Tag Archives: iCloud

Amazon Offers Cloud Storage for All

By Tracey Dowdy

One of my favorite quotes from Anchorman is the line, “Boy, that escalated quickly.” That’s kind of how I feel about Amazon’s latest move in the cloud storage arena.

Last year they announced free, unlimited photo storage on Cloud Drive for members of Amazon Prime. That was a significant boost for Prime when coupled with membership perks like free two day shipping and unlimited streaming video. Yesterday, with their announcement of Unlimited Photos or Unlimited Everything for members and non-members alike, they’ve changed the landscape of cloud storage again.

Amazon certainly isn’t the first to offer cloud storage but they are the first to offer it to anyone, regardless of membership. Unlimited photo storage will still be free for Prime members, but for everyone else the service is offered at $11.99 for photos and $59.99 for all other media – video, documents, music – per year and when compared to other cloud storage providers, there’s a significant price difference.
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Amazon has recognized one very important fact: the average consumer has accumulated a significant amount of media over the years from photos and video to documents, all scattered across multiple devices, and most of us really have no idea how much storage we need.

“Most people have a lifetime of birthdays, vacations, holidays, and everyday moments stored across numerous devices. And, they don’t know how many gigabytes of storage they need to back all of them up…With the two new plans we are introducing today, customers don’t need to worry about storage space–they now have an affordable, secure solution to store unlimited amounts of photos, videos, movies, music, and files in one convenient place.” Josh Petersen, Director of Amazon Cloud Drive

To make the deal even sweeter and lure potential users from other cloud services, Amazon is offering a free three month trial. They’re banking on both the sweetness of the deal and the fact that frankly, most of us are not going shift again in three months once we’ve taken the time and trouble to upload in the first place. Plus, once you’ve chosen to store everything on Cloud Drive, how much more likely are you to choose Prime membership to take advantage of that free, two day shipping? And since you’re already buying books, why wouldn’t you just buy your music…and your movies…and your groceries…

But before you jump from DropBox or iCloud, stop and consider what you need. A terabyte is a lot of storage and for most of us, more than sufficient. Plus, if you’ve already invested time and money uploading to other cloud services, moving everything over is daunting and may not be worth it. On the other hand, if you’ve been debating what to do and just need to get everything tucked away to sort through and manage at some point in the future, it’s hard to argue with Amazon’s price point. And as several commentators have pointed out, at the very least Amazon’s announcement may force other cloud storage providers to examine their prices and services in order to stay competitive.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

It’s Time to Embrace the Cloud

By Paul O’Reilly

While numerous large and medium-sized businesses have eagerly turned to the cloud for data backup and even handling day-to-day transactions, smaller businesses and individuals have been much more reticent. High profile security breaches involving household names such as Target and Home Depot have undermined what little trust many people had in the cloud, and confusion over privacy, reliability and costs have added to the uncertainty.

But however much we try to ignore it, the cloud is not going away. In fact, most of us are already using the cloud on a daily basis, often without realizing it. Whenever we check our Facebook accounts or read our Gmail, we are interacting with the cloud. When we buy something from Amazon, or stream a movie from Netflix, or seek out turn-by-turn directions on our smartphones, we are taking advantage of cloud services, transmitting various amounts of data each time we log on.

So rather than fight against a rising tide, it’s time to allay those fears and embrace everything the cloud has to offer. Here are a few reasons why:

Security

Despite the occasional headlines, cloud computing services have a growing reputation for reliability and security. Think about how much data is handled by cloud services and how few outages and other problems are reported. Even if you are not taking advantage of cloud-based applications like Google Docs, Office 365 or GoToMeeting, cloud storage solutions provide a safe way to make sure all your precious data is backed up and available when you need it. Compare this with your existing arrangements for backup and storage. (Exactly!)

Flexibility

The real benefit of cloud storage is that your data is available wherever and whenever you need it. No more waiting until you get home or back to the office before you can access a file. No more carrying a not-so-portable laptop with you wherever you go. Data stored in the cloud is available wherever there is access to the Internet, and with most people carrying personal hotspots in the form of their smartphones, that means virtually everywhere.

