we’re doomed.
I realize I’m swimming upstream, and the rapids coming at me may soon wash away my ability to buy and load programs onto my own devices. I hope I’ll be able to continue buying hardware storage devices for my files and data for a quite a while though, and in the meantime, I will be somewhat discreet about how and where I share things in my social network, including my blog.
I no longer routinely save personal data on my C drive – I now set up my programs to default to an external drive which is not always connected, because I’ve read that a lot of hacking goes right to memory. That means my own computer isn’t necessarily any safer than the cloud – and is maybe even less so, since (as confessed above) I don’t really know what I’m doing. So what am I to do? I’m not going to stay offline because something bad might happen, any more than I’m likely to stop riding in cars because I might be in an accident.
Somewhere out there certainly lies the potential for loss or unlawful use of my data. And the cloud is a really big, complex unknown. After all, everyone hopping onboard and failing to say the Emperor has no clothes doesn’t mean he’s fully dressed.
But maybe that’s just my Scottish heritage suggesting doom is lurking around the corner. Maybe I’ll be just fine and the Emperor really has some wonderful new clothes. Time will tell.
Just in case you want to read more from a variety of sources about this stuff, because you like to worry and all, here are some related articles, videos, and posts:
- Does Your Data Stay Safe In The Cloud? (carmityadin.com)
- Going to the Cloud? Time to Make Security and Policy Decisions (datacenterknowledge.com)
- Sky’s the limit for storing lots of data (stuff.co.nz)
- Stay running during disasters with cloud, virtualization solutions (storagecraft.com)
- Facebook discloses sophisticated hack (usatoday.com)
- Thieves and Spies move to AVT’s (usatoday.com)
- Cyber Spies Use Advanced Tactics (usatoday.com)
- Google unleashes touch-based Chromebook (usatoday.com)
- Twitter: Hackers hit 250,000 accounts (usatoday.com)
- Apple hacked by same group that hit Facebook
- Wall Street Journal Announces That It, Too, Was Hacked by the Chinese (nytimes.com)
- News Summary: Professional Chinese hackers (stamfordadvocate.com)
- The Truth About Chinese Hackers (discovery.com)
- New Public Cloud Faces Security Breaches (intechnology.co.uk)
YouTube video clip from BBC TV show Dad’s Army