The shared, on-demand nature of cloud computing introduces the possibility
of new security breaches that can erase any gains made by the switch to cloud
technology.

Cloud computing – storing data and applications remotely rather than on your own premises. It can cut IT costs dramatically and speed up your operations.

CBSNews.com’s Chenda Ngak and CNET’s Scott Stein explain how cloud
computing works, and how to protect your information:

Despite the rise of public cloud platforms offered by the likes of Amazon
Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, less than 10% of the
world’s data is currently stored in the cloud.

Building your own energy-hungry data centres is expensive and
time-consuming, while managing hundreds of software applications chews
up IT resources. If you can outsource a lot of this hardware and software
to specialist tech companies that can expand or reduce the level of service
according to your needs, it can save you a lot of time and money.

Business leaders are looking to optimise and grow their businesses, and
cloud can give them that – reducing costs and providing better customer
experience. And being able to plug into a range of ready-made cloud-based
services helps you develop new products at a faster pace, potentially giving
you a competitive edge.

What are the risks?

The biggest risk is giving up control of your data to someone else using
different data centres in remote places. What happens in the event of a
disaster? You’re also putting your data next to someone else’s. Your data
could get lost, wiped, corrupted or stolen.

There is also a risk that by outsourcing file and data management to
a third party, firms will assume all the security has been taken care of.
You can’t assume that – it’s still your data and you are responsible for it.

So how do cloud providers keep our data safe?

The most obvious way is through encryption, both while the data is in
transit and while it is “at rest” on the cloud servers.

AWS, by far the biggest public cloud platform provider with more than a
million active customers a month, has more than 1,800 security controls
governing its services. .

Customers can choose to control their own encryption keys if they wish,
he says, as well as set the rules for who can and can’t access the data or
applications. Most of the security innovation comes from customer
demand, so the bar for security gets ratcheted up every time.

It says a lot that online retailer Amazon is happy to run its entire
business on its own cloud platform.

So is data actually safer in the cloud?

Well, that depends on the quality of your cloud provider compared to if
you have your own IT department.

Most of the major data breaches that have taken place over the last five
years, from companies like Sony, Ashley Madison, TalkTalk, Target etc.
have been from internal, not cloud-based, databases. There is always an
inherent threat that admin  working for a cloud provider could access
your machines or data from within – that’s a business risk you are taking.

This is why the major cloud providers give customers the option to
handle their own encryption keys, meaning no-one inside the provider
could get access even if they wanted to.

And some companies are now adopting a “hybrid” approach – keeping
their more sensitive data in a private cloud and other data and
applications in the public cloud.

If it’s so safe, why isn’t everyone moving to the cloud?

Good point. These are still early days – less than 10% of the world’s data
is estimated to be stored in the cloud.

Late last year, US bank Capital One said it was reducing the number of
its own data centres from eight to three by 2018 and moving a lot of its
processes and product development to AWS.

Towergate Insurance recently announced that it was migrating its
IT infrastructure to the public cloud as well.

Where is all this data stored?

The major public cloud providers offer a number of data centres – AWS
covers 12 regions globally – storing multiple copies of customer data. So
if one centre is destroyed in an earthquake or other natural disaster, your
data is still safe.

But concerns around data privacy, particularly in Europe following the
rescinding of the Safe Harbour data sharing agreement and the Edward
Snowden leaks, mean providers are increasingly offering the option to
host data in customers’ own regions.