Has WikiLeaks Cast a Dark Cloud Over Cloud Computing?

Analysts wonder whether government agencies and businesses will recoil from web-based computing

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Not long ago, it seemed like government agencies and corporate America might soon gravitate toward "cloud computing," concluding that its cost-savings potential and other efficiencies outweighed security concerns. Adoption in large numbers, so the thinking went, would usher the Internet-based computing system--in which files and applications, rather than being stored on personal computers, are saved in a "cloud" of server banks and made accessible on any device anywhere--into the mainstream.

As recently as last week, BusinessWeek reported that businesses like Siemens and Flextronics were, in growing numbers, "entrusting computing responsibilities to companies that deliver software and services over the Internet, from outside their walls" instead of "depending on expensive in-house data centers that house row after row of energy-sapping server." The article cited a Gartner forecast that the global market for cloud services will grow to $148.8 billion in 2014 from $58.6 billion in 2009. That same week, Microsoft won the largest federal cloud contract to date, partnering with the 120,000-employee U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide web-based e-mail and other services.

Then came WikiLeaks' successive data dumps of sensitive government information. Has the affair stunted cloud computing's growth?

  • This Is Bad News For Cloud Computing, claims Joseph Reger, chief technology officer for Fujitsu Technology Solutions, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal. In the aftermath of Amazon's removal of WikiLeaks from its servers (Amazon maintained WikiLeaks violated its terms of service), Reger wonders:
Should providers of cloud services constantly review whether any of their customers are pursuing an unpopular or immoral activity and continually make value judgments as to whether they are willing to continue the service?

Many potential customers for cloud computing services will, I fear, have been paying attention and will now be forced to reconsider whether they can afford to make their IT that dependent on a third party. Cloud-computing’s reputation has been damaged. For IT, this is the real tragedy.
  • Cloud Service Providers Are Unlikely to Drop Government Clients, But There Are Other Concerns, notes Aliya Sternstein at NextGov. For example, Sternstein says, the U.S. government's cloud assets are vulnerable to the same kinds of denial-of-service attacks launched by WikiLeaks sympathizers against the websites of MasterCard and Visa.
  • Actually, WikiLeaks Attack Proves Cloud Reliable, argues Keir Thomas at PCWorld. Hackers launching denial-of-service attacks against Amazon failed, proving Amazon Web Services has the resources to cope with such threats. "In short, says Thomas, "if you want an ultra-reliable cloud service that will resist a significant hack attack, then AWS is for you."
  • The Calculation for Companies Becomes Harder, argues Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath at Harvard Business Review. Imagine you're a corporate chief considering putting more of your company's business information into the cloud:
What would happen if sensitive information--information about personnel evaluations, trade secrets, closed negotiations, pricing, whatever ... was broadcast by Wikileaks and eagerly snapped up by news organizations? And reflect further on how easily that could happen. In these days of temporary and consultant-heavy workforces, offshoring and outsourcing, a younger, technologically adept generation, and the plummeting cost of data storage, you would have to be pretty confident that you had an ace security team on the job to protect your sensitive data. And the trouble is, once it's out there you can't get it back. If the thought of anybody anywhere being able to potentially access anything doesn't freak you out, you're probably a great candidate for cloud computing.
  • WikiLeaks Gives Pause, But Cloud Computing Unstoppable, maintains Charles Arthur at The Guardian: "More and more companies will continue to move their data to the cloud, urged on by Google and Microsoft (the latter is preparing a strong push to move clients cloudwards next year) ... Commercial cloud computing is what it says it is--commercial, and so vulnerable to political and commercial pressures."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.