Cloud Computing – Truth or Dare?

Dilbert Lost Cloud

Dilbert - Lost Cloud

This week, I received three calls asking me about some new tech. Eventually, all three questions boiled down to one thing: Cloud computing. Food for Thought. I started a blog to address it, when I found I addressed this two years ago in Cloud vs. Security. And the Internet of Things.

Then I got some input about conferences where speakers promoted the need for exchanging data. An issue I addressed as “Open Data” in the same article two years ago.

Same topics obviously resurfacing, but nothing new? So here’s an “update”.

Recent Airline IT Failures

Just to mention recent developments, the first needing mentioning: The latest large IT outages causing thousands of flights to be cancelled were attributed to failures of minor cloud systems, cascading into disaster causing the aviation IT systems to fail, leaving thousands of passengers stranded – not good for reputation.

The CIO of two airlines admitted that their main headaches result from such “SaaS” (Software as a Service), being not controlled by their company. But by some external IT experts who often do not understand the real-world impact of their “ideas”. And lousy interfaces of such “solutions”. Cheap to buy, expensive to manage.

Voice Assistants

Virtuoz Virtual AssistantAnother development is the “voice assistants” at home. To give the example of Alexa. As you know, my beloved daughter is called Alexsandra, so if I would use such device it would listen in, as soon as someone addresses her. Also the Echo Dot alternatives of “Amazon”, “Echo” and “Computer” are not much safer. And meanwhile, press reported how extensive Google, Amazon and others use “their” devices not to just provide a service, but filing your commands and conversations for analysis. An intrusion to my privacy causing me to caution and not buying into them.
Aside, my Android phone has been set up to not react to voice activation, but I found it to react and switch on voice recognition without my doing. I did like Siri and now Android’s voice recognition to send messages from the car to home. But not on voice activation. I do want some privacy left.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Voice Assistants. My friend Alex developed the first Internet Assistants at his company VirtuOz, later sold to Nuance. His next project WIT.ai was about voice recognition and later acquired by Facebook, the basis for their solutions. What I am concerned about is simply the privacy invasion, if those tools file away my communication for unspecified further use. I may talk about confidential issues.

To make it worse, there have been, are and will be attempts – and successes – by governments to access i.e. Alexa and her companions. Privacy? I’m not a criminal, but no, I do quite some thinks to secure my private life. 1984 anyone?

Alternative Cloud

Aside having my “own” Internetserver, I use Nextcloud for two years now (thanks Jens!). To use it properly, like Dropbox, Google, Apple or Microsoft, you need a client program that integrates into your file manager (i.e. the Microsoft Explorer). I neither trust Dropbox not the others (except on encrypted storage), we’ve all learned from Edward Snowden.

In the end, it is a trust thing. I trust my friend who maintains “my server”. Totally. My family trusts me that I have other things to do than sneaking into their mailboxes or files they have in their own Nextcloud on my server.

Cloud Security

HackerMeanwhile and especially with the current president who seems to lack the moral values required for someone elected into such power, the “United States” in my opinion turn from friend to foe for Europe. Or at least someone who doesn’t care about our (common) well-being. Doing the wrong things for the wrong reason. Get me right. As everywhere there are good and bad people. Listen to Billy Joel’s Leningrad if you’re thinking different. And the Merkel-government is not any good either. From shining example for development and engineering, “Made in Germany”, we deteriorated into a “back midfield” in comparison to other states and sell out pioneering developments to China and America. And our corrupt government (it’s called “Lobbying”) strangles personal freedom with laws under the umbrella of “fighting terror”. But as I said about the U.S. – it is good to have a global sheriff, but I’m afraid what happens if the government changes and becomes “bad”. Do I entrust atomic warfare to someone like Trump? In honesty, I have more faith in Putin in that aspect than the lunatic in the White House.

So with governments applying the thumb screws on the IT industry, how save is your data in the cloud?

Privacy

Big Brother watches us and all governments (including the German) undermine privacy and invest heavily into technologies and change the laws to enable further invasion of privacy and inside your own four walls. You trade in convenience with privacy.

The DHS in it’s early days seized the computer of the top-level representative of a large European aircraft maker. In direct competition to date with that U.S. aircraft maker. When the manager denied giving the password, he ran into major trouble, missing his connecting flight. Not given a written confirmation that the content of his laptop wouldn’t make it to the U.S. competitor… That was “friendly” America – not Russia, where I never experienced “security issues”. My computer is secured, my data is not on the computer, only what I need enroute and that’s encrypted on the drive.

Summary

My personal summary is what my friends at ASRA called me paranoid upon my presentation 2007 (a dozen years ago). I am not, but careful. I am a public persona on the Internet. But thinking about governments hacking, falsifying and abusing data, who do I trust my data to? Think about the discussions about Huawei and 5G, do we trust them? If we would use encrypted data communication by default, Tor Browser, SSL, encrypted mails, Huawei would be a no-issue. But I still know too many companies first hand, not using contemporary anti-virus software on their mail servers and mail accounts. Trust Microsoft Onecloud? Apple, Dropbox? No, not really. Trust my own cloud? No, any system can be hacked. Can I protect myself 100%? No. But I can make it more difficult.

SaaS AssimilatedCommercially, I believe it a step back to use SaaS, which is another word for “cloud computing”. If you use SaaS, better be prepared and test what happens if the “outsider” provides corrupted data, what happens in case of a link failure – and recovery. Using different computer systems, often lousy connected increases the dependency on “others”. I can’t tell you, how often I was fighting with SaaS-companies to get access to my own data. Or how they imply that “their” data is always superior to anyone else. A-CDM anyone? CRM tools anyone? I am sure you can sing that tune along…

SaaS, Cloud is like a consultant. You use them in two situations. To cover something to complex and specialized needed for a short time that it does not make sense to develop your own know-how on it. Or to train your own to become better on such. Other issues can be to get an outside view – or to outsource blame or the risk of such. In all other cases, I strongly recommend to hire an employee. Hire software companies to provide a solution that fits your own “cloud”. Your IT environment. Use cloud to back up data into encrypted data vaults. But make sure, you have complete access to your information and raw data.

And don’t believe the SaaS-sales people when they tell you that you have all the access to your data. It’s their interest to fix you to their “environment”. And never let you off their hook. And “real time data integration” with other systems is in reality very low on their priority list. Again that question by SITA about the “source of the most common truth”. If data is in conflict most those SaaS, they assume that “naturally” they are right. And ATC, airline, ground handler, airport, government or whoever comes up with conflicting data is wrong…

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

Side note: I use a licensed Dilbert comic – for private and single use in a blog they charge $35 plus $10 “processing fee”, totaling to $45. I find that rather expensive and counterproductive, sorry that I don’t promote them…

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