Millions of everyday consumers, professionals, and business owners now rely on cloud storage to share, back up, and store information long-term. And for good reason—cloud storage allows you to access your files from anywhere, and it’s often cheaper than mainstream data storage solutions. It also claims to be highly secure—but how secure is it really?
How Cloud Storage Works
First, let’s start with a briefer on how cloud storage works. When you upload a file to the cloud, you aren’t sending it to some extradimensional, ethereal plane. Instead, you’re sending your data over the internet to an external server, usually a data center owned by the cloud storage company. That data is also likely backed up at multiple data centers, in case one happens to go down. Then, when you wish to retrieve those files, you’ll use the internet to access the data center and retrieve them.
In many cases, your data will be encrypted, and in most cases, you’ll have a username and password to protect your specific account. However, consumers may also have the option of layering additional encryption onto their accounts, such as encrypting Google Drive for stronger security.
Points of Vulnerability
One of the best ways to determine the security of a system is to look for inherent points of vulnerability. These are some of the most common points that exist:
- Data center integrity. The data center itself may be physically vulnerable. If the data center isn’t properly maintained, or if it’s vulnerable to a natural disaster like an earthquake or flood, it could result in massive data loss. Most cloud storage companies compensate for this by having one or more redundant backups, in geographically separated locations (often across the country).
- Data center encryption. Next, you can look at the security of the data centers being used. Hypothetically, if a cybercriminal is able to gain access to the data center, they could gain access to thousands, if not millions of consumer files. Generally, data centers are well-protected; tours aren’t allowed, vehicles must have special passes, and the hard drives are physically unreadable to outside prying eyes. This isn’t the case for all data centers, but it’s quickly becoming the standard.
- Internet connection vulnerability. Don’t forget, the vulnerability could be on your side too. You’ll be sending and receiving files with the distant data center over an internet connection, which could easily be compromised if you aren’t careful. If you don’t use a strong password for an encrypted Wi-Fi connection, or if you use a public network, your account could be compromised.
- Consumer password vulnerability. Of course, it’s also possible for your account to be compromised the old-fashioned way. If you choose a weak password, or one that’s easy to guess, or if you give your password away to someone untrustworthy, someone could log in and gain access to all your files.
How to Determine Cloud Storage Security
As you can see, some of these factors are up to the consumer. You’ll need to follow best practices for cybersecurity if you want to make sure your data isn’t compromised by a shoddy internet connection or from an easily guessed password.
Apart from that, much of the burden of security lies with your cloud storage provider. It’s on them to protect their data centers, provide redundancy for those data centers, and protect their clients’ information. There are a few things you can do to determine the strength of a provider:
- Look at the brand history. How many data breaches has this company suffered? If they have a near-perfect history, it’s not a guarantee of a perfect future, but it’s a good indication they take data security seriously.
- Investigate encryption standards. How is this company encrypting their data? What standards do they apply to their data centers?
- Determine where and how data is backed up. Finally, determine how much redundancy is in place to protect your data. A simple search or talk with an account representative should tell you where their data centers are located, how your data is backed up, and whether emergency protections like fire suppression systems are in place.
Most cloud storage solutions offer some degree of security, and most consumers with a major brand won’t have to worry about their data being lost or stolen. However, it’s important to understand how cloud storage works, and understand that it’s not perfect; otherwise, your files could be compromised.