Cloud Computing brings privacy concerns, consumer confusion, business opportunities

By: Lee Rickwood

December 1, 2011

By Lee Rickwood

It may be one of the hottest tech topics today, but it is also a metaphor for things unknown, unseen or uncertain.

Cloudy vision is not regarded as such a great asset; cloud computing is seen as a terrific opportunity for computer users and  service providers alike.


Cloud computing needs to be better understood by users if its benefits are to be realized

Yet, based on the results of a recent survey, Canadian businesses are unclear about cloud computing, what it is and what it might do for them.

At its most basic, the cloud is a service, not a product.

The cloud is built around a collection  of computers, all networked together, that can provide data processing, management and storage services – for anything from personal photos to crucial corporate documents, for anyone from individual users to huge institutional client groups.

The idea is that the cloud can reduce costs (sharing a server, not buying one outright), improve performance (by shifting maintenance and downtime concerns to an outside service provider) and increase flexibility (by contracting for just the computational  services required, even on an ad-hoc or per-project basis).

Cloud solutions can be public or private, and customers can have a hybrid approach to selecting services when and where they make the most sense. A private cloud can be managed in-house or by a third party, with data hosted on- or off-site. The public cloud is built on an infrastructure made available to the general public or a large industry group, and is owned by a vendor providing cloud services.

Because the ‘cloud’ can refer to a wide variety of services, it is not surprising that there is some cloudiness about it, agrees  John Weigelt, National Technology Officer for Microsoft Canada.“The market is rife with misinformation and myths surrounding cloud computing, and Canadian businesses are losing out as a result,” he told attendees at a cloud computing information session held in Toronto recently.

cloud session photo

Cloud computing challenges and opportunities were discussed at a recent industry event hosted by Microsoft.

High Profile Disruptions

The cloud survey, conducted by Leger Marketing for Microsoft Canada and released at the event, polled Canadian C-level executives across all industry sectors.

It found that 19 per cent of those who indicated they are not currently using cloud services were, in fact, already leveraging cloud computing solutions and services (like Web apps, e-mail and Office admin type services, online file storage and data archiving, among others.

Using a sophisticated technology without even knowing is not a good sign.

Yes, the survey indicated security and privacy are the two reasons most often cited as a barrier to entry into cloud computing.

That is not surprising; if you do not know you are using a door, you are likely to  leave it open. Through neglect or lack of awareness.

And there have been some high profile disruptions of  cloud-based services, too, and that can help spread concern and reticence about  using the new service.

It may be accidental, like the Amazon and Microsoft  servers in the cloud that were knocked off-line by lighting strikes near Dublin. Or the breaches can be much more sinister, as hackers take direct aim at big commercial targets like Google and Sony.

Such targeting will only grow, as more data and more  value are put into the cloud. And that’s whether the user has good cloud knowledge or not!

So, it is incumbent on both the users and the providers of cloud related products to increase awareness and understanding of the service, and infrastructure on which it depends.

 Clarifying Cloud Security

Ontario's Privacy Commissioner

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian, speaking at the cloud security event, has been honoured for her work in privacy and security online.

She’s been called one of the country’s most influential and most powerful women, and she will need every ounce of that influence and power in her efforts to embed privacy and security alike into new technologies, be they in the hand, in the home, or in the cloud.

Cloud computing in the public or private sector is risky and costly enough; couple that with cyber espionage activities in military or government domains, and a volatile combination arises that is a costly drain on the finances and competitiveness of companies and countries worldwide.

So it is not surprising that Commissioner Cavoukian’s proactive and innovative work in the protection of privacy has drawn international attention.

One initiative, called Privacy by Design, seeks to ensure that privacy is embedded into new technologies and business practices, right from the outset.

International data protection and privacy commissioners passed an important resolution recognizing the concept of Privacy by Design  as an “essential component of fundamental privacy protection.”

The resolution, co-sponsored by Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and Commissioners from Berlin, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, and Estonia, also:

  • Encourages the adoption of the principles of Privacy
    by Design
    as part of an organization’s default mode of operation; and
  • Invites Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners
    to promote Privacy by Design, foster the incorporation of its
    Foundational Principles in privacy policy and legislation in their respective
    jurisdictions, and encourage research into Privacy by Design.

“With proper privacy protections designed into the system from the very beginning of its lifecycle, and integrated at every system layer, businesses can gain the huge financial and competitive advantages  of cloud and ensure security,”  Dr. Cavoukian said at the industry event.

More broadly, the industry-based Cloud  Security Alliance (CSA) says it is just about ready to launch a free, publicly accessible registry that documents the security controls provided by various cloud computing offerings.

The new initiative, called the CSA Security, Trust & Assurance Registry (STAR), is intended to encourage transparency of security practices within cloud providers. CSA STAR says it will be online in Q4 of 2011.

As well, at the upcoming 13th Annual Privacy and Security Conference, to be held in Victoria, BC next February, cloud security and privacy in the age of digital revolution will be explored in several information privacy and security sessions.

Story submitted by Lee  Rickwood; cloud session photo by Gadjo Cardenas  Sevilla.

*  * *

So,  what’s your tech?

Is your head in the clouds? How about your data?

Do  you have questions about the how and why cloud computing?

For more information about Privacy by Design, you can check out these stories:

1 comment

    Ottawa Reader

    With all the Cloud talk, how come I haven’t read anything about the costs for me to access this Cloud. Right now, my Internet service allows me 25Gigs of downloading information. I go over that mark, and the fees skyrocket to 2.50$ every extra gig. So, if I want to back up my information that’s on my PC and my music that I have already downloaded, I have to send all that information there, and then back again if I lose it. Doubling the cost of storage. I haven’t even streamed a movie from Netflix, I haven’t downloaded a song from iTunes or even access my facebook page. While Cloud seems inevitable, Internet providers better help us out by eliminating the cap.

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