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May 1, 2015

Does Cloud Computing Have a Silver Lining?

Image courtesy of (KROMKRATHOG) / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Unless you’ve been in hibernation the past few years, you have either heard of or are now using cloud computing. Users looking to save money are embracing it. IT pros and investors are looking to make money are plowing money into it. What you have to ask yourself is how can you use the cloud to line your pockets with silver? In today’s blog, we will look at the emergence of cloud computing as a way of both making and saving money.  We will also point out some of the movers and shakers in the industry, as well as identifying some well-heeled interlopers who are trying to rain on everybody’s parade.

Many believe cloud computing to be a relatively new technology.  The truth of the matter is that it has been around since the 1960s. A blog on computerweekly.com points out that: “The idea of an “intergalactic computer network” was introduced in the sixties by J.C.R. Lickliderwho was responsible for enabling the development of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1969. His vision was for everyone on the globe to be interconnected and accessing programs and data at any site, from anywhere, explained Margaret Lewis, product marketing director at AMD. “It is a vision that sounds a lot like what we are calling cloud computing.”

Courtesy of sysnet.uscd.edu

Courtesy of sysnet.uscd.edu

Many experts in the field believed that computing would inevitably be rendered as a kind of public utility. It wasn’t until 1999 that the bandwidth required was broad enough to accomplish the task.  That was the year that Salesforce.com began pioneering the concept of delivering enterprise solutions via the web.  This was followed by amazon.com that in 2002 started vending cloud storage and computing.  By 2006, this service morphed into a commercial service called Elastic Compute Cloud, that permitted small businesses to run their applications remotely.  By 2009 Google and Microsoft jumped into cloud computing in a big way, which legitimized and promoted the cloud computing concept as a user-friendly resource.

Other standards that took the concept away from early adopters and made it more mainstream were the obvious financial benefits that the technology offered in terms of backing up data, as well as increased storage capacity without having to invest in new hardware.  The downside was that those wishing to store sensitive data on the cloud had to deal with worrisome the question of online security.

Andreas Asander, vice-principal of product management at virtualization security specialist Clavistersaid that once the security issues are resolved, cloud computing services “can enable an enterprise to expand its infrastructure, add capacity on demand, or outsource the whole infrastructure, resulting in greater flexibility, a wider choice of computing resources and significant cost savings.”

What Color is Your Cloud?

Currently, there are three cloud operating models:

  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – IaaS provide physical or virtual machines, image libraries, block storage, firewalls, IP addresses, Virtual Local Area Networks and software bundles to users.
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS) – The Paas model provides a computing platform such as a web server where programmers and developers can run their software solutions on a platform without having to buy and manage the hardware.
  3. Software as a Service (SaaS) – SaaS users are provided access tp databases and/or applications for a flat or monthly fee.  In a SaaS model, users access the software from the cloud client.

While users can access all of the abovementioned services using a variety of devices, some users rely on the cloud to run nearly all their applications.  Depending upon the user’s needs, cloud services can be mixed and matched.  But, generally, there are six service models from which to choose:

  1. Private Cloud is an infrastructure designed and managed for the users of a single entity or organization.  Corporate data centers are examples of private clouds. The infrastructure for these data centers can be either managed internally or by a third-party.
  2. Public Cloud renders services to the general public.  Providers such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft provide public access to their managed data centers via the Internet.
  3. Hybrid Clouds are created when two or more cloud services from different providers are offered to users.  They can pull together some combination of public, private, and community cloud services under one umbrella.
  4. Community Clouds serve several organizations with a common interest.  This way costs can be shared between two or more organizations wishing to avail themselves of a Private Cloud.
  5. Distributed Cloud – Where a Community Cloud allows organizations to share cloud resources, a Distributed Cloud shares machines located at different locations by a single network or hub service.
  6. Multicloud uses multiple services to reduce the risk of a single vendor going down and thus leaving the user with no service.

