It may be true that cloud computing services are permeating nearly every facet of our networked world; but in the process of sharing our data with the companies that provide these resources, what do we do about the trust issue? Data in the cloud is vulnerable unless it’s protected somehow. And if this protection isn’t implemented, then the whole service becomes less useful for those people who require it.

Not all services are affected equally, however; and some are not affected much at all. For example, protecting certain data fields stored in a distributed online database may be as common-practice as using strong encryption. However, more delicate services may not be as flexible…

How do you force the image data stored on a cloud image editor to be encrypted at their end? Or force a word processor to encrypt your latest holiday shopping list? Without the assistance of the service providers, the only solution is a customized technical workaround; colloquially known as a hack.

An example of precisely this kind of workaround was outlined in this paper (pdf) by Yan Huang and David Evans. In it, they describe a method (and a working example) by which a user can use Google Docs while maintaining both confidentiality and integrity.

It works by way of some very clever applications of incremental encryption, data structuring, and indexing to transparently handle all of the security operations. And although it interferes with some functional capabilities, it stands as an example of the kind of solutions needed to shine some light on the shady parts of the cloud.