When we talk about Cloud Computing, and Cloud Storage, what do we actually mean? We can easily name names, like DropBox, iCloud, OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Box.. but are these services safe and secure? What are the alternatives? What approach should you take when considering using cloud storage?
We’ve all experienced it… your USB Drive fails to be recognised by your computer, or your hard drive has died within your computer, and you’ve lost all data that was on them. The question is, do you have another copy of the data? If you’ve used common sense, the answer is ‘yes’, but so often the answer is ‘no’ because we trust these pieces of equipment. Like all things, the parts we buy for computers (hard drives etc.) only have a limited life expectancy, and even if it does last a long time, it will be outdated and need to be replaced anyway.
The question you need to ask yourself, how important is that information to me? Does it matter if I lose it forever, does it matter if someone else sees it, how often do I need to access it?
We live in a world of instant gratification… we want to watch a movie, so we load up Netflix and away we go, instant! We want something from Amazon and boom, it’s delivered that evening or next day. You want to check your bank balance, you open up your app, or log onto the website and there you go. Technology has advanced so much that we have the luxury of instant gratification. Cloud storage gives you the same flexibility and convenience as all these other things. You need to check your home insurance certificate – just open an app/log into the website, and your document is there. You want to look at a photo from 15 years ago, you do exactly the same.
But how safe is your information with these cloud storage companies? I’m not actually going to answer that question (yes misleading title). Instead, I’m going to answer a question that you haven’t asked…. are these companies better at storing my files than I am? That is a simple ‘yes’ (most likely). Why this is the case will also answer the original question.
The likes of Microsoft, Apple, Google have datacentres all over the world, with information being replicated and backed up so it is never lost. Additionally, being connected to the internet allows you to access this information whenever you need it, on (pretty much) any device you have available to you. So, we know that they are convenient and resilient. Do you keep multiple copies of your data? Do you store them in different locations? I’m going to guess that whenever you work on a document on your laptop and save it, you won’t immediately put a copy of that onto an external disk (USB or otherwise) and then move that a friends/family house. These are just some of the benefits of cloud storage.
Let’s consider security. Do you encrypt the hard drive of your laptop? Do you encrypt the external USB drive that you back things up to? Again, I’m going to guess that the answer is no for most people. You have a username and password configured for your laptop most likely, but you would be surprised how quickly and easily that can be bypassed, and in fact how easy a laptop hard drive can be removed and simply plugged into another device and you have access to all your files.
I fully appreciate that you may have concerns over the companies you’re storing your files with. Are they looking at my files, are they nosing on the things I’ve done? Although I can’t say for absolute certainty that people aren’t able to look at these files, and that they aren’t looking – but realistically, they’ve got better things to do with their time, it would compromise their reputation should anyone know, and there are probably more important people in the world that they’d want to look at instead of you.
Admittedly, these companies are going to be a much bigger target to criminals than you would be personally, but equally, their security measures are much higher than anything you would personally implement.
What if these companies lose my data? Although this is unlikely, it is a very valid question. And the answer to that is quite simple – keep your own copy too! If the information is important to you, don’t 100% trust it purely with a cloud storage company. Keep your own copy of this data just in case. You can typically synchronise your cloud storage with your laptop or another device, and then just to be sure, back that up somewhere periodically.
Also, be mindful of any terms and conditions that may apply to the type of data you store online. Some companies have restrictions on certain file types or file contents and could restrict access to your account, without warning, should you breach any of their terms.
Summary & Advice
Cloud Storage is not without it’s own vulnerabilities. They are a bigger target than you or I. However, they have teams of people that are experts in their field, protecting your data from malicious activity, and from data loss.
Having your files available to access from anywhere in the world with an internet connection is very convenient, and something I make use of in my daily personal and professional life.
However, ALWAYS keep your own copy of anything you store in the cloud in case one day you lose access to it.