Jan 05 2014

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Cloud computing: a blessing and a curse

Right after the DOT-COM bubble began to shrink, a new concept of computing called cloud computing gave hope to a dying breed. It boosted the profits of entirely Internet based companies like Dropbox Inc. and opened the market for new Internet based companies. The next big step for this technology is the “smart home” which also referred to as “connected home”.

Connected Home

I wrote several articles on home automation. Over the last two months, I have been busy with building a small, but functional home automation network. The system I use is independent of any particular company because I use common standard called Z-wave. I have the option to use controllers from several different companies. I can also add modules (switches, door openers, sensors, etc) from companies ranging from General Electric (GE) to small start-up manufactures. The finally goal of any form of home automation is to connect everything to a single (or few) network allowing full control over everything in the house.

2014 Consumer Electronics Show: Samsung Connected Home Diagram

2014 Consumer Electronics Show: Samsung Connected Home Diagram

There are several big players like Samsung, LG, Sony and Apple also came up with their own proprietary connected systems. While the technologies they use and the type of equipment may vary, all of these companies use one thing in common; a cloud computing network. For example, the Samsung SMART TVs and home theater systems can now be connected to the Internet. They also can be controlled via Samsung’s proprietary network over the Internet (using smart phone, computer, etc). You can turn ON/OFF your TV or switch channels or block access to channels over the Internet. With Apple iTunes and their Apple wireless router, you can play music from your iTunes library via your tablet or smartphone. This is what the ultimate connected home is all about. Control, control and control made possible by cloud networks.

Cloud computing

No, it is not a mythical heaven controller in the sky! 🙂 Cloud computing is a type of real time communication system through a network of equipment and computers. All of the controls over the Internet for those Samsung TVs and Apple iTunes are made possible by some form or a cloud network. While it may sounds odd, cloud computing is not something new. In fact, it is the foundation for the very first network developed by researchers from the United States. Before Internet became a household term, a set of interconnected computers (called LAN or Local Area Network) were used to communicate information between several universities and labs in the 1950s and 1960s. But with growth, over the years it went from a network to TCP/IP controlled Internet. We could say a closed LAN, a cloud network. The only major difference is that the cloud computing allow us to run programs or tasks over several different computers at the same time. Anyway, I think that is enough for basic introduction to what is a cloud computer network.

Is it good, evil or both?

It is exciting to see the progress of “connected home” concept through cloud networking. Could networking make our But what about the privacy and security?

Let’s look at a situation from a bad guys point of view. If I want to steal other peoples’ information, what is the best option I have? Attack your home LAN network or attack a cloud network? I would say attacking a cloud network is the best option. Often a popular cloud network such as Dropbox or Samsung or Apple are used by millions of people. By hacking into a system like that will open up so many secret for the evil!

If a bad guy wants to get access to your home network, it may not worth the effort. For example, if you hack into my severs, you will not financially benefit from it. I do not store any critical information such as Credit Card numbers or legal documents on my servers. But with the large number of companies and people using a cloud network, the amount of “sensitive information” also exceed.

It does not stop there… now your digital camera, your toothbrush, the oven and even your shower may be monitored and controlled over a cloud network. Often this can be annoying because manufactures adds the cloud network built into their equipment. Often the consumer/end user have no option to completely disable it. The new Linksys routers have mobile app (connects via a cloud) written into the firmware. User can disable it but whose to say that it cannot be turned on over the Internet? I opposed the idea of connecting the router controls to the Internet because in case of a hack, the entire LAN and the connected computers and devices may be compromised.

Another issue is cooperate responsibilities. How many of you think that Apple and Samsung will never ever hand over your personal information to others? What about as a result of mistakes or hacks on their networks? In 2013, Sony PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked. Millions of accounts were effected including Credit Card transactions of some account holders. While Sony Inc. have apologized, once it happened, it cannot be undone.

Not paranoid, but cautious

I am not saying we can stay away from computer networks. When you go for shopping even for a toothbrush, the till system will keep a record of your transaction. Even if you paid with cash, what you brought, how much and when you brought it will be stored. For example, if a customer in Canada paid with larger notes ($100) as opposed to smaller denominations ($5, $10, $20, etc) for an item that is cheap like a toothbrush, some companies will flag the transaction. Yes, they claim it is for our own safety and to prevent fraud. But isn’t that ironic?; legal money in any form is valid under the law. You are not breaking any laws and yet your transaction be flagged! The bottom line is I am not saying that we can avoid all forms of computer networks. However, we can avoid using them in certain situations such as home automation. In my personal opinion, this is why cloud connected homes may not be the best option for privacy and security conscious consumer. It is better to buy a Internet connected LAN controller for your home than to go for the cloud system for personal needs.

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