How I learned to start worrying and fear the Cloud

Years ago, a service called Dropbox launched, offering storage in a remote cloud for free. Dropbox also keeps files synchronized on every registered device. No longer would I have to wonder which computer had the latest version of a file; backups were a thing of the past. I jumped in with both feet and uploaded everything – photos, tax returns, resumes and old college homework assignments. Later, Apple joined in with services like iCloud and iTunes Match. Each promised access to all of my data from any device at any time. I started using them all!

In August, 2014, Apple’s iCloud service was compromised and hundreds of very private celebrity photos were leaked. While me and my photos are of little interest to the world, I decided to take a break from iCloud and pulled all of my photos to local storage and Dropbox. I still had faith in the Cloud at large because I knew where my data was and how to keep it safe.

About a month later, I received a very personal text message from a friend that was intended for someone else. Honorable guy that I am, I deleted it from my phone immediately. Later that evening, I opened my iPad only to find the same message there. When I got home a few days later, I booted my MacBook and another copy was delivered to iMessage there as well. I realized that those messages were out in the cloud too!

Since this realization, I have taken stock of what services I count on use the cloud. Some, like Dropbox, are easy to replace with a home NAS. Others, like iMessage are easy to turn off but so useful that it is hard to let them go. Another group, including services like Nest and ADT Pulse are much harder to move locally. These last two also present a threat to the physical world as well as the digital. A hacker that compromises them will know when I am and am not home and can use that information to do me harm.

At this point, I think a wholesale abandonment of the Cloud is premature and reactionary. That said, a healthy bit of fear and respect for the amount of information that we are releasing to the world is called for. Continued pressure on the keepers of that data to protect it with every means at their disposal is key to improvement. Hopefully, some future day will find us uploading our lives to a safe and secure Cloud; until then always think before you type and check your message destinations twice.

=Kevin

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