The Dark Cloud

Image courtesy of pinterest.com

Image courtesy of pinterest.com

Privacy is the biggest danger to cloud users. Since users are relying on a third-party to host their data, the primary concern is that the service provider and/or their employees can access this data.  Anyone with access to the data could either accidentally or purposely alter or delete the data.  Since some cloud providers share access with this information with outside entities, this would mean that the only practical way to protect the data would be to encrypt it.

Those who use cloud services such as social networks or blogging platforms (which are a kind of cloud service) knows that the information contained therein is not only shared with the hosting agency, but they actively profit from data mining this information.  What many people are unaware of is the fact that ALL of the information displayed on social nets and blogs is actually owned by the service provider and not the author.

There, of course, is always a risk a hacker will not only gain access to a user’s cloud service, but it is also possible for a hacker to not only alter the content contained in the cloud, but to lock out the legitimate user.  It is not uncommon for hackers to demand a ransom in order to have the legitimate user’s access restored.  (Failure to pay the ransom usually causes the hacker to delete the users information.)  It is also possible that hackers can use the information gleaned from a user’s social networks to hack their way into a user’s computer, tablet and/or Smartphone.

‘A recent article in USA Today’ (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/14/ransom-ware-computer-dark-web-criminal/8843633/) entitled, Hackers Ramp Up Computer Attacks That  Demand Ransom, writer Erin Coker points out that:“Hackers operating on the Internet’s “Dark Web” are spreading a new, more sophisticated generation of the malicious software known as “ransomware,” anonymously shaking down anyone with an unprotected computer, from lawyers and cops to small businesses. Where small groups of anonymous hackers once hit individual consumers, the hackers have now organized into crime syndicates that boldly launch massive attacks against entire companies.”

She said these attacks are usually initiated when someone boots up only to find an ominous warning with a ticking countdown clock informing them that they have a limited time to pay the ransom or risk the destruction of their data. This can result in one of three scenarios:

  1. The user pays up and their asset is unlocked.
  2. The user runs out of time and their data is destroyed or their machine is locked permanently.
  3. The user pays and the hacker takes the money only to renege on freeing the user’s data or machine.
Courtesy of slideshare.net

Courtesy of slideshare.net

Hackers operating on the Internet’s “Dark Web” are spreading a new, more sophisticated generation of the malicious software known as “ransomware,” anonymously shaking down anyone with an unprotected computer, from lawyers and cops to small businesses. Where small groups of anonymous hackers once hit individual consumers, the hackers have now organized into crime syndicates that boldly launch massive attacks against entire companies, computer experts and law enforcement authorities said.

Considering that some of these co-ordinated ransomware attacks were successfully delivered to hundreds of thousands of victims in ten days, this results in tens of millions of dollars in ransom.  The worst thing is the fact that ransomware is on the rise.  The FBI’s own website reads: Ransomware has been around for several years, but there’s been a definite uptick lately in its use by cyber criminals. And the FBI, along with public and private sector partners, is targeting these offenders and their scams. Recently, we’re seeing an increasing number of incidents involving so-called “drive-by” ransomware, where users can infect their computers simply by clicking on a compromised website, often lured there by a deceptive e-mail or pop-up window. Another new trend involves the ransom payment method. While some of the earlier ransomware scams involved having victims pay “ransom” with pre-paid cards, victims are now increasingly asked to pay with Bitcoin, a decentralized virtual currency network that attracts criminals because of the anonymity the system offers.
Although cloud computing is an enormous benefit to the public in terms of saving time and money when it comes to accessing computing power, unless serious security issues are resolved, there could come a time when cloud computing disappears like a puff of smoke.


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Carl Weiss has been working the web to win since 1995 and has helped hundreds of companies increase their online results. He is president of W Squared Media and co-host of the weekly radio show Working the Web to Win which airs Tuesdays at 4pm Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.com. Click here to get his latest book "Working The Web to Win: When it comes to online marketing, you can't win, if you don't know how to play the game!".

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