The Good and the Bad of Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing seems inescapable. Phones and devices have cloud servers for files, any user can get free cloud backups for their own computers, and even federal and state governments are investing in cloud computing for their own data. But just what is it, and is it safe?

What Is It?

First, we had computers that had hard drives with information and programs on them, and then we used discs to move that information from computer to the next. These discs were small, so we took to thumb drives, but this was problematic if you forgot your thumb drive at home or work or school. Those of us who had web mail account like Yahoo or Hotmail recognized we could just email ourselves the data, and open it from wherever.

This was the early stage of Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store and manage data, rather than a local server, or a personal computer. Given that few of us stick to just one computer these days –between home, work, school, laptops, tablets, and other devices – having ready access to that information on any device is important. This is where cloud computing comes in.

Where is it stored?

Cloud computing is named as such because information or even programs are used or run from a number of application or storage servers kept and backed up off site, and accessed through multiple computers where the user logs into an interface for access. A simple example of this is web-based email which is accessible through a web browser and website, but available through any computer.

Individuals and companies often resort to third-party cloud storage, such as iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and others. Companies may wish to back up not only files, but whole computers, databases, or programs for use.

When are people going to use this tech?

This sort of technology has been used since the ‘90s when people backed up files on web hosts or used web-based email clients. With the ever increasing use of mobile computing, cloud hosting has become more prevalent and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Why is this needed?

The more mobile people become with their computing, the more important it will be to have access to files, data, and programs remotely. While devices and computers have ever-increasingly large hard drives and can hold more info, hauling around secondary drives and copying information over is redundant and unnecessary.

For companies and industries, a base location for all information is valuable in the interests of saving money and time. Instead of a slowly depreciating server under a desk or stuck in the back room, all information is available and reliably backed up offsite. This also allows for people in multiple locations, branches, or buildings, to have access to and immediately update information as needed.

What are the potential pitfalls and drawbacks?

Cloud computing has some very real drawbacks and concerns, and some of them do not have good solutions at this time:

  • Access: To access the cloud (whatever form of cloud you are accessing at the moment), the user needs internet access. Without wifi or otherwise, access to files and software severely limits what can be done. This is becoming less and less a problem as time goes on, but still could come up as an issue.
  • Security: Every day the news broadcasts another company or institution getting hacked. And as security gets more sophisticated, hackers always seem one step ahead. Information could be accessed and stolen during a number of points in the cloud computing process, whether it be a hacker discovering a means of getting in, or a user with a weak password.
  • Privacy: Housing your data somewhere on the web inevitably means someone else may have access to it. Along with the aforementioned hackers, NSA access to various servers and databases has been argued and discussed extensively throughout the last year. While a company may not have anything to hide, they may not want that data accessible in general.
  • Third Party Control: Ultimately, in handing over data and programs to a third party, a company or institution is handing the keys over to someone else. Not everyone likes this or feels comfortable with it, and would prefer to have complete control over their information.

Despite the potential hazards of cloud computing, large companies and even government and official institutions more and more are turning in that direction due to reduced costs and ease of use. The debate and concern over the security of private information will only increase as hackers are more sophisticated and computing becomes more ubiquitous. But cloud computing is not going away any time soon.

For more information on cloud computing and internet security in general, follow the Appletree Media blog.

More On Cloud Computing:

iCloud Hack and Compromising Data

Take a photo – it will last longer. But do you really want it to?

By now practically everyone has heard about the hacker that managed to acquire private, compromising celebrity photos and post them to distribute on websites.  While all the details are still being worked out, the most common theory is that the hacker managed to get to these photos through the use of brute force software and an exploit or hack in iCloud, Apple’s iPhone cloud service.

This particular episode in questionable internet security is making news because of the enraged celebrity targets and the wildfire pace at which the images are making their rounds, but this sort of data breach could happen to anyone. And until Apple and investigators figure out and announce just what happened, users are left trying to keep things secure as possible.

What can you do to keep your data secure?

Strong Passwords

Email is inherently unsecure. Do you really need a backup of all of your emails sent up to a vulnerable cloud too? It’s likely your work email is backed up by your employer and usually personal email providers backup their own email servers, so don’t allow your email to be copied to a cloud too. If you truly need an important email for reference later? Go old school: print it out and store it in a safe or forward it to an encrypted email server for storage.

Photo Stream

Cloud storage is not inherently the most secure way to keep data, and it’s also known as a potential target for hackers. Incidentally, if you have an Apple phone or tablet, Photo Stream may be active and you might not even know it.

You can disable the Photo Stream by doing the following:  Go to “Settings,” then “Storage & Backup” and stop the “Photo Stream” feature. This will stop all your photos from automatically uploading to the cloud.

Android and other phones have their own means of cloud backups to check into as well. Some require setting up manually, and others may prompt you to activate them. Read the messages you are given, and check into your settings from time to time.

2-Step Verification

Although it may not have helped in the case of the iCloud hack, 2-Step Verification increases security in devices, and many services including Apple, Twitter, and Gmail have it. 2-Step verification requires that after the user enters a password, you go through an additional step of verification (such as entering a code you are texted) on new devices.


Without blaming the victim, keeping compromising photos off easily accessible devices warrants mentioning as well. While phones make it easy to take and send a quick snapshot, this is not inherently secure. And on the user-end, even if your own tech is secure remember that any photo you send to someone else could end up on the wilds of the internet.

If you want to take those potentially compromising photos? A camera may be a better option.