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Are Your Cloud Files Safe? How To Know

Currently 37 percent of small businesses utilize cloud computing, with projections of up to 78 percent by the year 2020. This represents a $55 billion market for 2016, a 28 percent increase since 2015, according to Forbes. Additionally, a string of high-profile data breaches from retailers, financial institutions and even government agencies have brought cloud storage concerns to the average consumer.

If your business is not yet utilizing cloud computing and storage to help optimize your business operations, now is the time to consider how it may be able to help streamline your business. But don’t jump into the cloud without doing your research. Here’s how to be sure you can enter cloud computing and storage while keeping security in mind.

Cloud Computing vs. Cloud Storage

While similar, cloud computing and cloud storage are slightly different concepts. Cloud storage refers to the ability to store and share files—on hard drives and servers remotely. This can be music, calendars, office files, databases and more with the intent of making the files more easily accessible to a wider audience, or synchronizing files across computers and mobile devices. Think about Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, iCloud and other cloud storage providers you may be familiar with who provide this service. Sharing files through the cloud helps to make sure that there is one file that individuals can collaborate on.

Cloud computing refers to using remote computers to complete tasks, such as processing files. Rather than just using storage space, cloud computing uses the processing power of computers, rather than using your internal computer systems. This might include reconciling inventory counts with sales at the end of the day, updating employee payroll with timesheets, or other processes completed off-site. Cloud computing allows businesses to pay for only the services they use, rather than housing servers and systems on site. Cloud computing also allows for expandability (or scaling down) when necessary without having to purchase hardware.

Password Security

The first consideration for cloud security is the strength of your password. Hackers often use common dictionary words as a means to break passwords, attempting them in various combinations in rapid succession in hopes that one of them will work, so a password that is completely random “Y2!seSgt441@#$” will always be more secure than “GrayCatPurrs.” Another method for breaking passwords is called brute force, or using random strings of characters, but this takes significantly longer.

Password length plays a significant factor in security. A password that is twelve characters long isn’t twice as hard to crack as one that is six characters, it’s exponentially more difficult to crack—requiring days, rather than just hours. Make sure to choose a password that is as long as possible for the best security.

Consider using multiple character types for your password as well: lowercase letters (a-z); uppercase letters (A-Z); numbers (0-9); and special characters (!,@,#…). By using at least three of the four types (and ideally, all four) you can help to increase the security of your password.

Encryption in Transit

One of the most basic elements of cloud storage security is encryption of your files while being transferred from your computer to their servers, or back, referred to as “encryption in transit.” This ensures that files being transferred are meaningless to any third-parties who may intercept it while in transit. Services like Spider Oak, Tresorit, and TeamData allow companies to encrypt files on your computer before they are transferred, allowing for increased security. Many of the large cloud storage providers also secure files in transit. Read the security measures for Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and box.com to learn more.

Encryption at Rest

Once transferred, files can also be stored in an encrypted format. This adds an additional layer of security, and is referred to as “encryption at rest” (rather than in transit, or in use). In several countries, reasonable steps must be made to secure customer and employee data, so check your local regulations as to what requirements you may have to secure data. By encrypting data at rest, any security breaches into the data will result in unusable data.

The Human Element

Company IT policies also need to address how secure passwords and access is controlled. Hackers can call your company posing as a representative of your cloud service or IT department and ask for passwords. Company policies need to address access and passwords, and how authentication needs to be provided for password information to be shared, and employees need to be thoroughly trained on such policies.

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Physical Security

Companies with highly sensitive data may also want to consider the physical security of the data center storing your data. Do they have secure facilities, fencing, badges, cameras, guards and other features to keep individuals from stealing or corrupting your data? Are they in natural disaster prone areas, and if so, do they have generators, earthquake, hurricane or flooding resistant facilities? Are there fire and water remediation and suppression features on site? Consider some of these questions when selecting a cloud storage provider.

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 Data Redundancy and Disaster Recovery

Whether your cloud data center and storage facility is in a region prone to natural disasters, hard discs and other data center hardware is susceptible to wear, malfunction and failure. In these instances, it is crucial that your data is backed up in additional locations for redundancy. Also be aware of data deletion policies in case you want to permanently delete sensitive data; you need to be sure that it isn’t backed up on another server without your knowing.

By considering several aspects of cloud storage you can take advantage of the collaborative and cost benefits of cloud, while maintaining data security for customers and employees. If your business has yet to take advantage of cloud resources, it’s never been a better time to start!

Eric Tung
Eric Tung
Eric T. Tung is an entrepreneur, business coach and top social media strategist focusing on technology and communications.

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