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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Vancouver company aiming to provide clarity on cloud computing confidentiality

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver March 1-7, 2011 issue #1114 High Tech Office column

If your only source of information on cloud computing is Microsoft’s TV commercials, you’re probably a bit fuzzy on the concept.
Wikipedia tells us that it’s “… a new model for IT services based on Internet protocols … frequently taking the form of web-based tools or applications that users can access through a web browser as if it were a program installed locally on their own computer.”

Got that? If you’re running applications or storing data across the Internet in ways that otherwise might have been done on your own computer or on your organization’s local network, you’re working “in the cloud.”

Among the best-known examples:

•Google with its Google Docs offers users online word processing, spreadsheets and more along with the opportunity to save documents somewhere out there.
•Amazon offers simple storage service (S3) and elastic compute cloud (EC2) services, letting organizations move traditional IT services and storage onto Amazon’s network.

Always assuming Internet access at adequate speeds, end-users are (ideally) freed from the constraints of location and can access applications and stored data anywhere from any computer or device.

Moreover, cloud providers generally do a better job of backing up and securing data than most individual users and many small organizations. Individuals and small organizations gain access to network capabilities without needing IT staff or to maintain their own networks. But – as the ancient Romans put it – who guards the guardians?

David Sussman, marketing and product management vice-president at Vancouver-based cloud provider Bits Republic Technologies, noted that individual and business data is not necessarily secure. According to a September 2009 survey, businesses stored credit card numbers securely, but 55% admitted not doing so with bank account details and other personal customer personal data.

Unsecured data is open to outside hackers, whether stored on a corporate network or a cloud service. Moreover, Sussman pointed out that there have been a number of incidents where employees of cloud services gained access to customer data. Last September, for instance, Google confirmed that it had fired an employee for accessing customer data and admitted that there had been a similar previous incident.

According to Charles Chung, Bits Republic founder and president, his company offers customers “ultra-secure file collaboration in the cloud” using proprietary PrivyDocs client-side encryption technology. Client-side means that though files are stored online, they’re encrypted by the user. The storage provider, Bits Republic, is “blind” and has no access to the encryption codes.

The result: if data files are accessed without the owner’s permission – whether by an outside hacker, rogue cloud service employee or even government agency – it’s unreadable.

Bit Republic’s users, however, can access their files directly within a web browser and can share it with others without needing to send around their private encryption key. When a document is shared, the owner can set permissions – controlling who can edit the document and who can just read it; audit trails are maintained, providing a record of document changes.

Some of this is available from a variety of cloud providers. Chung suggested that the client-side encryption is unique to Bits Republic: “even the storage host has no way to decrypt users’ information.”

Because it is browser-based, no setup or maintenance is required by individual users, who log into personalized “workspaces” to access their stored documents. An organization using the service can designate an administrator to control corporate users and data.

Bits Republic offers free, basic accounts and personal and business accounts at prices ranging from $10 to $48 per month. Its PrivyDocs encryption technology is available for licensing by other cloud services. Still to come: access on mobile devices.

Uneasy about trusting your data to a small, local cloud service? Bits Republic doesn’t host its clients’ accounts itself. It uses Amazon’s servers.

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