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State of the Cloud

It's pervasive but it's not trusted.


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Cloud computing: a paradigm in which information is permanently stored on servers on the Internet and cached temporarily on clients that include desktops, entertainment centers, table computers, notebooks, wall computers, handhelds, etc.

Pew Internet have completed a survey of cloud computing as used in the US. This certainly cannot pertain to the Internet as a whole but it can give some indications as to what's going on.

Of the 2,251 individuals contacted in April/May 2008 1,553 were Internet users.

69% of Internet users in the US avail themselves in one form or another of cloud computing - services such as webmail, online data storage, online applications.

Cloud users like the convenience of having access to software and data from any connected device but at the same time express high levels of concerns about their personal integrity.

'Even as large numbers of users turn to cloud computing applications, many may lack a full understanding of possible consequences of storing personal data online', says report author John Horrigan of Pew Internet.

There's nothing really technical about understanding those consequences; it's just that they're not thinking period.

  • 56% of Internet users use webmail services such as Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail.
  • 34% store personal photos online.
  • 29% use online applications such as Google Documents or Adobe Photoshop Express.
  • 7% store personal videos online.
  • 5% pay to store computer files online.
  • 5% back up hard drives to online sites.

69% of Internet users in the survey use at least one of the above activities; 40% use two or more.

  • 51% say a major reason for using cloud computing is it's easy and convenient.
  • 41% say they like being able to access their data from any computer.
  • 39% say they like the ease of sharing information.

Yet:

  • 90% say they would be concerned if the hosting companies are sold to a third party.
  • 80% say they would be very concerned if their data were used by the hosting companies in enterprises of their own.
  • 68% say they would be very concerned if their data were analysed and used as the basis for advertising campaigns.

Outsourcing one's personal data and integrity is never a good idea.

  • Companies are already using people's data any way they want.
  • Companies are already analysing data and redirecting it back to clients.
  • Feeling concerned when a hosting company is sold to a third party doesn't help much and there's nothing stopping any of these companies from being bought up at any time.
  • Neither is there anything stopping any of these companies from being hacked.
  • Neither is there seemingly anything stopping them from giving personal information away to unfriendly governments.

Something more to think about.

  • Microsoft began passing on Hotmail registration details to their advertisers years ago - before Google.
  • Microsoft's Hotmail is notorious for being easy to hack. The 'Love Bug' worm unleashed on the Internet 5 May 2000 and causing over $5.5 billion in damages is thought to have come from a hacked Hotmail account. Accounts are broken into all the time. If you want your secrets to get out - store them in a Hotmail account.
  • Google's Gmail is still officially a 'beta' and as such should not be considered trustworthy by users - and yet watch the lemmings continue to flock to it and get hacked.
  • It's been possible to create 'drive by' attacks against Gmail accounts that automatically divert your incoming mail to a hacker's account - and you never see it happen. Google's technologies are interesting and perhaps exciting - but they are definitely not vetted.
  • Yahoo's 'RocketMail' is smarter and more secure than Microsoft's Hotmail or Google's Gmail but Yahoo's programmers seem to be doing their best to ruin that service too. And Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang has already sold a countryman up the river to the Chinese government.
  • Google rush to get new technologies out the door and directly opt out of vetting their software from a security standpoint. For over two years they automatically destroyed all incoming security alerts without their being read - they simply weren't interested.
  • Online banking is essentially a joke: those in charge of the software have no background in the banking industry and those with a background in banking have no clue how insecure the software is.
  • You're outsourcing your privacy and integrity every time you post an electronic message. People working for ISPs aren't bonded; they are not only capable of intercepting your correspondence - several have been caught at it, selling address lists to spammers etc.
  • Few of the people taking care of your credit card information, money, private data are bonded as bank staff must be.
  • All the above is exacerbated by the proliferation of attacks against Microsoft Windows.

Truly the only safe thing to do is to disconnect from the Internet. Neither clients nor service providers seem to have a clue what they're doing.

See Also
US Federal Trade Commission: Online Behavioural Advertising (PDF)
Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services (PDF)
US Federal Trade Commission: Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-Ade

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