Keeping Safe with Cloud Hosting

By on November 28, 2012

Cloud technology is taking us by storm, whether you like it or not. Apple are working hard to convert their entire customer base into avid iCloud users (it is only a matter of time until your computer, tablet and smartphone are cloud- connected), Google’s operating system is cloud-based in its entirety, and Windows 8, due later this year, is the most cloud- focused operating system to date, laying much stress on SkyDrive and its integration with Hotmail and various social networking sites. Whilst this new technology makes it easier to access information, share files, perform remote operations, and back up data regularly, we may be facing a new reality in which cloud hosting has dangers as well as benefits – where our highly coveted documents, contacts, and other personal data may not always be as safe as we think them to be.

Take the recent case of Mat Honan, a former Gizmodo reporter who fell victim to a cloud-hacking operation when his daisy-chained web of accounts was snatched by highly adept pranksters, motivated by nothing more than provoking his anger and that of his Twitter entourage. Within the space of an hour his Google account was deleted, his Twitter account defaced by racist messages, and his iCloud broken into, resulting in a remote wipe-out of all the data on his iPhone, iPad, and MacBook. Honan lost all his work, as well as his entire list of contacts, who were now at the hacker’s disposal.

Whilst uncommon, an operation at such level is extremely alarming. To say none of us would want to be in Honan’s shoes would be an understatement. How should we, then, keep safe when using cloud-hosted accounts? A few tips may help:

First, keep your accounts separate. Emails, phone numbers, photos, and other personal information do not need to co-exist on one interconnected account.

Second, backup, backup, backup – not only within the cloud (admittedly a mistake made by Honan), but also outside it, as hackers cannot target information stored on a drive in a secret location.

Third, use the two-factor authentication for email accounts. The greater variety of detail required to access your personal data, the harder your account will be to break into.

Fourth, be extremely careful with your Apple ID, and the amount of control you assign to it – an All-In–One isn’t always the ideal option.

We can find further reassurance in the aftermath of Honan’s case. Investigations by Apple and Amazon reveal that the hacker used both companies’ telephone support to obtain sketchy pieces of information about Honan (such as his billing address and partial credit card details). In each phone call the hacker acquired more data, allowing him to move on to the next step of his operation.

Apple ultimately conceded that some of their basic operations and policies ‘were not followed completely’, and that stronger measures will be taken to protect their customers’ valuable data. Similar encouraging news came from Amazon, who announced similar actions to ‘close security gaps’ in their service.

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