[LINK] Cloud computing' heightens privacy risks
brd at iimetro.com.au
Mon Aug 11 17:39:37 EST 2008
Cloud computing' heightens privacy risks
Glenn Chapman in Las Vegas
August 11, 2008
A US military computer science professor has warned that a trend to push
software into the "clouds" exacerbates privacy risks as people trust
information to the Internet.
Websites routinely capture data that can reveal pictures of users'
lives, US military academy professor Greg Conti told an audience at the
annual Deacon hackers gathering in Las Vegas.
The danger is being heightened by a growing Internet trend toward "cloud
computing," software being offered online with applications hosted on
outside computers instead of programs being installed on people's machines.
A common example of the practice is Web-based email services such as
those offered by Google and Yahoo.
The world of cloud computing is expanding to include software for
documents, accounting, spread sheets, photo editing and more.
"With cloud computer looming on the horizon it is important for us all
to think of the privacy threats there as well," Conti said.
"The tool resides with someone else and the data is stored somewhere
else. Generally, that is a bad idea."
Internet users are already giving away copious amounts of information
using online search and mapping software.
Prime examples are social networking websites where people post personal
videos, pictures, and thoughts that supposedly can only be viewed by
The potentially revealing data in people's profiles is stored on
computers maintained by the social networking firms.
If someone does an Internet search of their own name and then maps a
route from their home, who they are and where they live is on record
indefinitely in data bases of the firms that provided the services.
With cloud computing, copies of documents, spreadsheets or other files
created using outside applications could be stored by companies
providing the services.
"When information is in the public domain, it is game over," Conti said.
"Information on your computer may get protection under the law, but on
someone else's it gets less protection."
The US Department of Justice has tried to pry search data from Google,
and China pressured Yahoo to reveal the identities of pro-democracy
advocates voicing opinions online.
"The information we are all giving to online companies is massive and
dangerous and it's going to get worse before it gets better," Conti
said. "Giving them our data is a clear and present risk."
Records of email and text messaging are routinely saved and it is common
for websites to use software that tracks where online visitors came from
and where they go next, according to security specialists.
Software used to post online ads collects information on people's online
activities to more effectively target messages.
"How hard would it be to target someone as a political activist or a
person with AIDS?" Conti asked rhetorically.
And even if Internet firms champion privacy for users, there is no
guarantee they won't be forced to yield to courts or get new owners with
"Companies consolidate but also companies die," Conti said.
"This is heresy, but one day Google will die. What happens to data when
a company dies is a big question."
brd at iimetro.com.au
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