Don't let marketing paper over cracks in security

Mockup image with padlocks to symbolise a cyber security vulnerability
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The last few months have been quite revealing when it comes to understanding the business strategies of the big cloud players. Which I have found to be rather worrying, if not unexpected.

The cloud providers' strategy appears to be a race to the bottom; well, the bottom line at any rate. Google announced price cuts of up to 85 per cent, Amazon quickly joined in and then Microsoft jumped on the cut-price bandwagon soon after. The battle-lines of the cloud wars have been drawn.

The latest battle report comes from Dropbox CEO Drew Houston who says "Our users go try [rival products] and often come back." Accordingly, Dropbox isn't going to compete on price, but will focus on delivering 'quality' and 'user experience' instead. Which is admirable, but is it enough?

That, I would argue, rather depends upon how you define those two things. Personally, quality and user experience can be seen as one and the same thing: get one wrong and the other suffers.

My concern is that both terms are way too generic to be of much use as a weapon in the cloud wars. Simply firing a volley of 'buzzword bombs' over the heads of the price cutting cavalry is not going to stop their charge. I doubt that the Amazons, Googles and Microsofts of this world are even going to feel the shrapnel from these rhetoric rockets exploding somewhere in the market battlefield.

Rhetoric, which can be defined as language designed to sound impressive but which actually lacks meaningful content, is probably the most prolific weapon being fired in these cloud wars it seems to me. You might argue that the big boys have been using the better ammunition, winning the battle with their bottom line price-cutting attacks. I would point out, however, that winning battles and winning wars are two very different things. The gut feeling I get is that the cloud war will most likely be a long, drawn out attritional campaign. As strategic alliances are formed and the number of players decreases, and they surely will, the winners are going to be the ones who get the bigger picture and make more meaningfully targeted attacks accordingly.

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There's a reason that when you watch a war film, TV drama or even a sitcom such as Blackadder, the top brass determining strategic strikes will be seen poring over maps. This is because maps can be used in a variety of ways: from providing the precise detail of individual battle terrain to the ones giving an overall picture of the war itself, are a vital ingredient. The better the mapping, the more accurate your strikes will be and the better your chances of winning the war.

Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that what is being mapped out at the moment is more akin to psychological warfare than anything else.

Think about it this way: what's the main reason most people want to move to the cloud? Yep, lower costs, no doubt about that. And the reverse of that question? Security has for the longest time been the main reason people have not made the migration. Could it be, then, that cutting the price makes for more money in marketing ... to cover the strategic cracks in security investment and development. Of course, this will also act to take out those smaller players who may well be more focused on security than cost?

Seriously, the price cuts are mainly in the area of data storage for a reason: move data to the cloud and all of a sudden the door opens to all kinds of other cloud services which can now be sold with less hassle because they all revolve around that central data core.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the smaller players, the foot soldiers and revolutionaries, let's stick to the military analogy, must differentiate to survive. Picking your targets carefully is where that differentiation must happen. I rather suspect that those who see security as an ally and not an enemy will be victorious.

My mother has always insisted, while spending far too much on a pair of curtains for example, that you get what you pay for. I fear she may well prove to be right, because when it comes to data security 'cheap' should never be a driver.

I just hope that all sides of the cloud war see that and act accordingly lest amidst the big bottom line bombs going off and the fallout that ensues we are left totally in the dark when it comes to protecting our data...

Davey Winder

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist specialising in cybersecurity and privacy matters and has been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue was published in 1994. He's also a Senior Contributor at Forbes, and co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project that won the ‘Most Educational Content’ category at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards.

Davey has also picked up many other awards over the years, including the Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title in 2020. As well as being the only three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) Davey was also named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro Magazine called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 he was honoured with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism which, thankfully, didn’t end his ongoing contributions - or his life for that matter.

You can follow Davey on Twitter @happygeek, or email him at