When I recently arrived at Sinna Dorai, a tea estate bungalow of Parrys perched atop the estate’s highest point, the clouds that hung in there seemed like massive cotton balls glinting under the shimmering sun. In an instant, the beautiful emerald blue sky that was bewitchingly sublime turned tar-black as more clouds began gathering. Then an eerie caterwauling sound filled the air, whipping the wind into a frenzy, and a splatter of rain began drumming my window as it gradually settled down to a pitter-patter. Like the clouds in the natural world, we have clouds in the digital world. Clouds in the natural world bring gifts to a farmer and put a smile on his face; conversely, they could also be churlish and Kraken-cruel and cough out gallons of water to flood the fields, overrun the dams and swell the rivers. How does the digital cloud compare to the natural cloud? What does cloud computing entail? Does it have a silver lining?
Cloud computing is a technology that delivers services through the Internet, including data storage, software, servers, databases, and networking. Cloud-based storage saves files to a remote database. For instance, Google Cloud is a suite of public cloud services delivered by Google.
Cloud computing, like the clouds in the natural world, offers a variety of benefits. Cloud computing spares the users of unscheduled software updates, frees up computer space, reduces maintenance woes, and saves time, liberating the administrator to focus on more strategic tasks. Companies don’t need to buy software anymore as they can avail it on rent from the cloud. Daily activities of life such as banking, Media Streaming, email and e-commerce all use the Cloud. Netflix is an illustration of a company using the cloud.
Clouds can protect data from natural disasters, failure of electricity, and other catastrophes. The cloud ensures that the data gets backed up and secures it in a safe location. The ability to re-access the data helps organisations conduct business, as usual, by reducing downtime and loss of productivity.
The most crucial benefit of the Cloud is the flexible ease of storage and release of data as per the user’s needs. The other benefits that accrue to companies from cloud computing are decreasing costs and better efficiency. Over 90 per cent of all businesses witnessed at least one area of improvement in their IT department after they migrated to the cloud. Small to medium companies that adopted the cloud experienced a 40 per cent increase in earnings after a year compared to those that did not use the cloud.
Besides the advantages mentioned above, the Cloud has several downsides. For instance, Google stores our email and Google docs; Dropbox stores our documents while Facebook and Instagram our images, and our mobile phones automatically upload data to the Cloud. The accumulation of millions of gigabytes of data on the Cloud means that our personal information gets stored not just in our hard drives but also on cloud-based servers, implying that by putting all the jewels in one box, we seem to have prevented the need for the hackers/criminals to target individual hard drives and instead granted them an opportunity to loot the entire treasure in one attack.
Third, transnational interconnections and endless warehousing of enormous amounts of data mean data leaks are inescapable. In 2008, a military contractor from Maryland, USA, who wanted to listen to pirated music by downloading P2P sharing software accidentally installed the program in the wrong directory because of which the design and security features of the president’s Sikorsky VH-3D helicopter got leaked, ending up on a P2P network in Iran. A military contractor’s desire to listen to pirated music caused a billion-dollar military project to get jeopardised.
Besides, most users who upload the data to the Cloud have no clue where their uploaded data, like pictures on Facebook, Instagram etc., is getting stored and in which part of the real world. Our deep dependence on Cloud-based services and nonlocal data storage could prove risky when the services go down, or if there is a denial of service attack, when we may not be able to access data. Cloud computing services need a secure internet connection and also gobble up a great deal of electricity.
Data breaches remain a critical issue in Cloud Computing; major cloud service providers like Microsoft, Google, Dropbox etc., have experienced breaches in which data such as credit card information, email addresses, mobile numbers got stolen. Data of several thousand businesses stored in the cloud continue to be breached each year.
Data breaches have been occurring for individuals as well. On August 31, 2014, hackers posted an assortment of nude snapshots of various stars such as Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence on the anonymous image-sharing website 4chan. Relaxed security policies at Apple and Amazon helped hackers breach the Twitter, Google, and iCloud accounts of Mat Honan, a writer working for Wired magazine. The hackers remotely erased a year’s worth of personal memories stored on his iPad, iPhone and MacBook Pro. Hence, entrusting personal data, such as family photographs, to Cloud service providers has its risks.
According to a report by IBM Security and Ponemon Institute, in India, data breaches cost businesses about ₹165 million on an average, which is a rise of 17.85% from ₹140 million compared with the last report released in 2020. India witnessed the highest data breach during the pandemic because of a rapid shift to remote work. In 2021, the five most significant breaches in India were reported by Mobikwik, Juspay, Domino’s Pizza, Upstox and Air India.
— The writer is ADGP, Armed Police