Sunday, November 13, 2011

Safety in the Cloud

Mobile devices provide many advantages over desktop computers including:  light weight, easy to carry, can be used in multiple locations, in another word - portability.

The fact that mobile devices are portable make them attractive to thieves and more vulnerable to loss.

Ask yourself what issues would you have to deal with if you lost your netbook/laptop/tablet or other mobile device?  Would you be concerned with the privacy of information based on student or teacher information that you have stored on the device?  Would you be upset about the years of learning activities that you had stored on the device ... without a backup?  Would you be upset about the personal files including photos that you had stored on the device... without a backup?

The choice of backup solution may also leave you with the same questions about privacy of information based on the backup solution you have in place... assuming you have a backup.

USB Keys / Thumb Drives / Jump Drive / Flash Drive
The term you use for these mobile storage devices doesn't matter, what matters is that many teachers and administrators are using mobile drives to backup the critical information on their mobile devices.  Good idea or Bad idea?  I'm not a fan of mobile devices such as USB keys because they are too easily lost or left behind.  When used properly with encryption and passwords they can be useful devices... but how many people actually require a password to open a file on a USB key - I would guess, not too many.

External Hard Drive
Portable hard drives are now quite inexpensive and can prove to be a life-saver when a laptop goes missing or when a hard drive crashes.  Most backup devices come password protection with daily backup routines to copy all of your documents.  In the case of a stolen device the external hard drive can quickly re-install all of your files.  The cost of most of these devices has dropped to below $100 and may be a worth while investment for mobile devices.  It is important to keep the backup device separate from your mobile device.  I have seen several administrators create a backup of their laptop content and then place the backup in the laptop bag along with the laptop.  When one gets stolen, they both get stolen!

Third Party Online solutions
Online solutions are great options where they are available.  For my personal laptop in my home, I have purchased a yearly subscription to an online backup service called Carbonite.  For about $50 a year I know that my files are backed up on a regular basis whenever I'm connected online.  When my hard drive crashed this past year, I was glad to have a service such as Carbonite to restore all of my personal (and work) files.

Ideally if you are using a mobile device for work purposes, your school has a backup solution in place.  Most  provide copies of the MyDocuments files and keep these on Board Servers.  This is a solution that our Board is currently working on, with implementation taking place later this school year.

Other Options:
If your Board uses BlackBoard, or Google Apps for Education, or if you have a DropBox account, you already have options for storage in the cloud.  There are many services and apps (ie. Evernote) that allow you to synchronize your files whether they are on a desktop, a laptop, or a SmartPhone.  These services prove to be invaluable if one of your devices crashes or is stolen or lost.

The Patriot Act and Google Security
Many Canadians are hesitant to use 3rd Party Storage because of fears that storage in the Cloud is somehow less secure than their personal USB key that they carry around with them, and the fear that the U.S. authorities will be reading everything that they store in the cloud if it is a U.S. based server.  The reality is that cloud storage in large companies like Google is usually much more secure than any type of security that a School Board could offer.  Click here for an FAQ of Google Security, or click here for a video showing their physical security - how does this compare to your School Board?  Ontario's Privacy Commissioner released a White Paper on Storage in the Cloud with questions to be considered by organizations who use the Cloud to store information (download a copy here).  The Canadian Privacy Commissioner has downplayed the perceived risks of the Patriot Act to Canadians, outlining that other measures for obtaining information for legal purposes have always existed (read more).  A decade has passed since the Patriot Act and many institutions including Banks are using 3rd party storage, that has been ruled as safe and compliant. Other rulings related to email storage have found that the risks are no greater than using Canadian based storage providers (read more).

All of this to say, there are greater risks to your privacy and security when you don't have a proper backup of your mobile device or your backup is easily lost or stolen , just like your primary device.

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