Prismatic light shines on Switzerland

Following the furore over the US NSA’s PRISM programme and security scares about online storage services, it seems a growing number of cloud service providers and users are turning to Switzerland as a more secure alternative.

Cloud-based storage services continue to be something of a hot topic, particularly when it comes to the issue of security. Services such as DropBox are much loved by end users for their convenience and ease of use.

They are particularly valuable to many now using their own devices such as smartphones and tablets as their primary work tools. But for many business managements the security implications of such public services are worrying, particularly if sensitive company information is uploaded into weakly managed shared storage areas.

In addition to this, the recent furore surrounding the American National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM surveillance programme has sparked growing concern over data privacy. There are now legitimate concerns for global corporations in using US-controlled cloud services providers, such as Amazon and Azure.

The issues become more complicated with the addition of the PRISM factor as well. With services like DropBox it is just the security of data storage in a public cloud service which has to be considered. With the likes of Amazon and Azure, however, these can be hosting services developed in and apparently sourced from other countries. From the user’s perception, they might be a UK company using a UK sourced service from a UK service provider. And that might be only partially true.

Providing users with more secure alternatives to such fundamentally useful services has, therefore, become one of the more important service targets for a number of businesses. Now, it seems Switzerland is targeting this need, trading on its long-established reputation for financial propriety.

The stringent laws which govern Swiss banks are derivative of the nation’s approach to privacy, and now the country is pushing itself as the ideal location for hosting services and storing data too, according to Mateo Meier, director at Artmotion, Switzerland’s biggest offshore hosting company.

It appears Swiss ‘private’ hosting companies are now seeing significant growth because privacy in Switzerland is enshrined in law. As the country is outside of the EU, it is not bound by pan-European agreements to share data with other member states. Neither need it share data with the USA. According to Meier, Artmotion has seen its revenue grow 45 percent on the back of this new demand for heightened privacy. He sees it as especially troubling for businesses with data privacy issues, such as banks or large defence and healthcare organisations with ‘secret’ research and development needs.

The USA has long been seen as a leader in the development and exploitation of cloud services, and in particular its well-funded sources of accessible and highly scalable compute and data storage resources. Now there are doubts about the security risks that may be involved for businesses that use them. US cloud service providers are inevitably subject to US laws, which provide powers for the government to request business information under theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The company in question is also unlikely to ever know its data has been accessed.

Those laws obvious extend to services such as Dropbox and online office resources such as Office 365. Indeed, they go further than just suspicions about the innate security of those services. Even services such as Box, which targets solving the security issues and allowing companies and their staff to build secure information collaboration services, will not be secure from those laws. This does raise questions about individual employees using such file sharing software hosted in the US, and even in the EU.

“Unlike the US or the rest of Europe, Switzerland offers many data security benefits,” Meier said. “For instance, as the country is not a member of the EU, the only way to gain access to the data hosted within a Swiss datacentre is if the company receives an official court order proving guilt or liability. This procedure applies to all countries requesting any information from a Swiss datacentre and, unlike in the EU, there is no special law for the US.”

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