Storing Your Data in the Cloud: Your Safety, Security, and Privacy Explained
You, us, and everyone we know are on the verge of living almost completely wirelessly, and that goes well beyond our tablets and phones. For a long time now, information has been rapidly leaving the physical, paper-bound world and setting up shop in the digital ether, tethered to us with invisible strings. For all of the progress that has been made to bring technology to the forefront of information storage, one method, cloud storage, is the subject of a great deal of controversy and speculation in spite of its daily use. The need to have your information and storage on the go is vital for every college student, and to that end, cloud storage cannot be beaten.
You’re likely already using cloud-based apps like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Apple iCloud. Hybrid college classes are also becoming commonplace, and it is difficult to conceive of a world where your music wasn’t backed up for safe keeping. Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat are all using the cloud. As far as the security features available on these platforms, we would be hard-pressed to find any better. These are major services used daily by millions of people, and they exhibit the height of cloud security and safety. Yet they too are still vulnerable to data breaches.
Cloud services are a part of our regular daily lives, and as you enter the workforce, that interaction will only increase. Learning how cloud storage works now—and how to protect yourself from the dangers of it—will serve to make you a smarter and safer consumer as cloud technologies continue to evolve.
How Does Cloud Storage Work?
It all starts with data centers, tremendous buildings filled with nothing but networked computers, which you access over the internet. These centers house servers, which create the infrastructure for cloud-based systems. There are a lot of other terms that you may have heard about, like “elasticity” or “redundancy,” but essentially, the cloud is all about another term, “virtualization.”
Virtualization is the manifestation of software-created virtual machines which serve to sort of trick single computers into operating like multiple computers with individual OSs, each one carrying out thousands of tasks simultaneously. This allows a single machine and interface to be used by potentially millions of people at the same time across the cloud. Currently, there are more than 50 million servers around the world supporting all of those seamless features of cloud apps.
So…Where’s All of My Stuff?
All of your information including your photos, your English Lit papers, and your credit card account, are stored at dispersed data centers around the world. Not everything is in one place, though. Likely, your cloud is accessing hundreds of different points of virtualization. When you log into your Gmail, for example, it doesn’t matter if you log in from your phone, your tablet, or your parent’s laptop while you’re visiting them. All of your information is delivered to you in the same form, every time. Barring a data breach, you’re not ever going to be without access to your personal documents.
Who is in Charge of My Security?
All of these centers are loaded with living humans who are responsible for ensuring that your data is protected and accessible to you. Cloud providers work to give you the most security bang for your buck, and will often store backups of encrypted information in additional data centers. These companies are accountable for any data breaches, but it is up to you what information you entrust them with.
Encryption is key to allowing you and only you to access your data, and that is something that you as a customer need to grapple with. Though the business that you’re dealing with and your cloud storage company both work to provide encryption on their end, it is still up to you to protect yourself from potential harm. Ultimately, your security is your responsibility.
Do I Have Privacy in the Cloud?
While businesses are required to ensure that they do not unintentionally give out their employee’s personal information when using cloud storage, your personal privacy is wholly dependent on how much information you are willing to share over the internet. That sharing includes backing up your phone and photos too, so just because you haven’t shared it publically doesn’t mean that you’re not sharing your personal info with cloud storage companies. Tax information, personal identification information, and sensitive materials should never be stored in the cloud, no matter the level of security in place.
The future of cloud storage may one day provide the necessary means of protecting this vital data, but currently, they do not.
Pins, fingerprint identification, dual-step security features and strong, hard to guess passwords are all methods of encryption that you, the customer, provide. First, be sure that you are choosing passwords and pins that are not used for anything else. If your usernames and passwords are the same for more than one login, you are putting your information at risk unnecessarily. Second, by adding additional sign in steps to your accounts, you guarantee that you are adding layers of protection that can help cloud-based apps. Third, you do not need to store absolutely everything in cloud storage. When it comes to giving away your personal information, including your social security number, credit card information, and other pieces of information that can be stolen by identity thieves, you can—and maybe should—opt for personal hard storage like a hard drive or encrypted folder on your computer.
Just as often as it is reported that data breaches are occurring across many different companies, it is also being reported that more often than not, it is user error that puts the information at risk. Take the humongous celebrity photo data breach that happened a few years ago, for example. It was not only the fault of the cloud data centers that those photos were accessed but also the fault of the celebrities themselves who were not securing their information properly, which allowed thieves to hack their private clouds all too easily.
We are used to living in a world of ease and accessibility, but that does not come about freely. The price that you pay for constant wireless connectivity to all of your internet-based apps is that you have to take the time and energy to safeguard yourself.
Cloud storage is vital to our digital infrastructure, necessary to how we want to live our lives, and brilliant in its execution, but we cannot rely on it for everything. As the technology grows and encryption methods become more effective, your data will be secured in ways still yet to be discovered. Until that day comes, however, be sure that you take your security into your own hands and create the safest possible form of cloud storage to fit your needs.