RIA Novosti

Cloud Computing Stirs up a Storm of Privacy Concerns

01:30 09/03/2013

Driven by the popularity of tablets and new laptops that come with little or no internal storage, the trend of cloud computing –storing information on remote servers accessed through the Internet—is on the rise in the United States, but privacy experts said questions of security have left some looking for ways to hide from the cloud.

WASHINGTON, March 8 (By Sasha Horne for RIA Novosti) - Driven by the popularity of tablets and new laptops that come with little or no internal storage, the trend of cloud computing –storing information on remote servers accessed through the Internet—is on the rise in the United States, but privacy experts said questions of security have left some looking for ways to hide from the cloud.

“It certainly has an appeal to outsource the storage of data because it is superficially simple to do so,” said Paul Stephens, Director of Policy and Advocacy with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a California-based nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.

But Stephens said potential security breaches, which have happened frequently over the past several months, presents a major drawback to storing data with third-party cloud services.

“If you maintain your own data, you have complete control over how it can be accessed,” Stephens said in an interview Friday with RIA Novosti.

A security breach, reported last week, targeted Evernote, a digital note-taking service that lets users organize digital notebooks, videos, and photos and access them from any Internet-connected device. 

“In our security investigation, we have found no evidence that any of the content you store in Evernote was accessed, changed or lost,” the Evernote team wrote on the company’s blog.

The company’s investigation did find that the usernames, email addresses, and encrypted passwords associated with the service’s approximately 50 million users were potentially exposed, prompting Evernote to reset all users passwords.

Despite the concerns over security, the use of cloud services is on the rise driven in part by Google’s Chromebook, a series of web-centric laptops with little local storage.

Instead, the affordable Chromebook allows users to work on documents, edit photos, and manage their daily activities through a series of free, Google-designed tools available on the web.

The perks are obvious, industry experts have said. No more lugging around heavy, more costly laptops or external hard drives, and no more concerns about losing documents if your hard drive crashes. But privacy experts warn outsourcing storage means users must give up a certain level of control.

“In some cases these servers are located outside of the US,” said Stephens who explained servers housed overseas are not covered by US law.

Another issue, Stephens said, arises if users are involved in civil litigation or slapped with a government subpoena.

“If you own your own data, you have the opportunity to defend against a subpoena,” Stephens said.

But if a provider is subpoenaed, there is a good chance the user would not even be notified, Stephens said, resulting in their personal data being released with no questions asked.

“These third-party companies have no interest in protecting your data, because defending it would cost them money,” Stephens said.

Service interruptions are another major drawback to allowing an outside company to store your files, according to Stephens.

“The cloud is coming for you whether you like or not,” wrote Jason Perlow, Senior Technology Editor for ZDNet, in a recent article on the site. “Powerful workstations, PC desktops, and even heavy-duty laptops are going to make way for thinner, lighter ultrabooks and tablets.”

And while it could be several years before the majority of corporations make the switch to cloud computing it is simply a matter of time, Perlow said, before the cloud becomes the new normal.

But despite the trend, privacy experts like Stephens aren’t buying into the technology.

“We advise consumers and businesses against the use of cloud computing,” Stephens told RIA Novosti.

But for users who want to make the transition, Stephens offers two pieces of advice: reading closely over the cloud service provider’s privacy policy and back up everything.

“Anything that is mission essential, you should have at least two sources to access that information,” he said.

 

© RIA Novosti