“The Cloud.” It’s the seemingly high-tech, futuristic storage method that’s freeing up local drives and storage spaces everywhere, but how secure is it, really? Well, the answer is better than you might think – if you’re taking the right steps and asking the right questions.
How it works
Before we can discuss the various aspects of cloud security, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what cloud storage is and how it works.
“The cloud” is the term for remote or online storage space for digital files, including data files and even the background files needed to run applications. The benefits to this are unlimited, but include: lower IT overhead, less cramped hard drives, faster performance, redundancy for recovery, and high-quality encryption.
Several well-known companies (like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) provide cloud storage services, and the services allow offsite storage of huge amounts of files. Files are typically kept redundantly to ensure that they’re always recoverable in the event that your computer’s drive (or your company’s on-site digital storage) fails. The files stored in the cloud are digital copies of your drive files and are backed up regularly so that the cloud files reflect the most up-to-date state of the files on your hard drive.
Providers are responsible for the level and type of encryption – code-like “scrambling” that can only be unlocked with the appropriate passwords and credentials. Providers are also responsible for the safekeeping of what’s called the “security key”, which is basically the key to unlocking their entire system of encryption.
Users of the cloud storage service are also responsible for certain parts of the security process, like protecting their passwords and ensuring that their computer does not become compromised by a cyber-attack. Remember earlier when we mentioned that the files on the cloud regularly update based on the most current version of the files on your hard drive? That can be problematic for you if your hard drive’s data becomes corrupted, as the cloud copy of those files will then be replaced with the current, corrupted version. This isn’t an issue with the cloud – the cloud is fulfilling its intended function by updating your files – it’s an issue with the hard drive that the files originate from, and with the security or user issues that precipitated the corruption in the first place.
Cloud Services and Locations
Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty tech details (we’re nerds, and proud!), cloud services vary based on the location of the services and the type of service itself. Whether a cloud service is public, private, or a hybrid of the two, and the type of security encryption and storage style it uses will affect your results and experience as a subscriber and user.
Public cloud services are typically internet-based, and the amount of storage used generally dictates price paid, at least in part. Google, Amazon, and other similar companies provide these services as offsite storage solutions that don’t require extra hardware costs. Those costs are covered by the provider, since subscribers are not actually adding any hardware to their inventory – they’re just paying fees for use of the platform and encryption services.
Think of these like renting storage facilities from a storage company – it’s a similar idea. The subscriber pays a fee for use, and gets access to storage while still maintaining more control over the privacy and security of their information. These services are provided by a single company, and often come with the benefits of monitoring and maintenance by the provider. A more expensive option with far less available storage volume, this is often the method employed by larger companies concerned with compliance or regulatory requirements.
So… they’re pretty safe?
The short answers is YES. Cloud storage is typically the safest option, and allows for the easiest recovery in the event of a loss of data on the subscriber’s end. There are a couple of simple caveats, though.
First, a business or individual subscribing to a cloud service needs to do research to be sure the service they’re choosing is the best to suit their needs – the right service type, the right encryption, the right combination of other services, and the right price.
Next, the subscriber needs to commit to implementing changes to their procedures and protocols to ensure that they don’t inadvertently expose their files to corruption, which could then corrupt their cloud data.
Finally, cloud storage is only one part of a holistic approach to data security, and should be used in conjunction with other security protocols and monitoring measures to ensure maximum protection for your data.