Vertigo with the Cloud

Until 2010, I was working as a System, Network and Security engineer. Needless to say the upcoming promises of the "Cloud" were a huge excitement. Instead of worrying about hardware issues and scaling challenges with physical machines, I could focus on doing DevOps tasks instead. Instead of handling 600 large mailboxes (we're talking about an average of 10G per mailbox), a Cloud webapp could do it for me and there was no outage that I had to fix on Christmas day. Game changer.

However, I recall that because of the Patriot Act, our IT manager was more than annoyed to have our data hosted in the US and it would have been a deal-breaker. Key players in the industry quickly understood that to go after European customers, they'd have to work on having servers hosted in the EU. Whether we're talking about Amazon AWS, Microsoft Office 365 or Google webapps, they all have datacenters in Ireland to satisfy european customers demands. We now know that with the PRISM program, the NSA can spy on us pretty much anywhere in the world and in virtually any scenario. Nobody putting sensitive data in the Cloud can claim to be safe from this, in the US or elsewhere. Yet, we continue this madness by storing more data in our beloved Cloud everyday. I have to admit that I'm a Cloudaholic myself. From Gmail to Dropbox, the convenience of hosted web services is just too good to be ignored.

But it's not so much about corporate data that I'd want to talk here. Companies and governments can come up with data encryption, security policies (STAR, ISO 27001, SSAE 16...you name it) and can implement whatever security enforcement exists to date. What concerns me is what happened to our privacy? Or better put, how did we end up having this smiley face while giving up all our personal data to private companies that we know are gonna use them for commercial purposes, one way or another?

The last example that pissed me off is the shared endorsements that Google came up with (if you haven't yet, you should opt-out here). I'm not on Facebook, which means I must be a psychopath. All crazy that I am, I kinda liked the way Google+ managed your privacy with this Circles thingy and quickly got into it. But I will never ever accept they're putting my name or face in ads. If you really want to, offer me a compensation for me to consider, or else I'll say this is a violation of my private life. Plain and simple.

I guess this event was just the last straw that made me realize I needed to get back in control of my private data. It started a few months ago when I ditched Apple products for Linux and Android instead. Now it's becoming a predominant concern that I know I have to resolve. Do you know the story of the boiling frog? With the Cloud we're all frogs in boiling water, but we're not dead yet. 

I'm trying to find alternatives to online services I'm using today. Not an easy task, but it's good to at least think about it and determine how to change habits and get to a situation that would suit you more.

Email

Probably the most critical Cloud service. Whether its Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook.com you're using, it's safe to guess they're using your data for commercial use of some sort and deep social analytics. Aren't you sick of ads based on your web searches or text in your emails? I am, and I'm very intrigued by Mailpile since I've discovered their Indiegogo campaign. At the present time, the second choice would probably be FastMail. The fact that they've been part of Opera Software until recently is somewhat reassuring.

Browser

I really, really like Chrome. There's no need to bother about extensions in use, bookmarks and history, even when switching from one computer to another, or even a tablet. With this centralized Google account to sync your data, you're always productive and sure to never lose anything. But it's Google, and I don't like how they're using my data and all. Sure I could decide to NOT log in with my Google account when using Chrome (or use the incognito mode), but then, Chrome isn't so good, is it? So at this point I'm considering using either Firefox (again) or Opera.

Cloud storage

Who isn't yet using Dropbox? Seriously, this is the most awesome Cloud storage out there. It. Just. Works. Not good enough, I want better encryption if I'm storing financial information (well, I should never do that, right?) or other private data. I'm considering using SpiderOak again as I believe they have the best privacy policy out there.

Password management

I'm using LastPass and I'm a paid member. However, I've known from the start that storing all my passwords in the Cloud was wrong. They might have the best algorithms out there, it's never totally safe. Remember their security breach in 2011? I'm considering using KeePassX which will be way less convenient, but heh, everything comes at a price...

This is just a start but it means something. Wonder what you're using and if you have the same concerns?

Aurelien Navarre

Senior Technical Solutions Analyst @Acquia - Drupalist by day, DevOps by night.

Lyon, France