Privacy

Cloud Security: How Secure is Cloud Data?

Saving documents, photos, videos and reports on a computer’s hard drive? That’s becoming almost quaint. Today, people are more frequently saving their files in the cloud, storage space not located in their computers or devices but on servers hosted by third-party providers.

The positives of storing data and files in the cloud are many: You won’t clutter your computer. If your laptop, tablet or smart phone crashes, you’ll still have access to your files. And it will take you a long time to ever use up all the space offered by most cloud providers.

But you might have concerns about cloud computing, including data protection, security threats, and potential data loss. You might worry that all those videos, photos, and reports might be vulnerable to data breach and hackers who could break into your cloud provider’s servers.

Or maybe you worry that your provider’s servers will crash, causing all those photos of your summer vacations or videos of your children’s elementary school graduation to disappear.

Here’s some reassurance, though: Information stored in the cloud is likely to be more secure than are files, images and videos stored on your own devices. Why? Cloud companies often rely on far more robust cybersecurity measures to protect your sensitive data.

What is the cloud?

What is the cloud? You've probably used it more than you think. Ever write an essay that you saved in Google Docs? Then you've used the cloud. Ever watch a movie on Netflix, stored images in Dropbox, or sent email messages through Yahoo Mail? Those are all cloud services.

At its most basic, the cloud refers to any type of software or service that isn't located on your personal computer or devices but instead runs on the internet. The files, images and videos that you save on cloud services are stored on the servers of third parties, companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft*.

You can then get at these files whenever you are using a device connected to the internet. If you've saved photos from your most recent trip to the beach, you don't have to wait until you're at your laptop computer to access them. You can find them by logging onto the internet from any computer or device anywhere.

Popular cloud service providers include Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure, to name a few. Everything from Hulu and Dropbox to Gmail and Office 365 is hosted in the cloud, not on your personal computer or phone*.

How secure is the cloud?

It’s natural to wonder if your data is safe when it’s stored in the cloud infrastructure. After all, your files, photos and videos are being stored on servers that are not under your control. You might wonder how vulnerable these servers are to cyberthieves.

Here's the truth, though: The data that you save with cloud service providers may likely be safer than the information you've stored in your computer's hard drive. Remember, hackers can use malware and phishing emails to get the information stored on your own devices. They might freeze your computer, demanding a ransom before they'll release the files and data they've frozen.

The security measures undertaken by larger companies providing cloud services are likely to be more robust and powerful than what you have protecting your home computer and devices.

Why is the cloud security so robust?

What makes cloud storage so safe? First, servers are usually located in warehouses that most workers don’t have access to. Secondly, the files stored on cloud servers are encrypted. This means that they are scrambled, which makes it far harder for cybercriminals to access.

Here is a look at some of the security measures that cloud providers frequently use to protect your data.

Consistent security updates

How often do you ignore those notifications to update your operating system, browser or email service? That’s a no-no in the world of computer security. Those updates often contain tools designed to protect your devices from the latest viruses or malware.

When you store your data in the cloud, though, the companies overseeing the servers should be consistently updating their security measures. You won’t have to worry about forgetting to run an update. Your cloud service provider will regularly update its security measures.

AI tools and auto-patching

Cloud providers are also turning to artificial intelligence, or AI, to help protect your data. This is important: It's not easy to find experienced security professionals to oversee data. Cloud providers, though, can instead turn to AI to tackle at least the first level of security analysis. These programs rely on built-in algorithms to seek out and identify possible vulnerabilities in security measures.

Built-in firewalls

Cloud providers rely on firewalls, too, to help protect your files. As the name suggests, this technology acts a bit like a wall keeping your data safe.

Firewalls, which can be hardware- or software-based, apply rules to all of the traffic coming into a network. These rules are designed to filter out suspicious traffic and to keep your data behind the wall. This makes it more difficult for hackers to slip malware or viruses past the security measures used by your cloud service provider.

Redundancy (ultra-backed-up data)

But what about hardware failures or power outages? Will you be able to access your data if your cloud provider suffers a natural disaster or large-scale outage?

Yes, because most of the biggest cloud providers practice redundancy. This means that they copy your data several times and store them on many different data centers. This way, if one server goes down, you can access your files from a back-up server.

Third-party security testing

Your cloud provider should also hire outside security companies to test their servers and software regularly to make sure they are safe from hackers, cybercriminals and the latest malware and viruses. This outside testing boosts the odds that your cloud provider will have the defenses needed to keep your files away from hackers.

What precautions can you take to boost your cloud security?

Are you already storing your files in the cloud? If so, you can take certain steps to help enhance the security of that data.

Encrypt your data

First, make sure you send your files to a cloud services provider that encrypts your data. You want to make it as difficult as possible for hackers to get at your information. Storing your images and files with a provider that relies on encryption will give hackers pause. It’s easier for them to steal data that hasn’t been scrambled.

Perform data backups

Make sure you only work with cloud providers that back up your data. You don’t want all your information stored on just one server. If that server goes offline, you won’t be able to access your data. You might also consider backing up your most sensitive information in your own external hard drives even if you are saving it in the cloud. This will provide you with an extra layer of protection should something happen with your cloud provider.

Enable two-factor authentication

You can make life more difficult for hackers by enabling two-factor authentication. As the name suggests, two-factor authentication requires you to provide two pieces of information when logging onto a site.

Say you are logging onto your bank's online site. First, you provide your username and password, as usual. Then you wait for your bank to send a code to your email address or phone. You then enter this code online to access your accounts. This extra step makes it more difficult for hackers to get at your emails, personal information or financial information.

Cyber threats have evolved, and so have we.

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