This week another critical flaw in Apple’s App Store and iTunes invoice system was made public; a problem which could affect many millions of Apple’s customers. An earlier update in July patched a number of other vulnerabilities in OS X and iOS. Microsoft releases patches for Windows on a regular basis due to bug fixes and security problems. It seems as if these headlines are never-ending, and with all major technology players asking customers to store files online, it might be wise to answer the question in the title above.
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and many others are pushing their customers to store data online; from photos to music, from documents to PDFs, online storage has become a big business with many hundreds of millions of users taking advantage dozens of services.
Is anything safe online?
Unfortunately, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, relatively safe. At least until something goes wrong, either in the upload process, or with the cloud storage device, or with hackers making mischief with your files, and then it’s a big no.
I”ve been pounding keyboards since long before the internet became a public service, before the Mac, before Windows, and, dating myself here, I can go back to real floppy floppy disks, back to when 64k RAM was enormous, and computer users understood CP/M, and were in awe of WordStar and dBase II, and a 300 baud modem was a screamer.
Thankfully, those days are gone, but life was simpler then– and far more secure. Computer theft meant one thing. Someone stole your computer. Today we read of hacks, vulnerabilities, exploits, and information theft on a daily basis. Is storing files online akin to getting cancer or being involved in a traffic accident (which happens to about one of three people in their lifetime)?
Is anything safe online?
I’m going to go with a qualified no. Photos? I park them online. Storage is cheap. A few get stolen and used elsewhere (I have many photos of Hawaii), but there’s little harm there. What about other files? You know, spreadsheets, insurance papers, bank account and investment information? Unfortunately, most of those are online already, but I’ve made it a point to not add to what’s already there, and keep my files local, on my Mac.
Historically, Apple’s customers– Mac, iPhone, iPad– have been treated to a somewhat more secure and private paradise, but increasingly we’re being nudged toward an online utopia where everything gets stored somewhere else besides our devices. It may be convenient to have constant access to such data, but that situation would appear to be more convenient for thieves, hackers, and foreign governments than for individual Apple customers.
What is more bothersome than the constant barrage of vulnerabilities, exploits, and hacking attempts, is public apathy toward someone else managing information about each of us in online databases; information which is anything but secure, and information which could be stolen and used against the very people who trust those online systems with vast amounts of personal, private data.
What’s wrong with that picture?
If nothing is safe online, and that appears to be the case, what is safe? And where? Those questions remain unanswered.