Affordability

The price for online storage is cheap and getting cheaper. With Google Drive, the first 15GB of online storage is free, which will almost certainly take care of most individual’s needs. If you are a small business owner or store a lot of movies or other large files, then 100GB costs just $1.99 a month. Even more impressively, a terabyte of storage (that’s 1000GB) costs just $9.99 a month. At these prices, you don’t really have to look anywhere else, but there are still dozens of options to choose from, including Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud and Amazon Cloud Drive. All of them offer a certain amount of free storage, with additional paid options if you need more.

Privacy

As Edward Snowden and certain Sony Entertainment executives will tell you, privacy is one of the biggest problems of the digital age. But again, stop and think about the personal data that we already store in the cloud, mostly because we put it there. Facebook and Instagram accounts, Gmail, banking apps, messaging, Apple Pay – the list of cloud-based computer programs and smartphone apps containing sensitive information is almost endless and each of them probably holds significantly more personal data than we store in the majority of our PC-based Word and Excel files.

That’s not to minimize the risk associated with uploading large amounts of personal data to the cloud but to emphasize that we have already passed the point of no return. The cloud is already a big part of our lives and to not acknowledge that fact is to close the door to myriad opportunities for improved security and efficiency.

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Celebrity Hacking Scandal Exposes the Risks of Online Backup

The current celebrity hacking scandal is a stark reminder of the dangers of posting risqué photos to the Internet, but some of the comments of the parties involved suggest that they might not have known the photos were actually online. How is this possible?

Welcome to the age of automatic backup and cloud storage. Originally regarded as a life-saver for compulsive smartphone photographers and on-the-go office workers, online backup services are now giving users pause for thought.

In the current scandal, both the victims and outside observers have been quick to point the finger at iCloud, Apple’s backup service for iOS devices. Introduced in 2011, iCloud now has over 300 million users, who take advantage of the service to store music, photos, apps, documents, contacts, and more.

But as mentioned earlier, not everyone is aware that they are using iCloud or what iCloud is backing up and storing on their behalf. There is also an iCloud sub-service called Photo Stream, which automatically pushes photos to all the other devices registered to an iCloud user. These include not only phones and tablets but laptops and computers and even Apple TV.

Of course, Apple is not alone in offering these kind of backup and cloud storage services. Google has Google Drive, Microsoft offers OneDrive, and there are a host of third-party services such as Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, SafeSync, and more. Once activated, each of these services works quietly in the background, periodically scanning content folders on various devices and updating to the cloud.

Playing the blame game

But even if we backup photos and other content without realizing it, aren’t these services supposed to be secure? The answer is clearly ‘yes,’ but once content is uploaded to the Internet, it immediately becomes vulnerable to hackers and all kinds of security breaches.

In the case of the celebrity photos that are currently circulating the Internet, Apple was quick to release a statement claiming that there was no breach in any of its cloud services, including iCloud and Find My iPhone. Instead they alleged that the hackers targeted user names, passwords and security questions. To protect against this type of attack, Apple recommended using a strong password and what it referred to as “two-step verification.”

What does all this mean? Well, it means that most of us, including well-known celebrities, are still incredibly sloppy when it comes to password use. One of the biggest vulnerabilities is in the area of password recovery. If a hacker knows someone’s e-mail address, then it can be relatively easy to recover a password, as the answers to secondary security questions such as ‘What was the name of your first pet?’ or ‘What is your mother’s maiden name?’ can be easily obtained through social media or other public sources.

While effective, the two-step verification that Apple recommends can be time-consuming and awkward, as it involves sending a secondary password to a cell phone or other device every time you log in. Almost every cloud service offers this extra protection but only a tiny fraction of users have signed on.

How can you protect your personal information?

So how can a celebrity – or regular user – protect their personal information? First of all, avoid using easy-to-hack passwords. You should also consider using one-off e-mail addresses for each of your cloud services, so it’s harder for anyone to claim a lost password. Also, lie when you answer those security questions. If you actually have a dog called Fido, that’s the last name you should use when asked about your favorite pet!

Next, consider using two-step authentication, even if it means more of a hassle when you log on. Barring a data breach at the server level, this is the one move that can almost guarantee the security of your account.

Finally, if you want to make sure you don’t want someone to have access to your personal information, don’t put it online – period. To be honest, the idea that major box office celebrities and models would happily post nude pictures of themselves to the Internet is a bit of a head-scratcher, unless they didn’t realize they were posting online in the first place. Yes, there is an expectation of privacy, but that expectation is diminished with every new headline detailing the perils of the digital age.