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Why Edward Snowden's PRISM leaks shouldn't put businesses off the cloud

2013 was a brutal year for society's faith in Internet security. With the NSA leaks and the huge media controversy that continues to surround Snowden's revelations, Internet users and businesses alike can hardly be blamed for fearing for the safety of their online data.

Read more: The year the NSA hacked the world (opens in new tab)

As a result, any information shared on the Internet has been labelled "vulnerable and unreliable" and, subsequently, corners of the market have started to draw away from the cloud. AKQA is one such business that is trialling a new Storage Connect platform, that allows access to files across a business but behind a firewall.

Whilst it appears that the media has been successful in instilling fear into businesses that rely on the Internet (which let's face it, is the majority), the question we now have to ask ourselves is whether these revelations around NSA protocol are really ground-breaking or if governments have merely contemporised the ways in which they spy on their enemies and allies.

Administrative data scandals since the 70s, such as Watergate, go to show that government officials have been delving into confidential information for decades. If anything, the Internet has improved the transparency of what is happening.

Read more: Trend Micro head Eva Chen: PRISM surveillance helped us (opens in new tab)

Government agencies have the right to request that popular browsers - such as Google - disclose information about their users. In turn, Google has been publishing transparency reports since 2010. Google's bi-annual 2013 transparency report shows that 67 per cent of data requests were at least partially handed over to the British government. The US, perhaps unsurprisingly, exceeded this by divulging between 81-100 per cent of the data, depending on the nature of the request.

Not only have the Snowden discoveries taught us nothing new about government surveillance, but it may also be argued that they have, rather ironically, instilled misplaced panic upon web users. The very nature of the revelations shows that the main and most threatening weaknesses actually lie within companies. Snowden demonstrated how detrimental an employee with wide access to sensitive and confidential data can be to a company or, in this instance, a government agency.

But the irony continues. Cloud storage now appears to be the one place that government agencies cannot access information withheld by Snowden. British and US officials believe that he has stored further, unreleased data stating names of US and allied intelligence personnel behind a sophisticated method of encryption with multiple passwords. This has been said to act as his get-out-of-jail-free card, as he uses the unpublished materials to protect himself against arrest or physical harm.

Read more: The best free security and encryption software (opens in new tab)

The Snowden case is not unique to this debate. WikiLeaks is another illustration of how encryption can make data impenetrable and safe from hackers but not from employees. Bradley Manning, an ex-US Army officer and the person who leaked the Afghan War Logs, is the only known contributor to WikiLeaks. He is now serving a 35-year long sentence, after revealing to a fellow soldier that he was in possession of the documents. The encryption of WikiLeaks has remained unbroken.

Whilst it is of course advisable to check how secure your information is online before sharing it, perhaps it's time to look closer to home when searching for more secure ways to protect our data.

Campbell Williams is the group strategy and marketing director at Six Degrees Group (opens in new tab)