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On the Google Docs sharing security incident

This content is 15 years old and may not reflect reality today nor the author’s current opinion. Please keep its age in mind as you read it.

I was just trying to respond to ZDnet’s hot-off-the-press article (The cloud bites back: Google bug shared private Google Docs data) about the recent Google Docs sharing vulnerability but ZDnet’s servers are throwing errors. Anyway now that Google have announced that they “believe the issue affected less than 0.05% of all documents” (rather than just emailing the affected users) I was considering writing a post anyway so killing two birds with one stone:

It’s convenient that they should prefer to use a percentage of an unknown number rather than a meaningful statistic, but given that sharing even a single document inappropriately could destroy a business or someone’s life it is still very serious. Fortunately I’ve not heard of any such incidences resulting from this breach (then again often you won’t).

Putting it in perspective though, for the same sample of documents over the same period how many do you think would have suffered security breaches under the “old way” of storing them locally and emailing them? And by security breaches I include availability (loss) and integrity (corruption) as well as confidentiality (disclosure).

People still lose/steal latops and leave data laden USB keys all over the place so I don’t see that this is much different from before and may well be better. Security researchers need statistics though so it would be useful if vendors were more transparent with information about breaches.

It would be great to see some more objective analysis and reporting comparing cloud computing with legacy systems – I’d say the fear mongerers would be surprised by the results.

Here’s some tips that cloud vendors should ideally try to follow:

  • Work with researchers to resolve reported issues
  • Always be transparent about security issues (even if you think nobody noticed)
  • Limited liability is not an excuse to be negligent – always write secure code and test thoroughly
  • Remember that at least until cloud computing is widely accepted (and even thereafter) you are in the business of trust, which is hard to gain and easy to lose.

That’s all for today – back to cloud standards…