The use of cloud computing, SaaS services, and remote working has meant that rather than data being stored on a single on-site server accessed only from a networked computer, it can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This has meant that employees can now work from anywhere they want without missing any data or information that may be stored in a specific server. It has essentially been one of the most important elements in the globalization of business.
However, with this power also comes significant debate around data security.
There are some strong arguments it is safer both in the ‘on-site’ camp and in the cloud, but which is ultimately the safest?
Having data stored on-site does not necessarily mean that it cannot be accessed from elsewhere, but does make it considerably more difficult than if you were to use a more robust and designed-for-purpose cloud system. This difficultly is one of the elements that makes it more secure as it takes more than a simple password to get onto the server and access the information.
In statistics from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) it was found that 62% of data loss was due to human error, rather than anything more malicious. This could be something like falling for a phishing scam, losing work devices, or malicious theft by an employee. This would suggest that having an on-site server would remove a couple of those issues, as gaining access requires slightly more than simply inputting a password that could be stolen relatively easily.
One of the key security elements of an on-site system that the cloud could never offer is that a company can control the flow of information throughout its journey. We have seen with examples like the mass intercept of data from the NSA, that it is possible to simply steal data as it moves from one place to another over the internet. If everything is kept in-house then this isn't the case and hence negates a potential threat.
Despite the ability to access data from anywhere with an internet connection, the use of cloud computing is safer than on-site systems for a number of reasons, but chief among them is where the responsibility for its security lies.
Responsibility for on-site data storage systems is normally on IT teams, which may be one or two people internally or a contractor who occasionally maintain it. For most companies, the most important element of their business isn't the protection of their data, it is selling and maintaining products or services. Cloud storage systems on the other hand, can represent the security for millions of companies and their primary role is to keep that data secure. Therefore, they will naturally have large teams of the best qualified data security experts, because that is the primary role of their business.
Having millions of businesses also means that any data breaches that come through can be stopped, picked up, analyzed, and then fixes deployed across every account for their millions of customers. If somebody manages to gain access to one on-site system, the chances of them being to do the same on more systems in rapid succession is considerably better, because the systems are interconnected, so any flaw can be exploited multiple times before it becomes more widely known.
Given that the core architecture of cloud based systems are not held by a company, it also means that critical security updates can be undertaken by millions of companies at the same time, without them even noticing. If a cloud based company needed to update their systems multiple times over a week, it wouldn't be an issue at all, whilst this would be almost impossible for an on-site system.
Despite the apprehension that some have about the use of data storage in the cloud, it is, to all intents and purposes, as safe, if not safer, than on-site options. It's entire purpose is to be as safe as cloud companies can make it. Nobody is going to use a cloud storage company that can't keep anything safe, so they invest heavily in making sure it is as safe as they can possibly make it. Given that it also updates every customer automatically, it can shut out known issues almost instantly.
There is certainly something to be said for on-site systems, like the possibility of a totally secure network, but in reality the security, convenience and cost savings that come from cloud computing means that cloud is the smarter choice.