What is the Cloud?

You’ve probably heard of people storing information in “the cloud,” but what does that really mean, and is it safe to put your data there?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-online-risks-sign-road-banner-image34668294The cloud is best described as a network of servers offering different functions. Some servers allow you to store and access data, while others provide an online service. You may be familiar with “cloud services” offered by companies such as Google and Adobe.

The term “cloud” comes from cloud computing, which is essentially using a group of computer resources to maximize their effectiveness.

The cloud is now comprised of millions of servers worldwide, and chances are you access it on a regular basis. For instance, you may have uploaded a picture from your smartphone to Instagram, which stores images in the cloud, or you could be using cloud storage service.

Because the cloud allows you to upload and access data and services from any Internet-connected device, it’s certainly convenient, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always safe.

Many worry about hackers getting into clouds, especially ones in which the services do not offer two-factor authentication. (This is when you need two different components to gain access to an account, such a something you know, like a password, and something you have, like a unique fingerprint.) Another potential vulnerability is that hackers might intercept data as it’s being sent to the cloud, especially if that data isn’t encrypted, or scrambled, to keep it from being read by unauthorized third parties.

Cloud customers must have faith that the service provider is doing all it can protect their prized data.

Not all cloud providers operate the same way, with the same security, but there are minimum standards, which they must meet. It’s important to know about the different levels of security, so you can make the right choices about your service providers.

A few cloud service providers:

  • Windows Live
  • iCloud
  • Google
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
  • Dropbox

Lots of storage can be obtained for free. Rates vary and getting cheaper by the day.

Cloud providers have everything to lose and nothing to gain be being insecure. It is well known that poor security can damage a brand. However, cloud security generally begins with the user and not the cloud itself. If your devices are old, outdated, poorly utilized, or don’t have the proper security, you could be the weak link.

So, make sure that your devices and security software are up-to-date and look for cloud providers that offer advanced security options such as encryption and two-factor authentication. And, if you really want your sensitive information to stay secure (such as tax returns and other financial and personal information), you might consider saving those files on a backup hard drive rather than putting it in the cloud.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Safety Expert to Intel Security. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.