10 March 2009
Security is not a switch
As always, the decision to use Google Docs or any other cloud service is not made by asking, “Do security dangers exist?” Rather, you should ask, “Is the mix of benefits and security risks for cloud computing more or less attractive than the mix of risks and benefits involved in keeping all of my files on my laptop?”
Keeping all of your files on your own storage media is attractive in several ways. You have complete control over your files, and you can’t lose them or lose control over access rights unless you make a mistake (fail to back-up your files, fail to encrypt your files, fail to prevent someone from stealing your hard disk, etc.).
But some mistakes are pretty tough to prevent. Consider the situation where you are typing on your laptop in a cafe, and someone grabs and dashes with your laptop. Suddenly, you’ve lost all the files you haven’t backed up, and you’ve lost control over everything you haven’t encrypted.
Floating on a cloud
If you had been working on one document among many that is hosted in a cloud, the dasher would probably just get access to whatever he could click on in the time it would take you to change the password to your account. (That seems true as long as the website in question requires the old password to by typed in before a new password can be created.) Not a great position to be in, but cloud computing comes off looking okay, especially if you aren’t the type who encrypts every file stored on his hard drive (and who is?).
The tradeoff is that you have to trust that the cloud computing company is better at backing up your files and preventing unwanted access than you would be. But what happens when their servers get hacked, a disgruntled employee sabotages data, the company gets acquired, or the company goes out of business? Your data in each of those situations is in danger.
It will be interesting to see how cloud computing develops and how popular it becomes. So far, it seems that most people prefer to keep important files on their own computers, but that may change.
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