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How safe is the computer cloud?

Industry experts agree there are potential gaps in security, but the new storage system appears to be here to stay.

By doubleace Jun 21, 2011 12:03PM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


Is your information completely safe on the cloud? Of course not.


Is it safe enough? Probably, at least by the standards we've already come to accept.


First of all, what is the cloud? In simple terms, it's a place for storing data instead of keeping it on your personal or business computer. If you have email or are on a social network like Facebook, you already are using the cloud; the information and services are not on your computer; you merely have access to them through servers operated by someone else.  Post continues after video.

Businesses want to be on the cloud because it is more cost-efficient than storing the information themselves. Consumers want on because it in effect allows them to take their computer with them via mobile devices such as their smartphone.


However, a spate of recent cyber attacks -- Sony had information stolen from 77 million accounts on its PlayStation network, for instance -- has current and potential users wondering if the cloud really is secure enough to be the next great thing.

Some opinions and information from those who should know:

Thomas Parenty, managing director of Parenty Consulting, a Hong Kong-based information security consulting firm, told CNN:

There are many motivations for why an individual or a company would want to engage in cloud computing. None of them have to do with enhanced security. You have no idea who is managing the computers with your information. You have no idea where they are. You have no idea what protections may or may not be in place to make sure your information is not stolen or disclosed or that it does not accidentally disappear.

CA Technologies and the Ponemon Institute, a security research firm, recently released a survey of 127 cloud service providers in the U.S. and Europe. Some of the results:

Cloud providers are more focused on delivering the benefits of cost and speed of deployment, the top two reasons cited for migrating to cloud computing. The majority of cloud providers (79%) allocate just 10% or less of IT resources to security or control-related activities. Less than half of the respondents agree or strongly agree that security is a priority.
Less than 20% of cloud providers across the U.S. and Europe view security as a competitive advantage. Fewer than 30% of respondents consider security as an important responsibility. Less than 27% of respondents feel their cloud services substantially protect and secure customer information.
 The majority of cloud providers (69%) believe security is primarily the responsibility of the cloud user; this contrasts with 35% of cloud users who believe security is their responsibility. 

The Los Angeles Times interviewed several computing security experts who expressed reservations about the security of the cloud:

"It's gotten very dangerous out there," said Stan Stahl, a security consultant and president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Information Systems Security Association. "There's an epidemic of this stuff going on right now."
Alex Bermudez, the security manager for Beachbody, a Los Angeles company that makes the popular P90X workout videos, said that although his company is beefing up security as it expands overseas, he's held off on shifting operations into the cloud. "There are a lot of good technology companies doing the cloud well," he said, but having his company's data stored remotely, alongside data from many other firms, "is a little scary."
Eugene Schultz, chief technology officer at Emagined Security, said that hackers are spending substantial time and effort looking for ways to penetrate the cloud. "There are some real Achilles' heels in the cloud infrastructure that are making big holes for the bad guys to get into," he said. Because data from hundreds or thousands of companies can be stored on large cloud servers, he said, hackers can theoretically gain control of huge stores of information through a single attack -- a process he called "hyperjacking."

The cloud, of course, has its supporters. Wrote Matthew Weber on the tech site T3KB:

While there are some drawbacks, for the most part cloud computing is safe. And it is safe for many reasons. They have years and years of security procedures to draw upon when it comes to protecting their servers. The protection around the servers of most cloud companies is state of the art. Most cloud (companies) offer a solution called redundant backup. That means that they store your files in more than one place, and if anything happens they can retrieve them easier. So when it comes to cloud services you should feel safe about storing your files. While no solution is foolproof, it should be more than adequate to fulfill your needs.

Too many voices? How's this for a summary?

The cloud is relatively new, and certainly not perfect. But it is every bit as safe as giving out your credit card number when you make a purchase over the phone or online, and that's a risk millions take every day.

It is growing rapidly. Industry observers predict cloud storage will be a $150 billion industry no later than 2014, primarily because it will save money for its business and government users, and be just too convenient to pass up for the regular folks. And with growth will come improvements.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation, a nonprofit that looks at cloud computing, predicted the problems will be ironed out. "I think we'll get there," he said. "Cloud computing is going to become ubiquitous. Even if consumers don't know it."

Finally, Weber at T3KD just might nail it with this statement:

"You have to weigh the tradeoffs. Is it more important for you to have the convenience of having your information in the cloud? Or, is it more important for you to know your information is safe and secure? For me it is a little of both. I worry about having my information in the cloud (never anything too personal). However, I love the convenience of things like Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music. I also expect that while my information may be more likely to be stolen in the cloud, it is much safer from hard drive failures while it is stored there."

More on MSN Money:

Jun 21, 2011 7:23PM
Dear Popular Media Journalists,

Please learn the difference between the popular term "cloud" referring to anything related to the internet and the industry term "cloud computing" which refers to a type of infrastructure design where a system runs on virtualized systems that abstract the physical hardware it sits on.  You bounced back and forth between the two definitions several times in this article.  This is not only very confusing, it makes the conclusions you're trying to make factually inaccurate, making this whole article pretty useless.
Jul 28, 2011 2:24PM
Where's the video?  I'm getting "Sorry, no videos were found."
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