There is literally no one who’s never heard of Facebook and Twitter. Or Dropbox and Google Drive. Or even EverNote and OneNote. At one point or the other we are all using these – to socialize, to store any kinds of files such as those converted using bulk document scanning and conversion services or your personal files, to share info with friends, or simply to take notes which then can be accessed from anywhere and from any device. Though many know what these websites and apps do, many don’t know they are using a service called cloud computing.
What Is Cloud Computing?
According to Microsoft Azure, cloud computing is
“The delivery of computing services-servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics and more-over the Internet (“the cloud”).”
In simple words, the commonly used term ‘cloud computing’ is nothing but storing and accessing information over the Internet. It is fully about the Internet, and nothing about your hard drive. The latter is called local storage and computing. The word ‘Cloud’ is a metaphor for the Internet. Having a dedicated Network Attached Storage (NAS) in your office or home doesn’t count as a cloud. Cloud computing is when you can access your data from anywhere around the world with the help of the Internet. i.e. the data is synchronized over the Web.
There are 3 types of cloud services:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Service that lets you rent IT infrastructures such as servers and virtual machines, networks and operating system from a cloud provider.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Supply of on-demand environment for developing, testing, delivering and maintaining software. Basically, an easy platform for developers to create web or mobile apps without having to worry about servers, databases, storage and network.
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
Deliver software applications to users over the Internet. Cloud providers host and manage software applications and infrastructure and handle any maintenance required.
Cloud – its Security Concerns
In 2012, Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, publicly denounced cloud computing, saying: “I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.” It’s 2017 – the 5th year according to Wozniak’s statement, and haven’t his words been proved right? In 2014, there were breakdowns in almost all big cloud computing providers such as Gmail, EverNote, Dropbox, Basecamp, Adobe, iCloud, and Microsoft; & in 2015 it hit Apple, Verizon, Microsoft, AOL, Level 3, and Google. Though the issues typically last for just hours, the security concerns for both the providers and the ones using the service will be distressing. But it was only in 2016 that Yahoo revealed that in the years 2013 and 2014, around 3 billion users’ names, passwords, security questions and other data were hacked.
Wozniak was more concerned about the intellectual property issues. You store your data in a cloud but who really owns it? You? Or is it the cloud computing service provider? For example, Facebook and Instagram have changed their Terms of Service regarding them utilizing your photos uploaded there n number of times. Though there is some hope for the data you ‘upload’ online, there is no guarantee for the data you are ‘creating’ online.
Almost all cloud services claim the data uploaded by end users is encrypted, but there is no surety. They say only the customers themselves can generate the encryption key, but how can one be sure others won’t get access to it? An employee or the government officially or legally requesting the service provider its users’ encryption key can decrypt and access your data. For example, Google and Microsoft receives humongous amount of requests from the government for information affecting hundreds of thousands of users. And all the time, they are forced to provide the government with some data in response.
While there still are debates going on whether the cloud is safe or not, it is to be understood that your data is stored on systems and servers you don’t own, and that implies you have no control over what’s happening inside and if any security threat arises, everything is in the hands of the hacker and the service provider. Usage of mere firewalls and antiviruses is not good enough to protect one’s data uploaded online. It’s time people think differently about cloud computing and its security, because there are more and more public cloud-based systems being deployed and this will continue as long as humans exist. With almost all end-users and business sectors using cloud computing, for e.g. for storing medical document scanning outputs, improving the cloud’s security has become a necessity. It is only with the right amount of planning, real good technology and executing the plans accordingly can cloud-based platforms become less vulnerable to security threats.