The chances are that by now you’ve heard the term “the cloud” a number of times, and that you know – to some degree – what it is. Here we explain what the term means and briefly discuss some risks it poses to you, the user.
The cloud essentially means the Internet, or at least specific resources that the Internet can bring to your doorstep. For example, when we store something on the cloud, it means we store it online. Which of course ends up being some data storage server somewhere else on the planet which your computer can connect to, via the Internet.
Companies can move their services to “the cloud”, meaning you no longer buy their programs in a shop, rather your computer downloads the latest version from the Internet and continually keeps it current when new updates are released. For example, the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop etc.) is now the Adobe Creative Cloud.
Or, as we may see more of in the future, your computer can actually borrow the processing power of powerful servers your computer connects to via the Internet, instead of using the local processor that resides inside your computer.
So, “the cloud” refers to the services and resources available to you through the world’s largest network of computers that we call the Internet. We use “the cloud” more and more often, as Internet companies utilise the ever-increasing speed that the Internet offers us.
Of course, this is done for convenience. It’s nice to have our smartphone photos automatically synched to our online cloud accounts in case we lose our phone, and it’s nice not to have to drive to the shop to pick up the latest version of Adobe Photoshop. The cloud means we can do and achieve more sitting in front of our phones, tablets, laptops and PCs.
What are the risks?
As is often the case, with more convenience comes more danger. There are, of course, inherent risks to relying so heavily on having so much important information floating around out there in cyberspace.
As we said above, the Cloud essentially means the Internet, and thus anything that connects to the Internet can be breached by criminals. There will always be an inherent security risk posed when the data server that stores all of our information belongs to a network of machines all connected via the Internet.
For example, cloud storage can (and often is) compromised by computer hackers, whether it’s by exploiting a vulnerability that the storage provider is responsible for, or lax security practises on behalf of the end user (you!)
Lax security practises and the inability to spot a phishing scam were the reasons why so many celebrities had sensitive photos stolen from them and later posted on the Internet in the notorious Celebgate scandal in 2014.
Account Hijacking/Identity Theft
As more and more services move to – or pop up on – the cloud, the more online accounts we need. Whether it’s online banking, social media, data storage or a software subscription, each one needs an account that we need to make secure.
But of course, an online account can never be truly secure as history has taught us so many times. Online accounts can be compromised in a variety of ways, and when they are, criminals are able to access almost any type of information about us.
And with that comes the possibility of identity fraud. Whether criminals pretend to be us by directly controlling our online accounts or they use the information they discover about us to pretend to be us elsewhere, the amount and diversity of the information about people that is now accessible from the cloud is staggering.
Not only is identity theft a possibility, another risk that we face by the move by many services to the cloud is the continued erosion of our privacy. We are implored to part with our most personal information to cloud based services in order to use a multitude of services, such as video game subscriptions, owning a mobile phone or even being a Windows customer!
This means that big companies know more about us than ever before, and the number of incidents involving surveillance snooping (NSA & PRISM, for example) are on the rise. Not everyone is comfortable with so many people having access to so much information about them and their activities, but in order to use services that have migrated to the cloud, we have little choice other than to comply or avoid using cloud based services altogether.
The reliance on the Internet actually working
Another risk posed by the cloud is the possibility that it will just stop working. Whether it’s local or temporary downtime, or something much bigger, the cloud increases our dependence on the Internet.
For some, without a working Internet connection, they cannot use software they’ve installed or video games they’ve paid for, nor could they access their personal data or even use their computers correctly.
In the last decade, our independence on the cloud as grown exponentially. In another 20 or 30 years, we have to ask ourselves, just what on our computers would work if our Internet connection went away?