Cloud Computing refers to the provision of web-based services, located on remote computers, that allow individuals and businesses to use software and hardware managed by third parties. This might include web based email, online file storage, social networking sites, and applications like word processing.
Your documents and emails can be accessed from anywhere that an internet connection is available. You could access your email from your personal smart phone, laptop, tablet, and computer or use your boss’ computer or public computer in a hotel, coffee shop, or library. Some of the information that you see in your email in the cloud might also be viewed by the next person who uses the same borrowed equipment including any printers that you may have used.
“Public Cloud" is made available to the general public and is owned by an organization selling cloud services.
“Private Cloud" is operated solely for an organization. It may be managed by the organization or a third party and may exist at the business location or at the managed services provider.
If you keep all your email in the cloud – who has access to it? What if it disappears? Do you keep local backups? What if you want to move your information to a different network provider or data hosting provider? Can you take your information with you? Will any information be left behind? You need to know the answers to these questions before you use the cloud service.
How much information do you keep in the cloud – just a few key pieces of contact information that you will need while you are travelling? Or everything? How often do you delete? It is tempting to keep years worth of emails – including the attachments – on your web email because you never seem to run out of space. The more information about you – and your friends, family, and business contacts – that are kept in the cloud increases the risk that it can be used without your permission.
You may be very good at not including personal information in the email and documents that you keep in the cloud – but what about the person who receives your email, adds to it, and sends it to someone else? It only takes one person to use your email address in the ‘to’ field rather than in the ‘bcc’ or hidden fields and then circulate it with a funny note to increase your risk to have your email identity used for spam, phishing, or social engineering.
Cloud computing can be helpful and cost effective – if you use it for the right purposes and are aware of your risks. Here is what you can do:
Change your default passwords to something you create! While we all hate to remember passwords it is the most basic step to make your information more secure than 60% of people who don’t bother to change their default password.
Be selective. Use reputable service providers. Minimize the amount of information that you view and store that is in someone else’s control.
‘Free’ isn’t always better. You often pay for what you get. If you pay – even a little – for a service with security measures (like computer and smart phone anti-virus and anti-spyware software) it is less likely that someone will take the time to figure out how to get into it without your permission.
Education. There are many good sources of information for you – and your children – that are easy, fun and informative. See Cyber Safe as an example.
For more information on Cloud Computing see the “Report on the 2010 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's Consultations on Online Tracking, Profiling and Targeting, and Cloud Computing”, May 2011.