AVOID THE CLOUD: There is a new breed of online criminal. They want your identity.
AVOID THE CLOUD: There is a new breed of online criminal. They want your identity. Derrick Den Hollander

Hey you, get off my cloud (server)

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With scams such as fake lottery winnings, compelling victims to share their private bank details online and swindling away their hard-earned cash, how do we trust the internet?

Everything we do online or on our phone is accessible up in "the cloud", a technology concept not everyone understands. Why do smart phone users give so much trust to a device that they do not understand?

Since the dawn of the internet, we have seen our fair share of con-artists. Fake emails, phishing websites, scam text messages and annoying pop-ups. But there is a new breed of online criminal, rippling fear and concern throughout society, and they are not just after your money.

They also want to take something far more valuable, irreplaceable, and once lost - almost impossible to regain.

They want your identity.

Privacy no longer exists online; it's almost a modern-day oxymoron, the concept of "online privacy".

Elizabeth Jewell is all too familiar identity theft. Although she experienced what would be considered a minor incident, it has certainly opened her eyes to issues surrounding privacy online.

The 22-year-old government worker was surprised one morning to wake to text messages from a friend, asking her if she had made a new Instagram account.

"I had all these photo messages of what I thought was my Instagram account," Ms Jewell said.

"And when I woke up properly I realised she was sending me screenshots of a complete random who had used my profile picture and some of my Instagram photos, and had tagged my friend [sending the messages] in the photos!"

When confronted about stalking and using Jewell's photos, the user quickly deleted the photos and the account entirely.

"I used to feel okay about security online until this happened," Ms Jewell said.

So what exactly is "the cloud"? We know it no longer holds one true meaning, of a large collection of minuscule droplets of water floating in the air. Youth culture and the technology industry have a whole new concept for it, storing personal details online in "the cloud".

Kyle Reece, an experienced computer technician and consultant at MD Computers Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast, explains how "the cloud" online server and Apple's trademarked "iCloud" storage feature work.

"iCloud is a storage service offered by Apple Inc. first introduced in the iOS 7 update," Mr Reece said.

"iCloud essentially provides the user with an online storage option of up to 5GB. This can be used to back up integral data, photos or files. iCloud is better known in the IT profession as a "cloud computing service", which - in layman's terms - is a "virtual hard drive"."

Mr Reece describes how anyone is able to access the information stored, using their user ID and password.

However, it's not entirely secure, as he said there will always be a risk prevalent in anything you do, especially if any activities are done through networking or online.

"iCloud is not as secure of a system as most believe, and far more technically vulnerable to attacks," he explained.

"Business cloud servers require employee credentials and are monitored by an internal operative or an outsourced company, they are far safer than a public service such as iCloud. There are no background checks, security hoops [other than verifying email] and thus is a flawed system.

"It makes it far less safe when the cloud computing service can be accessed from personal computers instead of just phones, because the software available on operating systems can provide hackers with the necessary tools to bypass security loops."

How does this leave society to feel secure?

The Australian Institute of Criminology reported in May that one-in-five Australians have had personal information misused, and 10% of those Australians have experienced this in the past year alone.

The problem is worse here than in the United States and United Kingdom.

Ms Jewell was one of the lucky victims, a minor incident that was quickly resolved, but it did leave her with some negative emotions.

"I felt violated," Jewell says. "I felt uncomfortable that anyone can just use my photos, so I was quick to change my settings to private, so now I need to approve anyone to look at my account."

Mr Reece's suggestion for more online security is to avoid the cloud feature entirely.

"Instead, back up any data you do want saved to a personal HDD or company cloud/database. If you want a further measure, make the personal HDD an internal one and hook it up to your PC. Give it a drive lock to prevent unwanted access," he said. "In any case, they can't steal your drive physically if it's behind a tower case, and they can't access the drive without the password."