These days, almost everyone interacts with “the cloud” in some way, whether through banking or by storing music files online. Many users of cloud services, and especially those of online cloud storage services, have concerns centered around the privacy and security of their data in the “cloud.” Some of the more common concerns expressed by these users include: worrying about losing ownership of data; the ability for strangers to access that data; and being associated with illegal activity — such as the distribution of illegal content on file hosting services. Choose a cloud storage provider with stringent security measures, though, and your data is safer than simply backing it up on a hard drive or with a backup service where your data might get lost.
Unlike the online backup services that create images of your data onto a server in the cloud, secure cloud storage providers mirror (or copy) your data onto their servers – meaning, if the cloud storage company were to close, you still retain a working copy of all your data on your local devices.
It’s important to look for a cloud storage provider that encrypts your data, preferably using encryption keys unique only to you, as well as makes sure your data is encrypted as it’s moving back and forth from the provider’s servers to the your desktop and/or smartphone/tablet clients. Make sure the cloud storage provider uses industry standard protocols, such as AES and SSL to confirm data is encrypted end-to-end, from the moment the data is created throughout its storage on the cloud servers.
While legislation such as The Patriot Act might enable law enforcement to access data in the cloud without a warrant, your cloud storage provider should never be able to access your data unless law enforcement is involved. The latest trend with cloud storage providers is to move to client-side encryption, wherein your data is encrypted using keys that only exist on your devices (and not on the storage providers servers), thereby ensuring no third party can access data without a warrant. If your cloud storage provider currently doesn’t have robust encryption capabilities in place (and specifically client side encryption), users may install a tool such as TrueCrypt, which provides client-side encryption for any user data. Other security considerations include: access control (who can access your data, and who controls this access), and data separation, (ensuring your data is accounted for and separated from that of other service users).
Understanding the general tone of the service is important as well. Some services focus on individual private “vaults” and group shares from the cloud, whereas others are focused around allowing users to share files and make them publicly available to a large number of users. Each model has its benefits and banes, and in some cases, the models chosen by providers have (sometimes inadvertently) associated them with the distribution of significant amounts of illicit content.
Security conscious users and organizations should look for cloud storage providers that allow users to share files with only the community they want and who maintain a clear ‘business/secure’ tone around their offerings.
As someone who has more than 35 years of enterprise security experience and as current chief technology officer for CX, I personally store most of my data in the cloud, understanding that security controls offered by providers have matured significantly over the past year as have their redundancy, reliability and performance capabilities.
It’s important to ask your potential cloud storage provider about how your data is encrypted and find out who has access to the data. These questions are also important to ask of any service that stores or processes your information (including your social networks and your e-mail, blog and messaging providers).
By Jan Vandenbos, a chief technology officer for CX, which provides collaborative cloud storage solutions for businesses and individuals. He has more than 35 years of experience in enterprise security, and has architected some of the largest networks in the world.
To get 10GB of free, secure online storage, go to http://www.cx.com. To try out CX for Business, with 1TB of cloud storage to use for free for 30 days, no credit card required, go to http://bizcloud.cx.com.