Hacking the cloud

Dropbox is a widely used file and folder synchronisation tool which can also be used to share files with others.

I’ve never been a fan of Dropbox and my advice has always been not use this software. Issues with who owns the data and who can access it have always made me very reluctant to install and use it. Dropbox says that you own the data on their servers. However, they own and know the encryption keys used to secure your data from others but not from Dropbox and Amazon employees, Dropbox uses Amazon S3 to store your data.

SpiderOak is a better option. It uses some clever encryption so that ONLY you have access to decrypt your files, SpiderOak can never open, read or modify your data. There are some other advantages too, you can synchronise any folder on your computer even on external hard drives, unlike Dropbox which uses it’s own folder on your computer. Best of all, if you want more than the free services SpiderOak is cheaper than Dropbox.

Computing is clearly heading towards “cloud” based processes. Larry Ellinson trademarked the “Network Computer” in the mid 1990s and the idea is the same as today’s “cloud”. It makes a lot of sense to store all your stuff on bomb-proof servers that someone else maintains, updates and distributes to your various other computers and devices at home or in work. Your bits and bytes are all stored in the “cloud”, as they get bigger you can expand the amount of storage you use much quicker than buying a new hard drive. No need to worry about losing your data or having it stolen, someone else takes care of all that. And that appears to be the problem.

What if we all store ALL of our stuff in the cloud and then the hackers get in? The hackers have got away with data from big computer companies that we have trusted, we expected them to be safe and secure, PlayStation and Sony were hacked, even NATO has been hacked. Why would anyone think anywhere “out there” is safe and secure? The latest news about the hacking of PayPal’s Twitter account makes this even clearer, almost as if the hackers can get in to everything, they just haven’t told us.

There is always someone cleverer than you who can defeat your security systems just because they feel like it or want to make a point. Holding your hard drive in your hand still ‘feels’ like the safest way to store your pictures, movies, music, spreadsheets etc. Apple users can hope that iCloud will solve all these problems, but trust and confidence in any so-called safe systems must be on the wane right now.

Give yourself a break and consider how you can keep hold of your data, or just don’t care.

Update 02/08/11: Latest hacked site the Sun tabloid newspaper

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