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The weather forecast: today there is cloud, tomorrow there might not be…

By Chris Hills


ZDnet recently ran an article on “IoT Abandonware” primarily about the disappearance of Aether who's “The Cone” speaker hardware only worked with RDIO streaming radio service which is also stopping. So, for the foreseeable future, the Aether Cone is a pretty paperweight. The rest of the article is that you should be careful buying IoT devices from new or start up companies. Of course the big established companies like Apple and Microsoft wouldn’t force changes on users they don’t want, would they? Like major changes to iTunes or scrapping the MS Media Centre on new versions of Windows.


However the point of the article is that the IoT is not static, everything changes. The cloud is virtual and, like real clouds, it can move or evaporate altogether leaving you with nothing. In some cases the cloud will move location or change ownership and the new owners change the rules. It puts me in mind of the Who: Won’t get fooled again.



Do you know where your cloud services reside? I don’t mean where the cloud company’s local office is, or where its head office is nor where your access point is but where the data resides, even if it is only a temporary resting place. Or for that matter the location of some of the cloud based apps you use that take your data. UK and EU laws on data storage and privacy are very different to those in the USA, China, Russia etc. This may be crucial to your company.


This was the case a few years ago with a file sharing site. The FBI determined that a large number of users were sharing files illegally. At least one set of the servers came under US jurisdiction, so the FBI closed them down, both inside and outside the US. Good! The bad guys got what was coming to them! However, about 50% of the users were not illegal and had many legitimate files stored on the system, some of it critical for their companies. I seem to recall it was estimated that it would take the FBI 6-12 months to check the files and clear the legitimate files for return to their owners. It is no good telling HMRC, the UK tax authority, that your quarterly VAT return files are stored on a secure server but the FBI/KGB/Police etc won’t let you have them back for 6-12 months. Never mind the files for your patent application or latest design.


I knew a company that leased its domain name, it was a franchise. It had to close, and the day it closed it lost the domain. The staff lost their email addresses, and control of email. The directors, who travelled frequently, had stored a lot of data on on-line cloud storage, including company balance sheets and accounts, customer lists, prospects, personal and company photos etc. They could not access any of these. Any attempt to change access to information had to be confirmed from the original company email addresses they no longer had. All the data was lost.


A colleague was complaining that his internet enabled TV, only a few years old, was now obsolete as the base OS (Windows) was no longer supported with updates. Or at least the updates for most of the apps running on it were now for a newer version of Windows.


Some may say had it been Linux things would be OK. But for the IoT Open Source, or FOSS (Free and open source software) may not be the answer. If a FOSS system is used you can bet it is a modified system but unless you are prepared to demand the source, fight your way through the request procedures (which can take many months) and eventually get the specific version you need, which may not be the case, you are going to be no better off than if it had been a proprietary closed source product. I know someone who tried this. It took 6 months and the SW he got was not precisely the correct set. Besides unless you are an experienced hacker and your time is worth less than minimum wage, it will be more cost effective to buy a new TV anyway.


Of course it is not just going to be TV’s and radios but all manner of IoT devices around the house, both open and closed source. There was the issue of some TV’s with voice activation potentially bugging rooms they were in. In fact any voice control or system with a microphone or camera, such as children's toys is a potential bugging target. People are hacking baby monitors and DiY web-enabled security cameras. (We have to hope professional systems are more secure.)


Whilst thinking about FOSS and backups, I looked at SourceForge and discovered to my surprise that it too has as much trouble, even if slightly different trouble, as commercial cloud systems. Apart from several countries blocking it (apparently they were worried about terrorists using it to develop SW!), there have been attacks and denial of service. Some projects have been high-jacked. Nowhere is immune it seems.

In short if you are using the cloud it can be as reliable as the weather forecast. So make sure you have whatever is the equivalent of an umbrella.