Do You Trust "Protected" Websites?

Do You Trust "Protected" Websites?

Mike Tyson
Nov 14, 2011

It's no secret that more and more of our data is being hosted on someone else's servers -- the "cloud" if you will. Why do we do this? Because it's convenient and efficient. But is it safe? You would never just hand over your banking info on a folded sheet of paper to some random stranger for safekeeping. So why do we trust these numerous websites to store our most private data? Is the risk really worth the convenience?

These days there seems to be a third-party service that requires any and all private information you could possibly have. There are websites such as Mint which uses your banking information to create an online personal finance management system. Or there is the ever popular Dropbox which promises safe storage of all your personal files in the cloud for easy access. Or LastPass which stores your login credentials so you never have to input them again. All of this is pretty serious, highly sensitive stuff.

Sites like these work using a complex net of security and data encryption. Encrypted data is essentially plaintext (ie. your password) which has then been distorted using a specific algorithm which can only be unlocked utilizing that same "key." This way, only you poses the "key" to your data and even if someone was able to get ahold of it through a security hole server side, they would (hopefully) be unable to break the encryption. But this doesn't always mean you're safe.

The aforementioned website LastPass once had quite the scare when they suspected that someone had breached their security and was able to obtain username and password combinations forcing many to go through the painful process of changing all of their password information.

Thankfully people remain critical of these sites. Jason Owens has a thoughtful investigation into whether Mint was safe to use (his answer ultimately being "both no and yes" and asks you to weigh the benefits with the risks.) So what does that mean? Is storing our sensitive data online simply a gamble? Do you like leaving your most personal information up to luck? We personally don't use any of these third-party services for this very reason. It just seems easier to keep everything local and sacrifice some efficiency for the sake of safety.

We're also curious if there will ever be a point when our data would be 100% safe in cyberspace. Or will there always be that inherent risk that we'll forever be gambling against?

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