Posts Tagged ‘Cloud Computing’

Online Banking – An Opinion

Friday, October 30th, 2009

In my post on Cloud Computing, I mentioned using online banking “if you have the guts”. I had originally gone so far off the subject of that post that I almost forgot what I was writing about. I realized that I had too much to say on the subject and decided to spin-off this post instead.

Online banking is the process of connecting to your financial institution, and performing transactions, from a computer or mobile device. No line for the ATM or teller. Sounds great doesn’t it? Think again.

The question my clients often ask me is “Is online banking secure?”. That’s like asking if logging into your computer, with your password, is secure. It is, but there are environmental issues that can lower that security. I am not a security expert, but for the sake of this debate, let’s say the technology being used for the connection between your computer, or device, and the bank is secure. It is, by the way, but I am trying to prevent some security nut from arguing the point beyond my pay-grade. The problem is, even with the connection security, there is an analog security hole. There is the possibility that someone is watching as you type your credentials. At that point, all electronic security is useless because they can now log in as you. What do ya do?

Making sure you are not being watched during any form of authentication is a start. You can’t always be alone with your computer, but you can simply be aware of what, or who, is around you. Are security cameras recording you? Is someone waiting for you to log on? I ask people all the time to turn around when I log in. It is easy to plug the analog hole.

Now is it safe? It depends. The end user is still one of the most important parts of any good security. In my business, I have seen too many infected Windows based machines. Malware keystroke loggers, like Hellz Little Spy, are the electronic version of someone watching over your shoulder. The connection from your browser, or banking application, can be as secure as Fort Knox, and it means nothing if your computer is infected. If it is capturing everything you type, and transmitting it to a far-away land , then all bets are off. For that reason I will never do online banking from a PC. Yep, I said it. Here comes the Windows defenders. Before you hate me, let me make something clear. I don’t hate Windows. I use Windows daily. I have worked with Windows based networks since Windows 3.1 and Excel 2.0. I use the right tool for the job, period. I don’t care if it is made by Microsoft, Apple, or a community of developers. I recommend what best fits the need. Yes, I use Macs at home, but with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Server running virtually. And, I know my Windows installs are clean, but there’s no way I would risk my accounts to test it. To me, for online banking, a Mac is the right tool for the job, and even then you should practice basic safe computing.

Cloud Computing – The debate

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I listen to a lot of tech podcasts and lately there seems to be a recurring theme. Someone suggests cloud computing is bad, dangerous or just plain useless, while someone else tries to defend it. It’s like trying to defend vaccines to someone who is fixed in their belief that vaccines are bad. People who think there is too much risk in taking a certain action will never agree with those that think there is too much risk in not taking the action. I want to take a different approach here and look at cloud computing as a tool. Like other tools, it’s use comes with some risk. When you use any tool you are responsible doing so safely, protecting yourself and others from physical harm. When using cloud computing similar issues exist. With cloud computing however it’s your data that needs protecting. Lets start from the top.

According to Wikipedia, Cloud Computing is defined as:

“…the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources as a service over the Internet on a utility basis.”

There is a lot more if you want to read it, but basically the ‘Cloud’ refers to the Internet and the ‘Computing’ refers to the services companies provide there. Many of these services are free. Most of Google’s services or Twitter are examples. Some are pay services, such as hosted email solutions or the remote access products provided by Citrix. In a broad sense, Cloud Computing encompasses the computing services we use over the net as an alternative to using applications installed on our local computer hardware. If you want a bit more detail, Infoworld has an article describing the various types of services provided under the cloud computing banner. However, lets discuss whether cloud computing is a good or bad thing. We will start with some of the disadvantages to cloud computing and then we’ll touch on some of the advantages.