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All sound in the cloud

These days, it can almost feel as though the cloud is being foisted upon us. New computers come with cloud services preinstalled, waving trials and additional features before we have even had time to set up a browser. But how secure is the cloud asks Freddie Kentish of Okappy

In fact, due to the cloud’s enabling of us to store our data elsewhere, many high-end laptops on the market today typically come with significantly less onboard storage space than models released five years previously. In favouring solid-state drive (SSD) over traditional hard-disk drive (HDD) storage systems, manufacturers of late have heavily prioritised access speed over onboard storage capacity, eagerly gearing our tech for cloud dependency.

And why not? While the data hoarders of the world may view the cloud with distrust, the reality of the matter is that the cloud offers huge practicality. By moving to the cloud, businesses and other users can cut IT costs and speed up their operations.

But is the cloud secure? Is its lining made of impenetrable silver, or merely a tinfoil façade?

To prevent attacks from malware such as trojans and viruses, data stored on cloud systems is largely protected by means of encryption. By converting data into unreadable code that can only be deciphered using the right decryption keys, encryption makes it very hard for hackers to gain access to any data without guessing or procuring user passwords.

Of course, any competent IT department could always encrypt its own data were it to be stored off the cloud, but self-controlled encryption can be very costly and time consuming. Businesses preoccupied with their own undertakings are not likely to be able to match the resources of dedicated cloud service providers in keeping data safe.

Cloud service providers are also usually better equipped than IT departments for disaster recovery (DR). By storing copies of data at multiple storage sites around the world, cloud systems can easily repair themselves when data is damaged in one location by simply re-copying the data from elsewhere. In this way, data stored on clouds is reliably protected from natural disasters such as floods and fires short of apocalyptic proportions.

Cloud service providers who store large amounts of data are often so confident in their ability to keep data safe that they promise to their users remarkably high rates of data durability. Cloud storage services Amazon S3 and Wasabi, for example, both claim to ensure “11 nines” (99.999999999 per cent) of durability. This means that out of all data objects stored on their systems, only 0.000000001 per cent will be lost each year.

To put that into perspective, the likelihood of being attacked by a shark in any given year is about 0. 000001 per cent. Winning a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is even more probable, at roughly 0.000009 per cent. So, if you are really worried about the durability of any data stored on popular cloud systems such as Amazon S3 and Wasabi… well, you better get your training regime sorted soon too.

Although cloud service providers are often evaluated collectively in terms of “the cloud”, security can still vary greatly depending on the type of cloud service that is being provided. While some of the bigger names may control enough data to be able to quote however many nines of durability, this does not necessarily mean that they are entirely invulnerable.

General cloud storage services such as Amazon S3 and Wasabi, for example, put their clouds at risk by allowing users to upload standard document formats that could potentially contain malware. If malware succeeds in making it past any firewalls and other preventative measures, then it could potentially spread through a cloud at an irrepressible speed whilst threats are unknown.

On the other hand, more specialist or business-orientated cloud services that function using internal formats alone are not threatened so much by this issue. The cloud-based market network Okappy, for example, allows trade managers to create and send documents such as job sheets and invoices using internal formats unique to its own cloud system. Documents can then be easily converted into standard formats for use off the cloud afterwards if needed.

Cloud services are also arguably less susceptible to hacks than more broadly used cloud services, simply because they are smaller targets to hackers than the likes of Microsoft or Amazon. As they do not control personal data on a mass scale either, they would also have less to gain from big data mining, allowing their users more privacy.

Whatever the cloud, cloud storage is typically far more secure than older storage systems, with any scepticism regarding cloud security likely arising from the handing over of control to others. This is only human nature. After all, you are statistically far more likely to die in a road accident than a plane crash, but many people will still refuse to fly because they are not in control of the plane.

If you are still worried about cloud security, you can always backup any data stored on cloud systems onto your own offline storage systems as well. That way, you can benefit from the security measures of cloud service providers whilst still taking responsibility for your own data yourself. Storing backups on optical storage systems such as DVDs is arguably the most secure. If all magnetic and flash storage systems were suddenly fried in the event of a nuclear war or whatever impending apocalypse, those with optical data would ultimately hold the keys to the future.

For the time being, though, cloud systems will do just fine.

About Sarah OBeirne


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