What is the Cloud?

Posted on July 18th, by Cathy Olsen in Internet Safety, Technology Explained. No Comments



What is the cloud?

Are you too embarrassed at this point to ask, “What is the Cloud?”  Just like a Neighbor that moved in a year ago, it’s a little awkward to ask their name now.  Don’t worry it is never too late to learn!

The cloud is a computing service that is not tied to a physical device or server, but a network of server farms that can allocate resources appropriately.  Typically computing was restricted to a physical hard drive and a physical computer.  Now with cloud computing you can assign resources from a network of virtual machines to perform the same function.


Cloud Computing: The Las Vegas Metaphor

If you are visiting Las Vegas for a weekend, would you rather buy a second home or book a room in a large casino?

Well, the cost of a second home is a lot higher.  The size is always the same.  The resources are limited to your property and your only entertainment is to look into your neighbor’s backyard.  This is represents the old computing model, investing in your own physical server or computer.

What about a casino hotel room?  For a one weekend stay it can cost a lot less.  You can get an entry-level room or the penthouse suite.  The size is ‘SCALABLE’ or can change to fit your needs.  You have entertainment and restaurants that really can be very enticing.  This is the cloud computing model.  You can get the computing resources (CPU, memory, Internet Bandwidth) all for a fraction of the cost of maintaining a physical server.

Cloud Computing:  What is the security concern?

In cloud computing, you are losing control as to how your data is stored and transmitted.  Just like you have a lot more control of the passage of items and persons in your own home vs. in a hotel room.  Room service and housekeeping are great perks to staying in a hotel, but you are relying on hotel hiring and security procedures to trust those individuals who are allowed in your room.  The Cloud Computing model is a shared space and you are trusting that the infrastructure security measures are in place to make sure that ‘everyone’ plays nice.

Just like Las Vagas attracts a lot of illegal and nefarious activity, large cloud networks are a target for hackers.  You also may need to be worried about other users within the same cloud network.  What are their intentions?  Would they be able to elevate their privileges and ‘break into my room?’

Now to fully explain the definition of a virtual machine, imagine that you have a hotel room, within that hotel room there could be another hotel room (same size and function).  There could be endless hotel rooms within each other.  Your room may appear the same but will be moving on a constant basis. Woah!  Did you just get dizzy like in the movie ‘Inception?’  The important thing to remember is that the hotel is the cloud service which can be a shared environment and you are relying on their security controls to keep you safe.

Cloud Computing:  What should I do to protect myself?

  1. Have a strong password – Your password is your hotel room key.  If someone can hack or ‘guess’ your password and break into your account, they will be able to see and possibly steal all of your information.  Use at least 8 characters.  Change your password on a regular basis.  Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.  The more combinations you have in your password (capitalization, numbers, and special characters ‘@’ ‘!’) the harder it is to crack that password.
  2. EncryptionEncryption is the method of changing data values so that the stored data is not in a readable format.  If you are worried about an account getting hacked, employ your own encryption solution.  Use a .zip utility and encrypt it by adding a password to the file.  There are other tools such as SecretSync and DigitalQuick that can dynamically add a second level of encryption to files stored in the cloud.
  3. Be Careful What You Store – Dropbox is a great tool to share large picture or video files with friends and family.  However, without another encryption method in place, you should think twice before putting personal information in such a cloud service.  This would include tax documents, and other files that have your social security number, birthdate, account number, etc.

The Cloud is a great resource and we are using it in our daily life without even realizing it.  Just remember to have a strong password, encrypt sensitive files, and be careful about storing sensitive personal information in a cloud service.

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