Friday, April 30, 2010

What You Should Know Before Entrusting Your Data to the Cloud

Cloud computing or Software as a Service (SaaS) is the process of using the internet to warehouse data and information rather than on on-site hardware and software. In what is becoming an ever increasingly popular choice for both individuals and businesses alike, we wanted to point out some of the risks involved with choosing to store your data in the cloud. While moving to SaaS reduces the amount of hardware and software you need to purchase and maintain, as well as provides a lower operational cost; you may end up paying in another way altogether.

The most common risks involved in cloud computing include difficult customization, loss of data, and most of all lack of proper security.

Customization Challenges
Most cloud vendors only provide one version of an application to multiple end-users. If your business requires something specific in the way of data input, reporting, or in-depth analysis to meet regulatory compliance, it may not be the best answer for your organization. Unlike on-site software which can be customized to work with your business, cloud servers take more of a one size fits all approach. With every company having its own processes and requirements it is impossible for the off-site application to cater to everyone. And unfortunately, unless many companies are asking for the same thing – it is unlikely that the vendor will implement a change to meet the need.

Data Loss
Once you move your data out of your own hands and into someone else’s you are encountering risks in two areas:

  1. While some cloud application providers will tell you that you can get your data back out should you decide to move it back on-site at some point in the future – this may not be the case. Over time, many cloud subscribers find that the service provider has taken ownership of their data and processes and getting the information back out can be much more difficult than previously anticipated. This could stick your company with an application that isn’t working well, and that may not be the most efficient answer for your company – forcing you to allocate unexpected time and resources in order to continue to remain operational.

  2. Doing business in the cloud also puts your organization at risk of the possible deletion or alteration of records without backups to restore the data. When you are not in physical control of the data you have no way to ensure its recoverability should something go wrong with the service provider.

Lack of proper security is the biggest threat your company faces in the cloud. Four of the main areas where security is threatened include:

  1. System Infrastructure. Due to the use of a multi-tenant architecture, users are at risk of guest operating systems gaining unwanted control or influence of their platform. Not all cloud applications maintain strong compartmentalization of accounts to ensure that individual customers are not impacting the operations of others.

  2. Service provider employees. There is no rule that states a cloud service provider must share their hiring practices or employee access policies with subscribers. This opens you up to access into your system from unknown and unwanted intrusions from people you wouldn’t want in your system.

  3. Spam, phishing and fraud. Unfortunately, any internet activity will put you in danger of being the victim of a spammer or malicious code writer. Unfortunately in the cloud this is increased. Passwords are not usually as secure as they could be and there are many ways for an attacker to determine the passwords of your company and its employees. This leaves you vulnerable to exploitation, data manipulation, and more. To make matters worse some cloud service providers offer an anonymous registration process allowing anyone with a credit card number to get up and running. This increases the threat from spammers and criminals to businesses on the same service.

Ultimately if you are looking for more efficient ways to run your business and cut costs, be sure to fully research any possible options before making a decision. Protecting your company’s data should be of the utmost importance, and doing business in the cloud may or may not be right for you.


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