Last week, I was sitting around talking to a friend about how he lost his data on his computer, but he had it all backed up on an external hard drive. It brought up the subject of him losing that hard drive or it getting lost/stolen – leading to the idea of cloud storage. He questioned whether cloud storage is safe or not. Cloud services have changed IT entirely for businesses across a wide range of areas. But as more and more companies rely on the cloud for storage, syncing, and computing, hackers are targeting popular cloud services for the sensitive information stored there. Yes, the companies that provide cloud storage are responsible in keeping our data secure, but we should also look at what we can do as consumers and make cloud storage safer for our data.
To begin, let’s answer the question: what exactly is the cloud storage? In essence, it is a model of networked enterprise storage where data is stored not only in the user’s computer, but also in virtualized pools of storage which are generally hosted by third parties. From music files to pictures to sensitive documents, the cloud invisibly backs up your files and folders and avoids the potentially endless and costly search for extra storage space. An alternative to purchasing an external hard drive or deleting old files to make room for new ones, cloud storage is convenient and cost-effective. It works by storing your files on a server on the internet rather than on your local hard drive, allowing you to back up, sync, and access your data across multiple devices as long as they have internet capability.
If you wish to store information virtually, however, you must consider the added risk that your information may be accessible to others — potentially people who you do not wish to have access. Outlined below are a few security risks to take into account and how to protect yourself and your data.
Cloud computing is a relatively new tool for the average consumer. It is important to explore the service that most fits your needs.
The first step in using the cloud service is to choose a provider that fits your needs. Some points to take into consideration on your search are:
- Are the company’s security standards appropriate? – Do some research for your needs. Make sure that the company has a good reputation and solid security policies. Remember, this company holds your trust to store your personal information.
- How much data storage do you need? Look at sites with a realistic expectation of the size you need to store all your files. Most companies charge by the amount of storage you are requesting.
- Is your data encrypted when being uploaded or downloaded from the cloud? Make sure that your browser or app requires an encrypted connection before you upload or download your data. Always look for the “https://” or the padlock beside the URL in your browser.
- Is your data encrypted when stored in the cloud? Read the terms of service to find this information; often your data will be stored on the cloud server with no encryption, this means that anyone that has (or can get) high level access to that server will be able to read your files. This may not be an issue for many files, but you should carefully consider what kind of information you are storing in the cloud and whether you are comfortable with some other person you don’t know accessing it. At a minimum, no data that is protected by law (medical information, personal identifiers, financial data) should be stored in the cloud unless the storage solution is encrypted and you know who can decrypt it (it should only be you or your organization) and for what reason.
- Learn and understand how access is shared with your cloud folder: Many cloud storage providers allow you to share access to your online folders with other people. Be sure you know in details and understand how this works. Can they read only or can they change the file? Will you know who changed a file last? If you share the file with a group, can you see who all is in the group? Are you notified if the group changes? Does the service allow you to make files public? If you do, are your personal details (name, account, email, etc.) attached to that file if a stranger looks at it?
- Know your options if the cloud provider should be hacked or should lose your data: Many of these companies require that you sign their terms and conditions before they allow you to use the service. In the vast majority of cases, these conditions state that you have very little, if any, remedy if anything bad should happen. Be aware of what you are signing away.
Once you have found the service that best caters to your needs, it is important to make your data as safe as possible.
- Pick a good password: All cloud services require a master password to get into your files, so make it a good one, something that is pretty long and not easy for others to hack. When it comes to passwords, longer is better. True, it can be a hassle to remember a strong password but it’s an even bigger hassle to have your information stolen.
- Don’t reuse your passwords: The password you choose to access the cloud should be unlike any other password you use. If a hacker gets access to your Facebook password which may also be the password to your email, they will not only have a clear view of where you hold financial accounts, but they will be able to reset all of your passwords without your knowledge.
- Don’t share your passwords: Even with a trusted friend, sharing your password is never a good idea. The more people who know your password, the more likely it is to be spread around. Your password is the lock to your information; don’t let more people have access to it than necessary.
- Back up your data: The same way you back up your computer’s hard drive, back up your cloud storage data. Some companies are out there that offer a small amount of storage free of cost. Take advantage of this and make sure you have your most important data backed up in case of an unexpected loss.