Cloud storage first developed from the late 1960s notion of an “intergalactic computer network” that was a twinkle in the eye of one of the founders of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). It really got off the ground in the late 1990s – early 2000s when companies including Salesforce and Amazon began providing options for cloud-based storage, enterprise application delivery, and computation. Put simply, cloud storage is a model of data storage where digital data is stored on remote servers which a user can access from the Internet or other network service. There are both public and private options: private cloud storage is typically isolated to one company, and allows a customized level of security; public cloud storage means shared storage in the provider’s data center of your choice (i.e., Google, Apple, Amazon, etc.) and you are not responsible for general maintenance. Cloud storage is one option amongst many, though it has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Other options include offline detachable storage (external hard drives) and onsite servers.
Cloudy days are on the rise, however, as cloud storage offers a wide variety of benefits over more conventional methods of data storage, such as increased bandwidth (allowing for faster upload and download speeds), the potential for large cost savings, and better manageability. However, there are still points of vulnerability, including data breaches, account hijacking and insecure software applications. It is important to understand the risks and rewards, as more and more cloud storage options surface at cheaper and cheaper rates.
While there are obviously many upsides to cloud storage, especially as the supportive technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, risks remain. Neither public nor private cloud systems are infallible, and there are points of vulnerability for each. Depending on the business model, both public and private cloud systems are both offering more accessible and flexible ways of controlling and operating large digital data sets – for many companies, cloud computing is simply not optional anymore.
Regardless of how much negotiation takes place, public clouds can still be hacked. Recently, Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing resources were reported to have been exploited by hackers attempting to mine for bitcoins. This is a rare occurrence, but not an isolated incident. There are security measures and procedures that should be understood and instituted in a proactive manner. Besides reviewing firewall, VPN, encryption, and security operations center (SOC) options, each company that utilizes a public cloud should strategize incident response, business continuity, and backup plans.
Part of the appeal of cloud-based storage is the accessibility of backups. While every cloud system is different, and can be customized, backups are one of the most important uses of such systems. Both for personal and professional use, including as an evidentiary source in litigation, cloud systems provide an alternative or additional backup source. iCloud is a very popular cloud-based storage system that is provided by Apple, with over 782 million users worldwide. Using it as a case study, we can better understand the capabilities of such systems. Here is a screen shot of a typical iCloud configuration page:
An iCloud backup can include:
- App data
- Apple Watch backups
- Call history
- Device settings
- HomeKit configuration
- Home screen and app organization
- iMessage, text (SMS), and MMS messages
- Photos and videos on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch1
- Purchase history from Apple services, like your music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books2
- Visual Voicemail password (requires the SIM card that was in use during backup)
By default, all application data will be backed up to the iCloud. Users can manage which applications are backed up by going to Settings > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups. Related to security, iCloud accounts can be protected by dual factor authentication and end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption protects with a key derived from information unique to your device, combined with your device passcode. A variety of features (and their corresponding data) are stored in iCloud using end-to-end encryption, including iCloud Keychain (which holds all of your saved accounts and passwords), saved payment information, Wi-Fi network information, and Siri information: