Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Elizabeth White, Jamie Maidson, Stefan Dietrich, Pat Romanski, Cynthia Dunlop

Related Topics: Server Monitoring, @CloudExpo

Server Monitoring: Article

Data Danger Lurking in Public Cloud Contracts

Providers Protect Themselves - Your Data, Not So Much

Last month, in an article titled, Tiny Company Solves Giant Problem in Cloud-Based Document Management, I wrote about CloudPointe and their unique approach to addressing the perils of cloud-based document management.  I looked at how nearly all cloud services that handle documents, media files, and other forms of data suffer from a common weakness:  they force customers to entrust their data assets to the cloud service provider and in so doing take on several big, largely unacknowledged risks.

If my article were not enough to draw sufficient attention to this issue, there is an exhaustive new study out that should give enormous pause to organizations considering or already using public cloud services, especially for storing data and documents.  The research was conducted by The Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and it examines the "Ts&Cs" in the service agreements from a who's who of cloud service providers, from Akamai to Zoho.

The survey covers many different aspects of the agreements, including things like jurisdiction, fair use, arbitration, etc., and it finds many troubling details and patterns that lead the authors to conclude:

"The main lesson to be drawn from the Cloud Legal Project's survey is that customers should review the Terms and Conditions of a Cloud service carefully before signing up to it."

Even after signing cloud services agreements, though, the survey shows that, to be as safe as possible, customers should review them again and again.  In the words of one of the researchers,

"Perhaps the most disconcerting discovery of the Cloud Legal Project's survey was that many Cloud providers claimed to be able to amend their contracts unilaterally, simply by posting an updated version on the web.  In effect, customers are put on notice to download lengthy and complex contracts, on a regular basis, and to compare them against their own copies of earlier versions to look for changes."

Yikes!  That makes those slippery packaged software EULAs from pre-cloud days seem like a blood oath by comparison.

Not surprisingly, the survey devotes the most attention to clauses governing data integrity, preservation, disclosure, and location/transfer, and what it finds there is pretty ugly too.

Data Integrity

After acknowledging the natural customer concerns that data placed in a provider's cloud be kept secure against loss, corruption, theft, and unauthorized disclosure, the research report says,

"Our survey found however that most providers not only avoided giving undertakings in respect of data integrity but actually disclaimed liability for it.

"The majority of providers surveyed expressly include terms in their T&C making it clear that ultimate responsibility for preserving the confidentiality and integrity of the data lies with the customer."

Most of the providers' agreements explicitly counsel customers to encrypt their data and to make separate backup arrangements - even in some cases where the service is backup!

To give credit where it is due, though, in this and a number of the research's other dire findings, Salesforce CRM stands out as a paragon of virtue.  As with only a few other vendors, it's contract acknowledges the company's responsibility in safeguarding customers' data.

Data Preservation

When a company or consumer entrusts its data to a cloud service they should consider provision in the agreement governing what happens to it in the event the contract is terminated.  Can they easily retrieve and transfer the data and will it then be fully deleted from the provider's infrastructure?

The survey shows that most providers fall into one of three categories in this regard.

The providers in one group assert that they will preserve customer data for a set period of time, ranging from 30 days to 3, after the customer terminates their contract.  During this grace period, sometimes for an extra charge, the customer can access and off-load the data and at its end the data will be deleted.

The second group of providers asserts that customer data will be deleted immediately when the agreement is terminated.  Apple's MobileMe service is in this category and its service agreement dryly states,

"Upon termination of your account you lose all access to the Service and any portions thereof, including, but not limited to, your Member Account (any Subaccounts thereunder), Subscriber ID, email account, iDisk, domains, iChat account and MobileMe Gallery albums. In addition, Apple shall delete all information and data stored in or as a part of your account(s) including, but not limited to, data files, email, albums and preferences."

The survey authors rightly point out how this begs the question of what happens in the event that a court later finds that they termination of the contract was ineffective.  They conclude that the service providers in this group may be opening themselves up to civil or criminal liability in some jurisdictions.

Providers in the third group blend conditions found in the first two, acknowledging no obligation to preserve data after a contract has been terminated but also allowing, at their own discretion, an access grace period and/or taking no steps to delete the data at any particular time.

In many cases, though, while providers may not assure that they will keep the data for a grace period or longer, they also do not assure that the data will in fact be deleted, after the grace period or otherwise.

This means that, unless the customer explicitly deletes it after offloading a copy, it may remain in the provider's storage infrastructure for who knows how long.  And, for that matter, given the various kinds of redundancy built into many clouds, even if the customer deletes, it that may not mean that it is really gone.

Data Disclosure

Regarding the potential disclosure of customer data to third parties as in the event of a court order or request from law enforcement officials, the survey found the providers to be all over the place.  They ranged from doing it without notice at their own discretion at one extreme to giving warning or seeking approval at the other.

For example, the now-defunct G.ho.st service stated that it would disclose customer information if it believed that it would protect its own interest by doing so, and the still-in-business ADrive puts it this way:

"You authorize ADrive to disclose any information about You to law enforcement or other government officials as ADrive, in its sole discretion, believes necessary, prudent or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose ADrive to legal liability."

At the other extreme is Salesforce CRM, once again taking the high road.  They assure that, unless it is legally prohibited, the customer will be given advance notice of any requested disclosure, and that Saleforce will also assist the customer in opposing such orders.  Now, that's what I call "customer advocacy"!

Data Location / Transfer

Many cloud service providers employ multiple, sometimes numerous data centers in different geographic locations to serve their customers.  This has led to a variety of legal concerns about customers' data being stored or processed in and across potentially unknown or unregulated jurisdictions.

The EU Data Protection regime does provide strong measures to keep cloud-based data within Europe and certain data, like personal information, within specific countries.  But, even in the EU, in-flight data is still at some risk.  And, in the US, where the "long-arm" statutes are considerably looser, and in other places, where there are few or no laws as all to govern where and how data is kept and protected, all bets are off.

So, all in all, concerns about privacy and security in relation to data location and transfer are manifest and important to customers, leading the researchers to observe,

"Perhaps surprisingly, given the prominence often attached to these issues, few of the providers surveyed actually undertake to store data in a particular location or zone. [...]  Indeed, for the 31 sets of T&C reviewed, 15 made no mention of data location or transit protection whatsoever."

The findings of the research concerning data transfer were similar to those for data location.  After acknowledging the international nature of cloud computing and how it means that customer data will usually be transferred between different infrastructure segments over the internet, the report observes,

"Furthermore, if (as many larger Cloud providers do) the provider has multiple data centres, then, unless the provider has built or leased its own secure network and facilities, transfers between data centres may well also be over Internet connections.  Several providers (for example, 37Signals, UKFast) caution in their T&C that customer data may be transferred unencrypted over inherently insecure networks in such a manner."

Losing My Religion

Cloud computing, especially public cloud computing, has many potential benefits but is not without its weaknesses; and, those weaknesses tend to fall into two categories.

There are issues that vendors and customers both readily acknowledge and are working hard to address.  The need for better access security and more management automation fall into this category and will likely be fixed by incremental technical improvements and new products that address them.

Then, there are issues like the subject of this article.  They are ones with little consensus, where most providers are either defiant or in denial, most customers are uninformed or un-empowered, and hardly anybody recognizes that the problem may stem from flawed fundamentals.

Most cloud service providers and most of their customers might find it patent heresy to question the soundness of the idea of putting data and documents into the cloud.  After all, for many that is the very purpose of the cloud, full stop.  If you take back the information assets and put them on a disk array that you own and control, what is left?

There is a lot left, actually.  There is a processing and communications fabric to which most cloud benefits still accrue, and to a greater degree than they do for the comparative commodity of data storage.

The reason the data is in the cloud by default is not because that makes the most sense.  It is because Fibre Channel, Infiniband, and other schemes for directly connecting disks to processors are way faster than those for connecting the nodes of a wide area network.  If that were not true, would everyone still think that the data belongs in the cloud?  I doubt it.

Vendor lock-in, regulatory compliance, privacy, and security are the greatest customer concerns about the public cloud and they are all made considerably worse by the requirement that information assets be placed in the cloud.

CloudPointe already makes a strong case for taking back the documents and files.  WAN connection speeds and the way such information assets are used are both very amenable to sending them through the cloud but not keeping them there.  It may just be a matter of time before improved connection speeds and more advanced distributed database technology allow the same possibilities for other kinds of data.

More Stories By Tim Negris

Tim Negris is SVP, Marketing & Sales at Yottamine Analytics, a pioneering Big Data machine learning software company. He occasionally authors software industry news analysis and insights on Ulitzer.com, is a 25-year technology industry veteran with expertise in software development, database, networking, social media, cloud computing, mobile apps, analytics, and other enabling technologies.

He is recognized for ability to rapidly translate complex technical information and concepts into compelling, actionable knowledge. He is also widely credited with coining the term and co-developing the concept of the “Thin Client” computing model while working for Larry Ellison in the early days of Oracle.

Tim has also held a variety of executive and consulting roles in a numerous start-ups, and several established companies, including Sybase, Oracle, HP, Dell, and IBM. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications and sites, focusing on technologies and their applications, and has written a number of advanced software applications for social media, video streaming, and music education.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
The IoTs will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and share the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the development proc...
Customer experience has become a competitive differentiator for companies, and it’s imperative that brands seamlessly connect the customer journey across all platforms. With the continued explosion of IoT, join us for a look at how to build a winning digital foundation in the connected era – today and in the future. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Nguyen, Group Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how to successfully leverage mobile, rapidly deploy content, capture real-time d...
In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Cole, Director of Solutions Engineering at Peak 10, will discuss how the newest technology advances are reducing the cost and complexity of traditional business continuity and disaster recovery solutions. Attendees will: Learn why having a full disaster recovery strategy is more important now than ever before Explore the key drivers of a successful disaster recovery solution Achieve measurable operational and business value from a disaster recovery ...
The cloud era has reached the stage where it is no longer a question of whether a company should migrate, but when. Enterprises have embraced the outsourcing of where their various applications are stored and who manages them, saving significant investment along the way. Plus, the cloud has become a defining competitive edge. Companies that fail to successfully adapt risk failure. The media, of course, continues to extol the virtues of the cloud, including how easy it is to get there. Migrating...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hanu Software will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Leveraging best-in-class people, processes, and technologies, Hanu provides high-quality, high-value software development and business process outsourcing services to independent software vendors (ISVs) and enterprises.
As organizations shift towards IT-as-a-service models, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and now cloud environments grows with it. Commvault can ensure protection, access and E-Discovery of your data – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud, or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enterprise. In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Randy De Meno, Chief Technologist - Windows Products and Microsoft Part...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ContentMX, the marketing technology and services company with a singular mission to increase engagement and drive more conversations for enterprise, channel and SMB technology marketers, has been named “Sponsor & Exhibitor Lounge Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. “CloudExpo is a great opportunity to start a conversation with new prospects, but what happens after the...
What a difference a year makes. Organizations aren’t just talking about IoT possibilities, it is now baked into their core business strategy. With IoT, billions of devices generating data from different companies on different networks around the globe need to interact. From efficiency to better customer insights to completely new business models, IoT will turn traditional business models upside down. In the new customer-centric age, the key to success is delivering critical services and apps wit...
Join us at Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo 2016 – June 7-9 at the Javits Center in New York City and November 1-3 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – and deliver your unique message in a way that is striking and unforgettable by taking advantage of SYS-CON's unmatched high-impact, result-driven event / media packages.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, will provide an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC Software has been named "Siver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. BMC is a global leader in innovative software solutions that help businesses transform into digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive advantage. BMC Digital Enterprise Management is a set of innovative IT solutions designed to make digital business fast, seamless, and optimized from mainframe to mo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex software systems for startups and enterprises. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business managers to a full-scale mobile software company with over 200 develope...
SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. With a global footprint of data centers and network points of presence, SoftLayer provides infrastructure as a service to leading-edge customers ranging from Web startups to global enterprises. SoftLayer's modular architecture, full-featured API, and sophisticated automation provide unparalleled performance and control. Its flexible unified platform seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices linked via a world...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
How will your company move to the cloud while ensuring a solid security posture? Organizations from small to large are increasingly adopting cloud solutions to deliver essential business services at a much lower cost. According to cyber security experts, the frequency and severity of cyber-attacks are on the rise, causing alarm to businesses and customers across a variety of industries. To defend against exploits like these, a company must adopt a comprehensive security defense strategy that is ...
Companies can harness IoT and predictive analytics to sustain business continuity; predict and manage site performance during emergencies; minimize expensive reactive maintenance; and forecast equipment and maintenance budgets and expenditures. Providing cost-effective, uninterrupted service is challenging, particularly for organizations with geographically dispersed operations.
As cloud and storage projections continue to rise, the number of organizations moving to the cloud is escalating and it is clear cloud storage is here to stay. However, is it secure? Data is the lifeblood for government entities, countries, cloud service providers and enterprises alike and losing or exposing that data can have disastrous results. There are new concepts for data storage on the horizon that will deliver secure solutions for storing and moving sensitive data around the world. ...
SYS-CON Events announced today TechTarget has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TechTarget is the Web’s leading destination for serious technology buyers researching and making enterprise technology decisions. Its extensive global networ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...