Hackers and Spooks in the Clouds

Following what people think about “the cloud” is fascinating.

Whether its public services moving wholesale to the cloud to cut costs, to a new survey finding that most IT professionals don’t trust its security, I love reading what people think.

The latest thought is John Harris’s article in the Guardian, “Why Hackers and Spooks Want Our Heads in the Cloud.”

In the article, he sounds a note of caution to the otherwise relentless enthusiasm for putting all our personal data on big companies’ servers, accessible from anywhere. One example is David Cameron suggesting in 2009 that our NHS records could be held in the cloud.

The article goes on to remind us how UK Uncut and student protestors used the cloud to organise often violent demonstrations.

But connectivity, like many other things, can be used for good or bad. What about Dropbox being used in the Japan earthquake recovery efforts? Don’t we all use Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with loved ones across the world? These are all cloud applications, all used to keep us connected.

As for NHS records, I remember the loose bundle of scribbled notes on my various ailments my childhood GP used to stuff in a rickety looking drawer in his office. I don’t remember seeing any security credentials.

The article’s message? Don’t trust big companies with your information. But wait – my electricity company has all my bank details. My mobile phone company knows exactly who I call, for how long, and how often. My cleaner even has a set of keys to my flat, meaning that theoretically, she could walk in while I’m watching Masterchef.

Am I naive for putting my trust in organisations like Npower and our cleaner, just because they can do a better job than me at providing electricity and ironing shirts? I couldn’t say for sure that nobody is snooping on my data, any more than I can be sure my bank doesn’t pass my spending habits to marketeers for digesting, or that my cleaner doesn’t secretly live in my flat while I’m on holiday.

Maybe they are not even comparable. But it’s worth remembering as we pay the gas bill online, buy a latte at Starbucks or send mum an update email, that putting our trust in other organisations to do stuff for us is something that, cloud or no cloud, every one of us does every single day.

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