Is My Data Safer In The Cloud Or On My Home PC?
Disclaimer: I do not work for any cloud-based company. I do not stand to benefit (at least not at the moment) by pushing people to store their data in the cloud. I’m also no expert on cloud computing, I’m just a somewhat techie guy thinking out loud.
My wife uses Microsoft Money for our finances. She uses an old copy of it on her PC. Microsoft doesn’t make the software anymore. They don’t support the software. But people still use it, because it’s actually pretty good software. I’ve suggested she convert to using Mint, or something cloud-based, but she’s uncomfortable with the idea of storing all our financial data, including data to access all our bank accounts, with some website. From her perspective it’s safer to have that data on her home PC, rather than out there in the cloud. You might feel the same way about storing family photos, usernames and passwords, sensitive financial data, contracts, and more online. I know the feeling. Intuitively, it seems safer to have it on your own computer, in your own house. It seems this is a safer way to make sure your data doesn’t accidentally get lost, and that nefarious types don’t gain access to it. I’ve never thought this all the way through, but let’s ask some questions and think it through together:
1. Q: How hard is it for a hacker to gain access to your home computer?
A: Very easy. Trojans, spyware, viruses, etc. can get on your computer an expose everything on it to a hacker. It has probably already happened to you. If a hacker really wanted your information, it would be a piece of cake. This is why the IRS doesn’t allow their employees’ computers to be connected to the Internet. Not at all. There is only one way to guarantee security from hackers, and that is to disconnect a computer from any network, including the Internet, and never connect it.
2. Q: How hard is it for a hacker to gain access to a major data center?
A: Quite difficult. Does it happen once in awhile? Sure. But it’s a lot harder for a hacker to get into a data center managed by Amazon or Google than it is to write a trojan that gives them access to 10 million home PCs where it can scan for bank accounts and credit cards and automatically send them back to the hacker. Data centers have an incredible incentive to keep data safe and they spend millions, even billions, on security. You probably have a $30 piece of home PC security software and it’s probably not configured correctly.
3. Q: What is the likelihood of data loss on your home computer due to a user-initiated accident or hardware failure?
A: It happens all the time. And do you have everything backed up? Is it easy to access? Do you even know how to restore from a backup? Would you even necessarily know if you lost some data until you went looking for it?
4. Q: What is the likelihood of data loss in a major data center?
A: Very small. Data centers spend millions or billions to make sure data loss never happens because it can cost them millions or billions if it ever does. Everything is backed up. Everything is redundant. The chances of you losing data are minuscule and are shrinking every day as data centers add more redundancy and layers of security with better and better technology.
Another way to look at it is to ask yourself whether you’re a top notch computer security and backup expert and if you’ve built redundancy into your home systems. Probably not. And even if you are, it’s still debatable as to whether your data would be more secure or safe at home than in a data center. After all, you’re just one person. Amazon and Google have scores of engineers working 24/7 to keep your data safe and accessible.
It seems the reason we feel uncomfortable about storing our data on the cloud is partly due to the word “cloud”. It sounds like we’re sending our data to an ethereal place in the sky where anyone flying along could look at it or grab it, or it could be blown away by a wisp of wind. Data centers are more like impregnable fortresses with armored genius ninjas defending your data with lasers (learn about Google’s data centers).
It also seems as though when we’re storing something on the cloud, we’re putting it out in a public place, as though it’s in the middle of the street downtown. Truth is, if you’re computer is connected to the Internet, that is much more public than a data center.
You as an individual simply do not have the time, money, ability, or incentive to keep your data as safe as cloud companies do. It seems to me the most unsecure way to save your data is on your home PC, rather than in the cloud. Granted, no system is perfect. You could store your data with Google and lose it all. It’s merely a matter of whether that’s more likely to happen than that you’ll lose it while it’s on your home PC. In my mind, it seems 1000 times safer to depend on the cloud. My data therefore becomes accessible from any computer, virtually immune to natural disasters and hackers, and I get to use the latest and greatest software without ever needing to install upgrades or maintain it.