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Are online services ever going to be 100% secure? If not should the insurance industry kick in?

A few days ago Google Apps had an issue with some Google Docs became accessible to other Google users beyond the security set on the docs. To quote from Google:

As we noted in the Google Docs Help Forum yesterday, we’ve identified and fixed a bug where a very small percentage of users shared some of their documents inadvertently. The inadvertent sharing was limited to people with whom the document owner, or a collaborator with sharing rights, had previously shared a document… We believe the issue affected less than 0.05% of all documents…

This obviously is not fun, and 0.05% can be a pretty big number of documents and who knows how these got spread across customers. However, what I wonder is whether this is actually an insurance industry rather than just technology opportunity.

Seriously, you install fire alarms, etc. in your house but you probably still insure it against fire (and not, say, live in the middle of a field because houses can burn). Does this make sense?

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Google Apps (including GMail) were out (again) for commercial customers this week. Considering the August outages not that long ago, this can be a significant PR blow for Google’s enterprise efforts. Or this could be a great opportunity for 3rd-parties to get in and make Google Apps enterprise-ready.

Here’s a quick summary from Slashdot:

“A prolonged, ongoing Gmail outage has some Google Apps administrators pulling their hair out as their end users, including high-ranking executives, complain loudly while they wait for service to be restored. At about 5 p.m. US Eastern on Wednesday, Google announced that the company was aware of the problem preventing Gmail users from logging into their accounts and that it expected to fix it by 9 p.m. on Thursday. Google offered no explanation of the problem or why it would take it so long to solve the problem, a ‘502’ error when trying to access Gmail. Google said the bug is affecting ‘a small number of users,’ but that is little comfort for Google Apps administrators. Admin Bill W. posted a desperate message on the forum Thursday morning, saying his company’s CEO is steaming about being locked out of his e-mail account since around 4 p.m. on Wednesday. It’s not the first Gmail outage.”

The discussion mostly revolves around half of readers saying that on-premise systems are even more susceptible to failures, and another half (proud IT people) saying that their systems are never down and they can do their jobs better than any folks at Googleplex. No surprise.

However, this comment caught my attention (I am leaving everything as it is in the original post):

“The problem is not downtime- it’s lack of any way to mitigate the problems, and a complete and total lack of any customer service from Google. There is NOBODY you can call when there’s a problem. PERIOD.

Compare and contrast. Google:

  • If Google hoses someone’s account, they’re completely fucked. Google will shrug and say “meh, whaddya gonna do?”, and point to their user agreement.
  • If someone breaks into their account or changes the password, they’re completely fucked. Google won’t block access, can’t prove who is who, getting logs will be a slow fight to the death, etc.
  • If the user deletes a bunch of mail (or someone else does) or there’s a bug with their email client (ie if they’re using IMAP or POP access), they’re completely fucked. Google won’t do a restore. Their backups (if they even have any) are for “oh shit” system-wide fuckups (like, I’m guessing, the current one- I bet the accounts got deleted and they’re restoring from backups.)”

If you carefully read between the lines you will see that these are valid concerns and they are not something you could not fix technologically. Will it be too long before we get applications providing such fault-tolerance and administrative control for Google Apps (and competing platforms)?

  • Archiving/backup/recovery outside Google (on-premise or in a competing cloud),
  • Dial-tone availability to maintain email flaw and possibly some (most recent?) data,
  • Access auditing,
  • Offline access (probably will be provided by Google Gears eventually).

The list could go on and on. Sounds like the more outages Google has the bigger is the potential demand for external safety bags other vendors could provide…

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© 2008-2012 Dmitry Sotnikov

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