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The Cloud

For the last few years, many individuals and organizations have been storing information in the cloud. But what is it? And more importantly, is it safe?

Many cloud users will tell you something like this: “The cloud isn’t someone’s computer, laptop or any other device. It’s above and beyond – just like actual clouds – and exists on the internet so you can access data from wherever you are.”

Yes, the concept of cloud is misunderstood by many. Cloud is certainly a buzzword, offering the leisure and convenience of accessing your files, anytime, anywhere. But the fact is that the cloud is not actually a cloud— it is a physical infrastructure.

Remember the days of putting files on floppy disks and moving them from one computer to another? From there, it morphed into using USB thumb drives and portable hard drives. Now programs such as OneDrive and Google Drive offer businesses the chance to store all data on the cloud. It’s like accessing your emails from home through a Gmail server – the emails are right there in front of you, but not actually stored on your computer.

This makes it easier to access your files from anywhere and at any time – without having to constantly go back to your office or copy everything onto a USB thumb drive at the end of the working week. First, let’s discuss a few benefits of the cloud:

  • Save money: Cloud services are based on “pay as you go” methods, thus saving you a lot of money.
  • Flexibility: Rather than worrying about hosting a local server, you can have more flexibility. If you want extra bandwidth, you don’t have to perform major updates. A cloud based service can fulfill your needs immediately.
  • Disaster Recovery: A cloud based service provides fast data recovery in case an emergency occurs.
  • Updates: You do not have to worry about manual updates; cloud services will automatically update all the data, saving valuable time and money.

Now, let’s get to the reality! When you store a file or document in the cloud, basically you are storing that file in a physical space. Yes, it’s someone else’s computer! When your information is living in a cloud, it is basically living on a server, and you pay a membership fee to access your files. Based on that company’s terms, you may or may not possess control over the information. It is raising a lot of glaring problems when it comes to privacy and security.

When you build your business in the cloud, it is vulnerable to whatever else is in that cloud. This isn’t always a problem, but it isn’t properly understood. It’s important not to use just any cloud program. Do your research and find a trustworthy and well-known brand. The smaller ones might be cheaper – or even free – but do they offer the same services as a paying program? In a recent report by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA): “At an exceptional rate, cloud computing has concurrently revolutionized government and businesses, and formulated new security complications as well.” The report listed 12 critical issues to cloud security, ranked in order of severity.

  1. Data Breaches
  2. Weak credentials or access management
  3. Insecure APIs
  4. Application and system vulnerabilities
  5. Account hijacking
  6. Malicious insiders
  7. Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
  8. Data loss
  9. Insufficient due diligence
  10. Abuse of cloud services
  11. Denial of service
  12. Shared technology vulnerabilities

The most severe security issue is data breaches. But what is a data breach? According to the CSA, it is an incident wherein private, protected or secret information is unveiled, viewed, damaged or utilized by a person who is not approved to access that information. A data breach might be the prime purpose of a targeted attack or might just be the outcome of human mistake, software vulnerabilities, or inadequate security methods. A data breach could include any specific material which was not meant for public release.

How can you protect yourself?

Ensure your staff members are properly trained in creating strong passwords, and not sharing any confidential information about the company with anyone. Data breaches can be used to blackmail organizations into millions of dollars and in some cases, the data is freely distributed on the internet – with the aim of destroying a company’s reputation. Make sure you use proper precautions before submitting your sensitive information.

It is important to read the user agreement before utilizing a cloud service. It will help you understand how their cloud storage works. It is essential to encrypt your important information before placing it on the cloud. If you want to store sensitive information such as passwords or banking information, it is best to encrypt it using any encryption software, and then store the encrypted file in the cloud.
The cloud is efficient. It does everything faster – but it comes with risks. Read the fine details and make sure you’re protected.

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