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Up In The Cloud: Cloud Cautions
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Up In The Cloud: Cloud Cautions - Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: Cloud Cautions

Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: Cloud Cautions

In nearly countless ways, the ubiquity of the cloud and its many services is an inconceivable miracle. If you could travel back in time and visit yourself fifteen years ago, you could try to explain to younger you that before your infant son was old enough to drive, you’d be able to store ten thousand photos and videos of him on the Internet and show any (or all) of them to any willing audience at any time by holding up your cell phone, and that every recorded song you’ve ever owned could be listened to on a moment’s notice the same way, and that every book you’ve ever read could be browsed similarly, and that every document you’ve written, no matter where you were in the country, could be read, edited, and printed from the same little device, younger you wouldn’t know how to wrap your brain around it, even though digital media already existed (more or less) in the formats we still use today.

The power of wireless Internet connectivity means all these things and more: lost or damaged equipment is no longer necessarily the catastrophic loss of work, memories, or time. Important material can be shared and improved collaboratively with anyone anywhere in a few seconds, or accessed only by you from any device wherever you happen to be. And for many of us everyday people, this miraculous storage somewhere up there doesn’t cost anything more than what we’re already paying for phone service.

Yet there are downsides to the cloud, and it is important to keep up with them if we are to realize the full blessings within our reach. Many things can go wrong with this new technology, and while the bad guys (and bad luck) are often a step ahead of our best intentions, it’s still helpful to curtail them as far as possible with a few precautions. We’ll focus today on personal cloud use, as corporate cloud storage is a slightly different animal we’ll save for another time.

In 2014, a large number of personal photos of celebrities was released on the Internet, stolen from personal cloud storage, where they had been automatically stored after being taken with smartphones. It was first believed that the hackers had found a vulnerability in the cloud’s security. Although that proved not to be the case, it does point to the first concern: using the cloud means trusting the cloud service to keep your content safe from prying eyes and from potential catastrophic failure. When you store your content in the cloud, you’re assuming the cloud service is doing its due diligence in keeping the bad guys out, in regularly backing up its storage, and in forestalling (and mitigating) technical glitches. This is a lot to ask, and if you have one iota of doubt on the reliability of the service to hold up its end of the deal, you’re going to have to do your own share of due diligence.

It seems that every few months, some high-profile security breach is announced in the news. Some social media platform or some gigantic retailer with an extensive list of emails is perhaps not as careful as it should be, and malicious third parties gain access to thousands of passwords and usernames. This is seldom your fault, but when the bad guys have access to this many passwords, even from something seemingly as far away from the cloud as the brick-and-mortar department store you buy your lampshades from, they now have a starting point for getting into your cloud storage.

If you’re using the same email address for the store’s mailing list and for your cloud storage, the hackers have half the info they need. And if the password you use to access that store’s website is the same password you use for your cloud storage, you’ve practically handed the hackers the keys to your whole life as it exists in the cloud. It may be the store’s fault for not putting up a big enough fence, but it’s yours as well for digging a tunnel directly from the store’s backyard to your walk-in closet in the cloud.

Without a password corresponding with your email address, hackers sometimes have to use what they call a “brute force” attack, using their computers to attempt logins, one password guess after another. But the attempts don’t begin with systematic, one-at-a-time permutations of letters and numbers. They begin with lists of passwords known to be in frequent use. A recent hack of a very prominent social media site revealed that a ridiculous number of its users still use PASSWORD as a password, not to mention other all-time favorites such as ABC123, and 123456789. If you’re not using a unique password for each website or service requiring one, your cloud storage is going to be among the first to welcome malicious visitors.

Even if you’re amazingly careful, sometimes your backyard fence is only as strong as its weakest fence post. People in your inner circle, if they aren’t equally careful, can give hackers enough info to find a way into your cloud storage, especially if you’ve shared folders with them. The victims of that 2014 cloud hack actually fell prey to email “phishing” scams, responding in some cases to emails from fake-but-official-looking accounts asking them to verify their login info. In the case of one internationally famous singer, it was her longtime boyfriend’s email that was phished, and hackers were able to get into the celebrity’s cloud storage with info they found in the boyfriend’s emails.

If a friend’s or family member’s email or cloud storage is compromised, yours could be a few sniffs away from prying noses, and there’s just no practical way to make sure all your friends and family are being vigilant against hackers. This means that you are either going to have to be okay with the unlikely but possible chance that someone some time might get into your stuff, or you have to be choosy about what goes into the cloud. Imagine what your worst-case scenario is for sensitive or extra-personal content, and decide whether or not you could live with that content being made public or falling into someone else’s hands. If the answer is no, go back to the old-school backup wisdom (at least two copies of important stuff: one on-site and one off-site) without a third copy in the cloud. A strategy somewhere in the middle is to have a completely separate, unshared, private cloud storage account with a reliable provider, using a unique email address you don’t use for anything else and a password unique to the service. There’s still a chance someone could get in, but the chances are reduced enormously, and you’d likely have only yourself or your provider to blame.

Younger you wouldn’t know how to deal with the fabulous reality of the cloud, but older you does, and thankfully, with age comes wisdom. May you apply this wisdom to the responsibility of keeping your personal content safe from those who would seek to harm you. Enjoy the cloud’s many benefits, but keep a watchful, careful eye on things as you do.

 

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Up In The Cloud: Cloud Cautions - Executive Leadership Articles

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