Cloud computing has always been a hot topic on FiST Chat and now Steve Wozniak has come out and said “I really worry about everything going to the cloud, I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.”
If Mat Honan’s must read story is anything to go by, the horrible problems have already arrived. By exploiting severe deficiencies in both Apple and Amazon’s customer service systems, hackers were able to wipe his phone and laptop and ultimately to take control of Honan’s twitter account. In the process, irreplaceable personal files, images and memories were wiped forever.
Interestingly Honan, accepted some of the blame for this happening to him. He hadn’t backed up the deleted files and hadn’t employed Google’s two factor identification system. Now that might be a fair call for someone who is professionally engaged with technology. But it seems a little unfair for those trusting folk who just want a device that works. After all those who “sell” the cloud promise to take care of back-ups and security for you. As for the Google account, well lesson learned, but should we let the two customer service centers that actively assisted the hacker get off that easily?
In ten years we have moved from a society afraid of putting any personal details online, to one where we put everything about ourselves out there. If it is your personal choice to do so, fine. But what our big brother tech companies fail to explain properly is that in using the cloud your data is only kept as safe and secure as their security protocols allow. You can blame yourself for not backing up a hard drive, but what do you do if the cloud loses your private data? What recourse do you have if the cloud gives up your private data to others, or worse still allows others access to your accounts? The answer is nothing. Moral outrage and circumspection will not right these wrongs.
The tension point in all of this revolves around the corporate business plans of the cloud service providers. The purpose of the cloud is to create a gated online community that ties its inhabitants to one electronic ecosystem. Everything is virtual, the corporation owns the system, the software and your data, consumers own nothing except an access device. Apple, Microsoft and Google have made it clear they want to put an end to the era of personal computing, and are actively encouraging customers to move toward their cloud based services.
But in this brave new world there have been plenty of blue sky promises without any guarantees. If for whatever reason your data is wiped there is no way to get it back. If your identity is stolen, what then? There is no law that can protect you from, or reverse the damage done through accidental or malicious means. And because your files are in the cloud, technically you are unable to take measures to protect your own data. Unless the security breach is obvious or visible in the public domain, you may never even know someone is data mining you.
So perhaps we are all lucky that Mat Honan is a journalist with good networks and excellent communication skills. As a result his story has been spread through the online community and the security flaws in this instance exposed. Apple and Amazon might not admit their failures, but they will now undoubtedly fix them. But what if Mat had just been an ordinary individual, not so well connected and unable to get his story heard? Judging by the responses from the corporations who allegedly allowed the breach, it might be fair to say they would have simply denied responsibility and then promptly ignored him.
Without question, this is the real issue central to cloud computing and the storage of personal data within it. In a society that is becoming more and more dependent on cloud services, there is no framework, security or governance for users other than the business plan of the corporation providing those services. And while we may now be wary of the threat hacking poses, there are many other permutations in the cloud scenario that could lead to horrible problems. Like someone on the inside, leaving the door to the cloud open and user’s accounts exposed. Or the old chestnut, where your account to the cloud is deleted due to a technical error, and they won’t let you back in, because they have no record you exist.
It’s a worry that what should be an exciting technological development could so easily become a science fiction horror story. If we are to avoid the "horrible problems", predicted by Woz, then Mat Honan’s experience should serve as a timely reminder for us all.
Watch FiST Chat 81: Cloud Insecurity for more on this topic.