Over at ITworld, my friend (and former boss) Dan Tynan has a chilling account of cloud computing gone awry. It begins with his discovery that his Box online storage account had mysteriously gone missing. And the explanation of what happened is downright bizarre:
I had exhausted my support options, so I put on my reporter’s hat and politely asked Box.com corporate to look into this problem for me. At this point, I still held out hope that it was something stupid I had done that caused my files to be mislaid. Perhaps one of my various collaborators had sent a password reset and changed the email address associated with it. Perhaps I had hit my storage limit and missed the emails from Box.com prompting me to upgrade.
It took nearly three weeks to get the whole story, and it’s a doozy.
My account, I was told, had been “rolled in” last April by a Box.com employee into an account controlled by a large public relations firm that I had never heard of. This is something Box does from time to time for its enterprise customers.
It’s not a tale of true catastrophe — Box eventually recovered Dan’s stuff, which wasn’t particularly important in the first place — and the company says that this was all due to an unfortunate one-time lapse. But it reminds me of a far more horrifying saga from last year, when hackers broke into multiple accounts belonging to Wired‘s Mat Honan and deleted everything from his Gmail to the photos of his daughter which he’d stored on his MacBook.
When the cloud works as advertised — which is nearly all the time — it’s remarkably useful. But stories like these are healthy, disturbing reminders that entrusting anything to the Internet involves risks, and that putting backups of anything that’s irreplaceable on a device which is utterly disconnected from the Net, such as a USB hard drive, is never a bad idea.