There is no doubt that the cloud has revolutionised our ability to easily store, access and share all sorts of files and information over the internet, both at home and at work. However, in our rush to the cloud should we really be trusting cloud providers with our privacy?
A way of understanding these risks is to think of cloud storage providers as online warehouse operators. Like those in the physical world, they are typically very good at providing a space where you can put cardboard boxes of your ‘stuff’ that can be logged, stored, accessed and shared in a quick and easy way with people you authorise.
The problem is that, as with warehouses, you have to trust that these operators have good security, such as having all the exits and windows locked down. On top of that you have to trust that they will honour their privacy “promise”, such as that their guards won’t access your boxes and that the operators themselves won’t on-sell information about you or what’s in your cardboard boxes.
Some operators seek to boost user confidence by deploying SSL technology. In the case of our warehouse, that is like sending an armed guard around to pick up your cardboard storage boxes. It helps but it doesn’t guarantee anything more than your information got there.
Similarly, others trumpet their use of encrypted disks. In our warehouse analogy, it’s like having a lock-up cage within the warehouse. Again it helps, but the operator has the keys, so you still have to trust that they and their guards to “do the right thing”.
So this brings us back to the issue of trust. Do you know that the operator is definitely not peeking in your cardboard boxes and leveraging your information? Or that they haven’t subcontracted out the storage to someone else? Would you know if your warehouse had been broken into? Would you be informed?
At a national and global level, these privacy boundaries and obligations are still being explored and defined by policymakers and regulators. The difficulty is how to enforce minimum standards and how to handle operators across different continents. While such laws may help to improve the behaviour of storage operators, warehouses can and do still get broken into.
So what can you do? How do you make cloud privacy less fluffy?
Regardless of whether you are an individual or enterprise, you can take matters into your own hands. Rather than relying on fluffy promises, it is possible to ensure that your confidential information is stored and seen only by those people to whom you have granted access by utilising a ‘cloud privacy’ solution.
Cloud privacy products allow you to protect your own data with encryption, and ensure it can only be seen by the people you want by giving them appropriate keys. This approach goes beyond a basic cloud file sharing service to provide a totally private file sharing service that is easy to use and affordable for individuals and organisations. In fact it is so private that no-one else, not even the provider’s technical staff, can view your information.
If we go back to the warehouse analogy, it is like putting your sensitive or private information in a smart, tamper-proof box. This gives you an extra layer of protection, extra security in case the warehouse gets broken into or there is an accidental breach.
You get to choose the lock and key and to change them when you feel like it, and you can give unique keys to friends, colleagues, associates, employees, customers or suppliers, enabling them to access the information you want, when you want in a way completely controlled by you.
In short, cloud privacy solutions give all the benefits of cloud computing – availability, reliability and ability to access information anytime, anywhere from any device – but without giving up security, privacy or control.
This is the future of collaboration. Imagine the power this could have to transform business.
Copyright © SC Magazine, Australia
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