Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

How secure is the Internet and cloud storage?

I went to check the Library of Congress website to search the newspaper collection and found that it was closed down with the rest of the government closings. This is not particularly disturbing to me because of my background. I grew up in an area where electrical outages were commonplace. It was not that unusual to have the electricity off for a day or so, not just a few minutes or hours. This was not due to hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters, it was just the normal interruption of service caused by local equipment failures. Telephone service could also be out for days. Even during the time we have been living in the "big city" power outages and interruptions to telephone and Internet service are far from rare.

So, now we have another possibility; the government itself shuts down and takes down websites in the process.

For quite some time, cloud storage, a euphemism for the Internet, has been touted as a way to backup your files and keep them secure. The truth is that it is no more secure than any other backup method. Cloud storage depends on equipment and systems functioning properly. But what if they don't? It is not wise to rely on any one type of data backup system, whether it be a flash drive, a hard drive or CDs and DVDs.

Inevitably, after raising this subject, I have someone comment that they protect their data by keeping a copy in a safety deposit box at their bank. Apparently, they have never had to get a court order to open a safety deposit box or stood in the safety deposit box room while a company came in to drill out the lock of a box where the key was missing. This always reminds me of the story of Amedeo Giannini, who founded the Bank of America and got his start loaning money out a wagon when the rest of the banks' vaults were sealed shut due to the San Francisco Fire. Here is an account of what happened from Wikipedia:
Immediately after the earthquake, he moved the vault's money to his home outside the fire zone in then-rural San Mateo, 18-miles by horse and wagon. The money was moved in a garbage wagon, owned by Hayward resident Giobatta Cepollina, also a native of Italy (Loano). The cargo was disguised beneath garbage to protect against theft. The fires severely heated the vaults of other big banks. Opening them immediately would ruin the money, so they were kept closed for weeks. Because of this, Giannini was one of the few who was able to provide loans. Giannini ran his bank from a plank across two barrels in the street. Giannini made loans on a handshake to those interested in rebuilding. Years later, he would recount that every loan was repaid.
 This is always used as a lesson for entrepreneurs and bankers, but the real lesson here is for those wanting to secure anything valuable, such as data on hard drives. You will notice that he moved the money outside of the affected area. The only secure way to back up your valuable computer data is not only to have the data on an external device (hard drive, flash drive etc.) but to also keep copies at remote locations; with relatives or friends.

Please do not misunderstand my advice. I am not saying that using the Internet for backup storage is wrong or shouldn't be done, I am merely pointing out that it is not the ultimate solution to preserving data. It is merely one more way to backup your valuable genealogical data.

I might also point out, as a final note with this post, that flash drives are very reliable, unless you lose one or break one like I did recently. We have a whole drawer full of lost flash drives at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Maybe your lost flash drive is sitting in our Lost and Found drawer? A word to the wise and careful. Use multiple methods of backing up your data and store the backups in various locations.


  1. Well and clearly said. I have been saying since Cloud Storage became a thing that it wasn't the total solution the providers were making it out to be. Your advice to use multiple forms and locations of storage is spot on.

  2. You can still get into the Library of Congress's Chronicling America database. Just do a google search for it and go on in. Use these terms: newspaper database gov. I've been in and out of it this evening. When internet sites lock the front door, they often forget to lock the back door. At this point, they aren't likely to go back home and make sure they locked everything up. This is just another example of how a collateral move pays off when moving directly does not.

  3. Security? Availability.

  4. I think the article missed the point of online backup service. Online backup software encrypt all files locally with separate key and uploads encrypted data so backup provider could not open and read any of his clients files.

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