Nicholas Pell
Feb 9, 2012

Cloud technology, anti-piracy and the dangers of storing your content online

Cloud computing is one of the hot new trends in the world of tech. Touted as a better way to backup and access data, the cloud is the centerpiece of media services like Spotify. However, the recent FBI raid on Megaupload shows the limitations of cloud computing as those who relied heavily upon the felled data storage site are finding out.

While no hard evidence exists, it’s fair to say that a large portion of the data stored on Megaupload was pirated. Indeed, it’s an open secret on the Internet that just about any film or record can be found on Megaupload. The site was used by many music bloggers looking to share albums in a format more convenient than the typical preferred favorites, torrents and peer-to-peer file sharing.

Still, clearly not every file on Megaupload was illegitimate. Millions of users stored data on the site that they owned, such as family photos and important business documents. While much of this is likely backed up locally, with the cloud as a last resort, some users might not have understood one aspect of the cloud -- it can evaporate very quickly, particularly if, like Megaupload, it’s overwhelmingly used for less-than-honorable purposes.

Unfortunately, the task of separating legitimate content from pirated content is far beyond the capability of nearly any organization, never mind the federal government, who is engaged in anti-piracy efforts of which Megaupload was only one. To allow the site to go back online for a day or two to allow legitimate users to get their content would almost necessarily mean letting people access illegitimate pirated material as well.

So what’s the answer? Not using the cloud as your primary backup is perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from this. Further, users should be mindful of what cloud backup services they use. If the site you use is primarily employed for the purpose of sharing pirated material, you should look for another service. This is especially true for businesses, for whom the loss of sensitive data can be crippling. Those backing up data in the cloud should also store their data on a local device for easy access. Subscribing to two or more cloud computing services might sound like overkill, but it probably doesn’t to the people who just lost their data due to the Megaupload takedown.

It’s worth considering old-fashioned methods of backing up data. While backing up to discs isn’t 'sexy' or even terribly convenient, having a stack of disks with your most important data will allow you to sleep better at night knowing that no matter what happens, you’ve always got a copy somewhere. While not a reasonable solution for companies with several (or several hundred) terabytes of data, the consumer would have little trouble accounting for all important data on disc. It’s a chore, to be sure, but one that’s worth it for peace of mind.

Finally, the Megaupload takedown highlights that the cloud is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Rather than a silver bullet solution to the problems of storage, the cloud presents new challenges for the business sector and consumers alike. Much like file sharing before it, some serious thought will have to be given to how to make the cloud not only useful, but also a safe place to store data, without fear of cloud-based piracy raining on the data storage parade.