Clouds Fade Away, And They Can Take Your Data With Them

In Learning Tree’s Cloud Security Essentials course we discuss how the Availability leg of the CIA tripod is the different and difficult one. We have no cryptographic tools, and therefore no mathematics to apply. So, we can’t honestly put hard numbers on projections of availability. We can be pretty sure that it’s less than 100%, but that’s about it.

There are issues of technology, like the lifespan of data stored on different physical media.

There are forces of nature, like Hurricane Sandy submerging the electrical supplies to major Internet sites in Lower Manhattan in late 2012.

And then there are business forces.

We can’t precisely guess the speed with which business pressures will make certain cloud services disappear and take archived data with them, but we can be pretty certain that it will happen, probably before very long when everything evolves on “Internet Time”.

I was reminded of this the other day when a friend asked me about whether there was some way to recover data stored at a communities.msn.com URL. Yes, really.

In the late 1990s, MSN gave users the ability to establish “home pages”, basically small web sites like those on Tripod and GeoCities. This evolved around 2001-2002 into MSN Communities.

It was some time soon after this that my friend joined a group tour to Antarctica. It sounds like a wonderful trip, and the spectacular setting led to many pictures being taken. The group established an MSN Community and used it to collect and share the group’s photos. And, as many members (including my friend) assumed, archive them indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s experiments in marketing Internet communities went on. Features came and went, and the concept was renamed MSN Groups. Then in October 2008, Microsoft announced that MSN Groups would close on February 21, 2009. Users could retain their data if they migrated it to the social website Multiply. Then, in 2012, those who had done the work to migrate their data to Multiply were told that that site was converting to online commerce and the personal websites were soon going away.

I mentioned GeoCities — that extremely popular service appeared late in 1994 and flourished for several years. In 2009, Yahoo!, who had owned GeoCities for about a decade, announced that it would be shut down six months later. At that point there were at least 38 million user pages on GeoCities. This was one of many Yahoo-acquired Internet services to be shut down.

The Internet Archive at archive.org undertook a project to archive GeoCities. InternetArchaeology.org and Reocities are among several organizations also attempting GeoCities archives.

History aside, when my friend lost some of his data, my immediate thought was to check the Wayback Machine. But the Internet Archive had not crawled the MSN collection, possibly because access was restricted to group members.

Microsoft is still around. Microsoft Internet services, many of which we now call “cloud services”, are still around. But the services and data of the fairly recent past are nowhere to be found.

Bob Cromwell

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