May 2013

Consumer Cloud Apps

Should SMBs Ban the Use of Consumer Cloud Apps?

By: Marie-Claude Veillette

As the business world turns more than ever to mobile devices and cloud-based file-sharing services to store or collaborate on important documents, the amount of information that is falling into the wrong hands keeps climbing.

In its 2012 Confidential Documents at Risk Study, the Ponemon Institute points out that 60% of organizations have employees who frequently or very frequently put confidential files on services like Dropbox without permission. 90% of the surveyed organizations say that they experienced leakage or loss of sensitive or confidential documents over the past 12-month period.

From Dropbox and Google Drive to MediaFire and RapidShare, there are loads of services providing space in the cloud for users to store large files or share them with colleagues. 

The Uneasy Relationship Between Corporations and Consumer Cloud Apps        

End-user ignorance often plays a key role in exposing sensitive business data. It is why IT admins should be educating users on approaching cloud storage with caution. Part of this strategy could include creating clear policies as to which services can be used and how and which types of document are allowed to transit through public cloud file-sharing services.

Some companies are already enforcing strong policies regulating the use of such file-sharing services. IBM is among those who, for security concerns, has completely banned the use of Dropbox, Apple’s iCloud, and other well-known services on their corporate network. As an alternative, IBM has its own custom-built solution for file sharing, but unfortunately for SMBs, it is not everyone that can afford such measures.

Should SMBs Really Be Worried About Leaks?

Some providers would like you to think otherwise, but the security risks associated with any BYOC (bring-your-own-cloud) approach are real, and it doesn’t matter if you are a small business or a large multinational. The BYOC approach increases the threat of insiders walking out with the business’ intellectual property. Generally speaking, well-known applications such as Dropbox or Google Drives, don’t inherently pose huge problems for most SMBs. That does not mean, however, that the use of consumer-oriented applications is always the best solution because they are often lacking in terms of controlling or monitoring what employees are uploading to the cloud.

The best approach is to provide employees with a SMB-grade cloud collaboration solution for sensitive corporate data. MozyPro, SugarSync or, for instance, offer professional web-based versions for businesses. Cloud storage services that cater to enterprises allow administrators to control the account settings of all users and easily configure permissions and privileges for the entire organization. These services have everything any small business would need from backup, sync, access and sharing files on-the-go, instantly and securely from virtually any device.

In general all sensitive and confidential corporate data should remain stored behind the corporate firewall. Enterprises with larger budgets and a large number of employees can also choose to turn to companies specializing in building private clouds or multi-enterprise cloud storage options which will offer appropriate security and often at a lower cost than a public subscription based service.

Should SMBs Just Say “No” to Consumer Grade Cloud Storage?

The answer depends on your willingness to live with the idea of letting confidential data transit outside of you IT department’s control. Services like Dropbox and other well-known applications are a huge asset for SMBs who do not have the resources to invest in cloud services especially designed for businesses. They are driving new ways of working within SMBs have a real potential for increasing employee productivity.

Businesses that choose to allow the utilization of consumer grade cloud storage services need to at least better educate their employees on the inherent risks of security breaches because one thing is for sure: however they try to avoid it, the use and prevalence of consumer cloud storage services will continue to be a growing trend.