If there is any single trend that describes the last decade of technological advancement, it has been the move towards cloud computing and web applications. Unlike the traditional model of self-hosted content and software, cloud hosting allows anyone to access their content from all over the world – protecting that content from loss by mirroring it across multiple servers in different geographic locations. When you put a file into the cloud, you are effectively putting it onto multiple servers that exist in tandem – all working to keep the data accessible and to serve it to you from anywhere with an internet connection. Of course, uploading your important data also comes with risks, and the cloud can reduce your security and your privacy if you aren’t careful. Aside from the usual precautions that apply to all web-connected programs (changing passwords, using firewalls, etc.) you can also take a few specific actions to protect your cloud data and to ensure that you stay safe in this connected world.
Trust and your Cloud Provider
To begin with, your cloud security is only as good as the company that is actually maintaining your data. Since you don’t have the ability to physically audit your cloud provider, you are basically taking them at their word when they tell you how they are maintaining your data and protecting your security.
For this reason, trust is critical. There are a few major companies that have established themselves as major players in the cloud storage and cloud hosting categories. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle all have cloud offerings – and even smaller companies like Dropbox have highly specific cloud offerings that dominate their niche and have rave reviews. In many case, larger companies are better able to prevent your data from being accessed by hackers and malicious personnel, since the scale of the company and their experience in the industry allows them to hire some of the best talent in the industry. Even so, there are real privacy and security concerns with every cloud company – so choosing a trusted cloud provider doesn’t mean that you can slack off on your own personal security.
Encryption and Security
Almost every cloud company will have some level of encryption of your files once they are on their server – and encryption in the transit between your computer and their server. However, most cloud companies use a form of encryption that still leaves your encryption key in their possession – so they are protecting your data from outside users, but not necessarily giving you the absolute protection and privacy that you could receive if you were to encrypt all of your files locally.
By encrypting your files locally, using encryption tools like TrueCrypt, you encrypt your files so that only you can access them. Even when your files are uploaded onto your cloud server, the cloud provider won’t be able to read, scan, or access them. If you are primarily concerned with ensuring that your files remain absolutely the same as when you uploaded them (without any appended meta-data) or you want to prevent your data from being indexed or scanned, this is a good option. If you do go this route, however, your cloud services won’t be able to synchronize your files between devices and won’t be able to open your files on a web application interface since all of your files are effectively opaque to the cloud service.
Hosting your Own Cloud
What if you want the convenience of an “always on” cloud service, without giving up control of your data to a company that might be scanning your data or using you for marketing information? Hosting your own cloud is a great option that uses your existing web host and web server and free software like OwnCloud to essentially start your own cloud storage and hosting plan from the safety of your own self-controlled VPS. If you go this route, you can use all kinds of collaboration systems or file storage systems, and you can download apps that allow all of your other devices to access your cloud. If you do decide to host your own cloud, pay special attention to your server’s security settings to make sure that your SSL encryption works correctly and that you are whitelisting IP addresses that are allowed to access your cloud.