Over the NSA surveillance hype? Here’s why you shouldn’t be

Last year, when Edward Snowden dropped the revelation that the United States National Security Agency was peering into the private data of individuals and companies, the world sat up and took notice.

All the hype that security companies had been generating over the years suddenly became a reality – big brother is watching. Not only that, but companies and individuals have spent the past ten years putting their private data in a public space – social media and the cloud – with little thought for the implications that could result when a big, bad government agency comes knocking.

And yet, a year later, all the hand-wringing and face palming has died down, and most companies and individuals are carrying on as they did before. But they shouldn’t be, according to JJ Milner, Managing Director and founder of Global Micro. This is why.  “When you look at the security of data, there has to be a tacit appreciation of the fact that data has value,” he says. “In the same way as you treat anything of value, you have to protect it.”

This isn’t Spy vs Spy

Milner points out that companies have a tendency to be very dismissive of the possibility that government spies might be looking at their data, but are ignoring the real threat of industrial espionage, and the fact that most data thefts are actually internal. “After all the awareness that the NSA surveillance story has generated, people are still not seeing the wood for the trees,” he says. “Companies have moved their data to cloud operators not owned by US firms, but have allowed all other protection processes to go out the window.”

Cloud storage

While decision-makers at companies in the United States have a lot to consider both in terms of the NSA and every other data security threat to their business, South Africans also need to make some serious considerations.  “In South Africa, even if you store your data in another country, it is still required to comply with the local Protection of Personal Information Act,” says Milner. “You should store your data with a provider that you know, understand and trust to look after it, and you should be mindful that security must encompass spying, hacktivism and hackers, and that it needs to be available when you need it and at the speed at which you need it.”

He cautions that a haphazard approach to off-site data storage will lead to uncertainty, and the agreements get more and more diluted over time, especially if the data is stored in another country. “As this volume of data grows, companies are seldom considering if they are with the right provider for their needs, or what might happen if they need to restore that data.”

Accountability is vital

Hybrid cloud solutions – a mix of the best services provided by an outside environment and an internal infrastructure – are the latest buzzword. But even as they are touted as a “best of both worlds” solution, they come with their own concerns. “The mix of environments provides scope for security issues, and it is difficult to allocate responsibility when there are multiple providers.”

As the corporate world puts more and more data online, in the hands of cloud providers, the risks of security breaches increase. It is for this reason that Milner says it is so vitally important to consider your choice of cloud provider carefully. “Security is important and you need to talk to people you trust”, says Milner. “There are ways to make public clouds secure, so choose your providers with care and be sure to ask them all the right questions.”


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