Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Clouding the issue

The Goat has been suspicious of 'cloud computing' since he heard of the concept. At a fundamental level, the internet was invented so that the Soviets couldn't drop an ICBM on a single massive computer and knock out the West's entire computer capability. By storing data on millions of computers dotted all over the planet and allowing them to talk to each other by telephone, we have a worldwide web that's pretty much impossible to shut down.

So, argued the Goat, keeping your data on a massive server farm in Oregon rather than on your own hard disk is a step backwards; a step towards centralisation. What happens to the Goat's data if the server farm goes down?

One of the Goat's friends - one of the several who have worked with computers and networks since the days of the Commodore PET - advised the Goat that the concern was unjustified. Server failure is extremely common and Google, for example, is constantly replacing broken computers. The solution to potential loss of data is backups, and backups of backups, and to paraphrase Terry Pratchett: "Every week a man comes and carves the new stuff on to stone tablets and buries them in the back garden."

There remains the issue of security. Having just acquired a tablet - a Samsung that runs Android; not a stone one, nor a prescription one - as a birthday present from Beloved Wife, the Goat is tentatively dipping a hoof into the world of cloud computing, and is experimenting with Google Drive as a way of ensuring that regularly updated spreadsheets are accessible from the desktop machine at home and from the tablet while he's out and about. He's also messed a little with Dropbox.

The current scandal of celebrities' on-line accounts being hacked and private photographs being stolen is, of course, a clear illustration that if you put anything out there, it can never be absolutely 100% secure. But, come to that, even if you keep your most private compromising images on an encrypted memory stick in the bottom of your underwear drawer, this doesn't stop a burglar from stealing it, hacking it, publishing it.

"It's their own fault for putting the pictures on the internet," 'joked' Ricky Gervais.

Now, the Goat can think of another widespread example of personal data held on remote servers that you can access from any internet-capable device: on-line banking. The Goat is easily convinced that if someone hacked into his bank account and stole his life savings, he wouldn't be lambasted by Mr Gervais that it was his own fault for using on-line banking.

The Goat has been happy to use webmail for many years. He is generally satisfied with on-line banking, not least because it's easier than schlepping down to Red Triangles and dealing with the parking and the queues. He'll even share his video and still photography, and now even has a hoof-full of documents in the cloud.

As for files containing scans of passport, credit cards, travel documents, passwords... the Goat isn't so sure. Having copies in case of catastrophic loss has its benefits, but these listed items could be of use to malefactors who might break in. Is the Goat now being paranoid, or are his concerns unfounded?



Sara Liz said...
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Christopher said...

I don't think you need to worry.

Don't store your passwords online - that's about it.

I use Evernote a lot and find it incredibly useful in a world where I am constantly expected to send people copies of documents they already have copies of, as well as writing up notes for meetings, to do lists, etc.

The main challenge is less for the user and more for in house IT departments. These types of services are so useful that most people bypass what IT is providing them and you end up with a so called 'shadow IT' situation. The challenge for employers is to make sure they are on the right side of legal by providing similar services that their users can benefit from, making sure that that spreadsheet with last year's financial results and this quarter's forecast isn't sitting on a Dropbox folder along with last month's holiday photos that have been shared with all and sundry.


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