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Security of cloud storage services is in question after a recent high profile iCloud account hacking lead to the remote wipe of several Apple devices.
Tech bloggers everywhere checked their passwords this weekend as wind of what happened to Gizmodo reporter Mat Honan spread across the Internet. Within about ten minutes on Friday evening, the journalist had all of his iDevices wiped remotely by a hacker who obtained access to Honan’s iCloud account via social engineering. With help from Apple employees after the incident was somewhat resolved, it was determined that the hacker had called Apple tech support and although his or her method wasn’t specified, Honan’s personal blog update said that this hacker spoke with the tech support representatives in way that allowed him or her access to the account without having to answer any security questions.
Most likely due to his connections with Gizmodo (a popular tech blogging site), Twitter, Apple, and Google all put dedicated support on his problem and at the time of the last update, were working hard to try and recover his data. I would be surprised if a less well-connected user who underwent the same loss of data and invasion into their accounts would get such timely and upper-level support.
So what then? Should everyone stop trusting cloud storage services like Dropbox or iCloud? Probably not, but there are a few things people should be aware of as they sign up for these services and use them as extensively as they would use a limb.
First and foremost, had Honan performed regular backups of his data, this wouldn’t have been such a personal disaster for him (i.e. losing at least a year’s worth of pictures, videos, documents, etc.). They’re often neglected and put off for later, but if you want to keep your data, back it up regularly. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20 and by his own admission, he’s silly to not have backed up his data. Regardless, his accounts still would’ve been violated, but having a backup would’ve helped in the aftermath.
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Secondly, the bottom line when putting your personal files in a cloud storage service is that that you’re giving up direct control of your data. In the past, people have cited insecurities in the cloud as the reason not to give up control of your data, but that isn’t a factor so much with the cloud nowadays. No, the real concern isn’t with security technology itself but companies’ processes and policies in protecting your data. There was obviously some kind of work around within Apple’s policies, and Dropbox has acknowledged that there were security breaches in its service due to how user information was stored and how many employees had access to it.
The final thing to note is that the biggest security liability is always people. Even though Apple might have a loophole in getting out of answering security questions, the bottom line was that the hacker had to talk to someone, and that someone let a hacker pretending to be Honan into Honan’s account. One of the most notorious hacker’s in the world (who is now doing consultation work to improve security for others), Kevin Mitnick, is always adamant that the easiest way to hack into just about anything is by leaning on an actual person with access or the ability to grant access to an account. And of course, every corporation has to depend on its own employees to not take data for their own gain or agendas.
GigaOM sagely points out that even if most people wanted to extract themselves from whatever cloud storage solution they’re currently using, they couldn’t. It proves too valuable too much of the time to simply abandon. However, it’s worthwhile to note the extent that we’re trusting cloud storage service providers so we’re aware of the worst case scenario, which is exactly what Mat Honan experienced over the weekend. Consumer solutions like this will always be less secure than enterprise cloud solutions like cloud hosting which is as secure as any other hosting solution or implementation.
If you’d like to learn more about the recent cloud storage wars, check out our blog post titled just that, which summarizes all the different offerings from the most popular cloud storage services available today.