Is the Cloud Friendly? or Can We Ever Find Cyber Security?

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.


YouTube video clip from BBC TV show Dad’s Army


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11 Responses to Is the Cloud Friendly? or Can We Ever Find Cyber Security?

  1. Saba-Thambi says:

    Just before I read your article, learnt from a tweet that “dropbox” (cloud) has been hacked. I think we have to be vigilant – My advice is
    1. Do not store particular data on cloud which has consequences ( pin number, credit card detail passwords etc)

    2. Try to have a few alias user names, in other words ” do not keep all the eggs in one basket”


    • Good advice. Yesterday’s USA Today had a section about how companies ae sharing info now, rather than being secretive, to help them all prevent this kind of hacking. Apple and MIcrosoft have been hacked, too – so nobody is completely safe. And besides theft of data, hackers can really mess up your system! Thanks for stopping by to comment!


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  3. bulldog says:

    Interesting article.. but and it’s a big BUT.. before the age of computers were people not already being spied upon? Were stories (true or not) not being told about you.? CIA, FBI, KGB, Internal security departments etc etc… were you not being hacked already.? A fight in a pub or inn was spoken about by people who didn’t know you, and they spoke to people who knew people who knew you.. dropping a wind in public, the chances are the bank manager knew about it before the air cleared.. In the old days before computers, bank managers wrote in a style like doctors do on prescriptions, so that when he opened your sometimes thick file, you could not read all he knew upside down.. today he peers at a computer screen well hidden from you… are we any more exposed today.? I don’t think so.. sure the advent of hacking is there for those who want to.. if they can hack the defense department of the USA what is there to stop them hacking you.?? I’m not sure anyone would want my over draft, in fact I wish they would steal it… and if people are so interested in what I’m up to.. I would not let it bother me as I’m not the most interesting person on the block… Do I worry about people hacking into my cyber thoughts.?? Go for it, if it makes your day have fun.. Will it affect me?? I’m not sure it would.. as for cyber safety, I back up regularly but not from hackers but rather from equipment failure… as I said, if they can get to the big institutions how are we mere mortals going to stop them hacking us… I just can’t see what anyone would gain by hacking my system… Please someone steal my over draft….


    • I take your point, but susceptibility to hackers is something we can take some steps to prevent. Our emails and social media often include info about other people, not just ourselves, so we aren’t necessarily just affecting ourselves. Also, I suspect most people would be pretty unhappy if their identities were stolen or bank accounts were hacked. Opportunistic people have always watched for an empty house or unbuttoned pocket, and yes, some people look for things to talk about. I guess I just don’t want to make it an easier for those folks. I want to be reasonably prudent with my assets. And I still like to keep a few things private, but I realize I’m increasingly in the minority on that one! Thanks for chiming in!


      • bulldog says:

        How often I’ve had my neighbour tell me they are going away on holiday.. but they’ve told me in front of their garden worker… no need for a computer there, the help will know they’re away cause they tell them not to come… people forget to cancel their newspaper deliveries.. anyone passing seeing a heap of unread news papers know they are away… the point I’m making it is not only on the internet one must be careful… one must be aware of all things..


  4. melouisef says:

    So convenient to store in cloud but yes you need security.
    I store my ebooks on dropbox so that I can share them – I suppose it does not really matter if they get hacked?


    • No, ebooks wouldn’t matter much! But what about stuff like Quicken, and TurboTax, personal family info (birth dates, photos, etc.) for people who aren’t comfortable sharing them,.. There is data that would allow someone to steal identities and financial assets…that’s more the stuff I’d worry about. Calendars could tell hackers when you’re away from home… there’s all kinds of stuff that is really better kept private. We just aren’t always careful with our personal info anymore. Unscrupulous folks could take advantage of that, and have.


  5. sharechair says:

    I have all the same concerns as you. Entering the blogging world was a HUGE leap for me. Never joined Facebook. (and my sons loved their Commodore 64, too!)


    • I agree abut the blogging… it is a struggle with each post to decide how much to share. I have very little about myself on Facebook, have the tightest security settings, and was shamed int joining by my kids and Mom, who just wanted to share family news and photos. None of us use it that much.
      Those first DOS PCs were fun, weren’t they? 😉 Thanks for stopping in!


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