Stop me when this sounds familiar – it’s pre-2006, you’ve just sat down at your computer desk, you reach over and turn on your machine and lean back to wait for to boot up… and it starts making a strange noise, a buzzing you haven’t heard before. The familiar feeling of dread begins forming in the pit of your stomach, but you manage to ignore it for the time being.
Just when you can’t take the suspense anymore, you quickly turn off the machine, walk away, make a cup of coffee, and come back to it afterwards for a 2nd try, hesitantly hopeful that it will be alright this time. Only it’s not. You press the On button, you wait 30 seconds. And then you see it. The blue screen of death. Your life is officially ruined.
The blue screen of death
Anyone who has ever lost all of their files when their hard drive crashed has known true frustration. Especially once it happens for the third time. (I was a really slow learner)
But in the early 2000s everything changed – cloud computing formed the solution to this ubiquitous problem. No longer would we tied to the fear that our computer’s built-in hard drives, which held all of our precious data could go kaput in an instant. Overnight, we gained the ability to automatically back up our files – not on our desk – but somewhere else, in a secure server that you’d rent from Amazon, Google or the like.
But this revolution opened up a whole new set of challenges – how can you make sure your data is secure when it’s on the cloud?
You can’t be 100% sure, BUT you can take precautions that increase your chances. The cloud is cementing its place as the go-to data storage method as more businesses and individuals migrate their data to it. We’re examining the key steps you can take to secure your data, and learning what practices to avoid.
Avoid storing sensitive information
Although cloud security has vastly improved over the past decade, the rule of thumb is to keep your sensitive files off the cloud. Instead, store it on a USB drive locked in your desk and only use it as needed. If you do need to store sensitive information on the cloud, encrypt it – more on that below.
Research how your cloud storage operates
Make sure to read the user agreement your cloud storage provider has to offer. Some providers may take no liability for compromised data while others may offer enhanced security. Highlight portions of the agreement that relate to security and contact the provider if you have any questions or if they have any suggestions for how you can make your data secure. Your provider may offer additional security at an additional cost, and you may decide it’s worth it.
Strengthen your passwords
While you may believe the birthdate of your favorite pet or your old gym locker combination suffices for a secure password, it doesn’t. Passwords aren’t as strong as they once were, and every year, they get easier to crack. You can create a secure password by selecting a word you can easily remember and pad it with capital letters, numbers, and special characters. A secure password has at least 12 to 15 characters with a combination of upper case, lower case, numbers, and special characters. In addition to a strong password, you should change it regularly. While this may sound like a hassle, losing your data to a hacker would be an even bigger hassle! Change your password on a regular basis, every 90 days and never use the same password twice. Don’t recycle your password from one account to another, make up new and weird passwords to keep your cloud data secure.
The amount of personal effort it took to manage several complex passwords has been reduced to a fraction of what it once was, there are some great tools make it easy to do.
Encrypt your files
Encryption is by far the best way you can protect your data. You can encrypt your entire drive, folders, or even individual files. For the tightest security, you should encrypt all three for sensitive files such as your tax returns, credit card reports, banking receipts, and anything else with your name and address. The best practice is to encrypt and password-protect your files before you even upload them to the cloud so they are secured from the start. You can zip multiple files in a single zip file and encrypt them with a password.
Here’s how to encrypt your files if you’re using a Mac.
Find an encrypted cloud service
If encrypting individual files sounds like too much of a hassle, you can find some cloud services that offer local encryption of your data, such as Boxcryptor. The service usually has solutions for individuals, teams and businesses, and will take care of encrypting the files you store safely in the cloud. These services are not expensive and are often based on the amount of storage you need available for a low monthly subscription rate.
Monitor your cloud account
Check your security settings the next time log in. Monitor the activity log on your account to make sure everything appears normal. Look at details such as the time and date of your last login, the last time your files or folders were accessed, etc. Change the password to your account if you suspect anything was tampered with and report any suspicious activity to your cloud storage provider. Even an unsuccessful attempt to break into your cloud storage should be investigated.
Check all your connected apps and devices
All the above steps will not help you if you have a rogue device or app that can bring it all crashing down. Check the account security settings in your apps and devices. Enable two-factor authentication if you haven’t already. This will add a layer of security to your devices by adding a password or PIN to access them. Remove or delete any old applications you no longer use, as old apps pose a security threat as they may be vulnerable and allow a hacker backdoor access if compromised.