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A number of celebrities were recently embarrassed by the unauthorized sharing of personal and private photographs. Information they thought had been securely saved in an online storage account became front page news. Initial reports suggest a sustained, targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions for iCloud accounts were the root cause.
Online storage has become a growth industry, providing an easy and inexpensive way to store photos, videos and documents for the vast numbers of smartphones and tablets that are so convenient and compact – and so limited in storage space. The process is easily automated and information can be accessed or shared with anyone with an internet capable device and possession of authorization codes. Your data is retrievable even if your laptop or tablet is lost, damaged or stolen. Many providers boast of professional IT service, redundant backups and secure, even encrypted files. Free teaser accounts of 1 to 2 GB of storage space are abundant, and additional space is “available at a small monthly rate.”
The overall concept is enticing and effective. The risks are real and numerous; the biggest downside is that you are entrusting your information to the care and custody of someone else. That someone else has access to your data and may have made representations that exceed their capabilities. Some have gone out of business with little or no advance notice; some have ineffective protection against malware and hackers. Some will have employees who are willing to supplement their income by sharing your information. Large collections of data will attract the interest of talented data thieves and increasingly intrusive governmental agencies.
There are no current guidelines or standards applicable to cloud storage providers to assist in estimating how safe or reliable their service really is. Customer service ranges from excellent to non-existent.
In general, services intended for business are more secure and more expensive than those intended for consumers No matter how large and capable an online storage provider becomes, none will guarantee a fail-safe backup system or return of all of your data. Legal experts advise that there is generally little recourse for consumers in the event of data loss when using such services. There are always unpredictable risks of equipment failure, natural disaster and vandalism.
Trusting all of your data solely to the cloud is a gamble that can keep you up nights. Cloud-based storage should be considered a complement to local storage rather than an alternative. There are significant benefits and advantages to local data storage and backup. Anything involving finances, family, or anything personal that I don’t want to share with complete strangers stays entirely in my control. Over cautious? Paranoid? Perhaps, but I’d rather be safe than sorry – and sleep well at night.
“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it!” Scott McNealy, CEO Sun Microsystems, 1999.