In the ever-escalating cloud services arms race, Microsoft just trotted out a whopper of a one-up over just about everyone in competition: Microsoft’s OneDrive VP just announced on the OneDrive blog that all Personal, Home and Education Office365 subscribers will have access to unlimited cloud storage for no additional cost. Lest you feel left out in the cold, business subscribers, Microsoft has plans to extend your storage in a similar fashion in 2015. All a part of its master plan, Microsoft envisions a future where everything is done in the cloud, and they want to make sure you are firmly rooted in their ecosystem.
What this means for you:
Before you rush off to move all your files to the cloud as Microsoft suggests, you should consider the implications. Cloud storage of any type is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, once you get your data uploaded, you can (supposedly) stop worrying about mechanical failures, such as hard drive crashes and sending your USB thumb drives through the wash. Another great benefit is your data is essentially accessible from anywhere on the internet. Setting up technology to provide this type of of service is not trivial. Even when you are as big as JP Morgan, it’s still possible to misconfigure your servers, so having a provider who is (probably) an expert at this is better than trying to do it yourself, especially if your company can’t afford a full-time IT professional.
On the other hand, your data is now stored on hardware (and a service) over which you have very little control, and which requires an internet connection. There is also the possibility that your data could be accessed without authorization, either by hackers who manage to penetrate the services security, or by the provider itself, who may be subject to government subpeona, or even by a provider employee with malicious intent.
Given the two sides of this very sharp sword, one must make a reasoned decision about whether to employ cloud storage as part of your technology profile. The most important factor will be the type of data you are planning to store: if any of the alphabet-soup laws apply (HIPPA for example), you may be severely limited in what you can legally store on a cloud-based service. Even if the laws don’t seem to directly apply, consider the consequences if any of your data were to be exposed on the internet for anyone to see: would it be damaging to your business or your clients? If so, you may want to rethink whether the cloud is ready for you.
Though no comment has been forthcoming from Apple yet, the mainstream press has been awash in reports that dozens of Hollywood celebrities had their iCloud accounts hacked over the Labor Day holiday weekend and, as you might have guessed, explicit images and videos have surfaced on the internet. News of the breach first surfaced on infamous website 4Chan where an unidentified individual offered to share the explicit material in exchange for bitcoin donations. Representatives for some of the celebrities confirmed the legitimacy of the material, and threatened legal action against both the hackers as well as the various websites where the the photos and videos started appearing. As of now, authorities are still trying to identify the party or parties responsible.
What this means for you:
Despite the numerous, very public incidents of famous people taking explicit photos of themselves and reaping the consequences (good or bad), everyone – famous and not – continues to underestimate the weakness of technology security on mobile devices and cloud platforms, as well as the fact that erasing a file on your smartphone does not necessarily equate to destroying it permanently. Both iOS and Android devices are designed to upload any photos or videos you take with your device to their respective cloud storage platforms, ostensibly to back them up in case of device loss, as well as to facilitate the ability to share them via the internet. What most don’t realize is the default for both platforms is to allow this, and you have to pay attention when setting up your device at the very start to disable this functionality. If you quickly punch “OK” through this process, you can easily miss this very important setting.
As always, if you need to store important information must remain confidential, cloud storage (iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc.) is a very high-risk option that should only be considered with eyes wide-open to the worst-case scenario. The terms of service/use for most of these platforms indemnify them from these types of breaches, so if even if your information was leaked through no personal fault of your own (as might be the above mentioned hack), it’s highly unlikely you will be able to hold anyone accountable aside from yourself.