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Cloud Computing – The Future is Here

Cloud Computing Business Safety - SPSCPA Los AngelesBut Is it Safe to Put Your Business in the Cloud?

No doubt many are unclear as to what “cloud computing” even means. A Wakefield Research survey revealed that 20% of respondents pretended to know more about cloud computing than they actually did and 60% suspected their colleagues were also feigning knowledge. Sounds like a modern variation on the old Emperor’s New Clothes fairytale.

So what is “the cloud”? At its essence, the cloud consists of computer servers connected via the internet that provide a platform for storing and retrieving data as well as running programs. If you’ve ever used Netflix, YouTube, Dropbox or online banking, you have accessed “the cloud.”

Large cloud service providers, such as Amazon and Microsoft, offer cloud solutions to all types of businesses. So instead of businesses buying servers, they “rent” space on these vast shared systems. The immediate advantage is the business doesn’t have to spend a lot of money on hardware or worry about maintaining them. Further, cloud services can usually upscale or shrink quite easily. Dropbox backup full? Press a button and rent additional space. In theory, that means efficiency and flexibility.

Though cloud computing is over a $100 billion a year business and growing, some fundamental doubts persist, mostly around security.

Experts are concerned that consumers and businesses don’t understand that cloud systems are vulnerable, especially when protected by just a user chosen password. A primary reason for concern isn’t that cloud services are poorly designed; the problem is those who use cloud services, humans, can be easily tricked.

For example, everyone’s received emails asking to click a link to win a prize or “confirm their password.” These emails look like they came from a bank or favorite store. But when clicking a link in these “phishing” emails, they end up with giving away their password or worse, a virus that sends personal information to online thieves. This can result in identity theft, unauthorized charges to credit cards and more.

We’ve all heard the warnings about the importance of picking secure passwords ad nauseam, but the problem is still rampant.

These non-secure passwords are easily “guessed” by sophisticated programs that hackers use to get at your personal or businesses data. If users don’t use passwords with both lower and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols (such as “@” or “%”) they’re putting themselves at significant risk.

Poor password security doesn’t only afflict individuals and small businesses; consider major retailer Target where intruders gained access (via a password breach) to 40 million customer credit and debit cards. According to BusinessWeek, lawsuits filed by customers and banks for negligence could cost them billions of dollars in damages. Additionally, Target’s profit for the 2013 holiday season fell 46 percent from the prior year.

What’s unique to “the cloud,” in terms of security, is a third party is responsible for much of your security. Yet, in the end, if there’s a data breach or loss, it’s your brand and reputation on the line. You must help protect yourself by carefully determining who has access to your account credentials while making the passwords you choose to protect your data truly secure.

Also consider what happens if your business data (or a lifetime of personal family pictures) backed up to the cloud simply disappears. It can happen, so do you have other backups? My (former) cloud backup provider “lost” dozens of voicemails I had saved from my Mother (who recently passed away). Thank goodness I had backed up these irreplaceable memories to an external hard drive as well. So don’t just run off putting all your eggs in one cloud, so to speak.

The cloud represents an amazing change in the way businesses and individuals work with computers, the Internet and each other. But we need to be mindful of what we are doing with it, and how cautious we are in safeguarding our business information, our personal memories and ourselves.

In the next issue of our newsletter we’ll discuss how SPS is safeguarding their data in the cloud.

Steven Laff, a 25-year SPS client, is Principal of the web development firm “A Far Site Better” They developed SPS’s current (and forthcoming) websites as well as these quarterly newsletters.

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