I haven’t covered cloud computing that much, right now it is a buzz word. Essentially it is moving computing tasks and needs to web based solutions. Many of us use cloud computing with our email accounts or facebook accounts especially if we store everything on the server (ie don’t pop our email to our local machine). There is a lot to like about this solution. For one you don’t have to worry about carrying around all of your files or emails with you at all times. Gmail doesn’t care what OS you use or if you are using a new machine or an old machine. This means there is no migration of data. Another factor is backups/corruption. Most of the companies that offer cloud computing have professional backup and redundancy servers in place. If the hard drive on your current machine dies you will likely loose some files, but if gmail’s servers go down you’ll likely loose nothing. Of course email is just rudimentary. Eventually google and Amazon would like you to store everything on their servers. Your machines could eventually become dumb terminals to the internet where everything is actually stored and running from. Again there is a lot of good to this, but last night I ran across one avenue of where this could be bad.
First is the obvious. If everything is on the internet what happens when you don’t have internet? I wrote before about simplify media. It is a great product that allows me to stream music from my home server to my iPhone. In theory I don’t have to sync any music to my iPhone because as long as a cell tower can reach me I can get my music. The problem is that every day I ride the T (Boston’s subway) into work where I have no cell coverage. So for the 45 minute ride to work if I want music I need it local on my iPhone. Another problem is security. Gmail, by default, doesn’t use https (SSL encrypted) connections. It is easy enough to change the setting, and perhaps they have changed the default by now, but still as more of your data is on publicly accessible servers you run the risk of being hacked and loads of personal data compromised.
Now to my story. My wife has her own gmail account. I set it up for her, so my email is the backup. She has used this account for over 2 years now and has never had a problem with the password or typing it in. Yesterday gmail wouldn’t let her into the account. If you click on the “I cannot access my account” it takes you here. This can be helpful for simple things like resetting the password which my wife did. This sounds good until later that day the new password she set wasn’t working and neither was the old one. When she went to reset the password again google told her she couldn’t because it had been less than 24 hours since she last reset it. Of course I was curious if the account had been compromised as well. I understand google putting in the limits it does. We do the same at work, but a huge difference that I found was that there was no phone number to call. If your work email locks you out you can call your support technician and he can reset it. Google didn’t have this. I sent in an email and actually got a quick response, but the form they wanted filled out asked far too many questions and apparently they couldn’t verify that I was the owner of the account which means they couldn’t help me or give me any information (fyi here is the account recovery form, without looking tell me if you can answer those questions including dates?). Lynn needed a document for work today out of that email account so we were stuck without much we could do. The most infuriating part of this process was not being able to talk to someone directly about this problem and this isn’t something unique to google most of the companies moving to the cloud hide or simply don’t have phone numbers for direct contact. By chance one of my requests to reset the password came through and I was able to reset it from my other email account which was linked to the compromised one. We were able to get into the account and get the document needed.
I browsed around and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Now I must admit, I haven’t ever had a problem like this before. I am not sure what caused it or why it happened, I just hope that it is over. Back to cloud computing suppose you were using google documents and google storage for a big project at school and this happened the night before the paper was due. If it were your local machine you are in control and can get around any security protocol, but since everything is stored on google’s server you are helpless, and as far as I can tell my wife did nothing to bring this on herself. If cloud computing is the way of the future may I give it this warning fix problems like this. Until I am certain that something like this won’t happen again I’ll have a hard time trusting the cloud for all of my computing needs. Fix problems like this and I could be persuaded.