If you've ever used the cloud, you might have wondered just how secure your data is. For an educated decision about whether or not the cloud is right for you, it's important to understand the risks involved when storing your data in these virtual repositories.

What is the cloud?

The cloud is a term used to describe a remote system that can store and process data and is often accessed through the internet. Cloud storage relies on the cloud for its storage space and processing power, making it much more efficient than traditional hard drive storage.

Cloud storage has also increased in popularity for a variety of reasons. For one, it allows users to access their files from anywhere in the world. This means you can access your files from any device with an internet connection, whether it's your phone or tablet, or laptop. Cloud storage makes it easy to share files with others. 

Cloud storage also offers more security than traditional hard drives. When you store your data in the cloud, only you have access to it — not even the company hosting your files can access them without your permission.

What are the advantages of storing data on the cloud?

The benefits of storing data in the cloud are many. Here are just a few:

  • Security: Cloud storage often offers greater protection against cyberattacks than other options because it's backed up regularly and stored off-site. It's also monitored for suspicious activity 24/7. Cloud storage protects against security risks by keeping all of your information safely off-site in an encrypted format.
  • Accessibility: With cloud storage, you can access your files from any device with an internet connection. You don't have to worry about whether or not you have a computer with you or if you need to bring along an external hard drive or flash drive.
  • File sharing: Cloud storage allows sharing files with others connected to the same service. It also makes it easy for one person to share files with many people at once. For example, it can be handy in circumstances when you want multiple people on your team to access a document at the same time.
  • Recovery of lost files: If something happens to your physical computer (or even a hard drive) that has your data on it, cloud services will let you recover those files from their servers if they were originally stored there.
  • Affordability: Most cloud storage services are either free or more affordable than data storage hardware, making them a cost-effective storage solution. In addition, you can increase or decrease your storage capabilities based on your budget. This also makes secure data storage more accessible to the average user.

Security, easy file recovery, accessibility and file sharing are great reasons to switch from solely relying on hard drives or local data storage.

What are the risks of storing data on the cloud?

Risks associated with cloud storage are many and vary depending on the type of data stored. In general, however, the most common hazards include:

  • Cloud data breaches: While data stored in the cloud is encrypted, there are still ways that attackers can bypass encryption through brute force attacks or by stealing login credentials. However, this is not always an issue as some companies encrypt all of their data as soon as it's uploaded to the cloud.
  • Lack of control: Because you're relying on a third party to store your data, you don't have any control over how it's handled and what happens if there's a breach. This can be especially problematic if you need immediate access to your files because they could be unreachable due to technical issues or other problems with the service provider's infrastructure.
  • Lack of internet connection: If you're using a cloud service that requires an internet connection to access your files, you may be unable to access them without a reliable and safe internet connection. This can be particularly troublesome if you travel frequently or if your internet connection fails for whatever reason.
  • Lack of backup services: Not all cloud storage providers are created equal when it comes to backing up your data. As such, you should investigate whether your provider has primary data backup services. Regardless of whether they provide these services, you should still back up your data regularly on an external device so you don’t lose it whenever you lack an internet connection.

Although there aren’t that many risks associated with storing data in the cloud, they are certainly growing as its popularity increases. For one, cloud attacks are becoming more common, and they don’t exist in a nutshell either. If one occurs, businesses that rely on the cloud for their storage needs could incur serious damages. The first step in protecting your business is to understand precisely what the possible attacks are, so you can take measures to prevent them from happening.

The most common type of attack is ransomware. Hackers will access your private files and lock them up until you pay them a ransom. This is different from stealing information because it doesn't involve your data being taken — it's just locked down, so you can't access it without paying up.

Another common type of cyberattack is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Hackers will use malware to gain control over millions of computers worldwide and then use them as part of an army against a cloud storage service provider.

Tips for securing your data on the cloud

Although there may be some risks associated with cloud storage, and they may be increasing with the popularity of cloud storage, they can be mitigated by taking specific steps.

Throughout every security step, however, it’s best to be mindful whenever you upload important documents. Don't upload sensitive, private documents onto the cloud unless you're sure no one else can access them. If you need to share documents with others, ensure that those individuals don't have access to other data on your account.

On a more technical level, most security steps involve taking a closer look at your cloud storage service provider, their terms of service and their security settings.

Study the terms of service 

When you choose to store your data in the cloud, you are handing over control of that information to a third-party service provider. As with any major company, consumers must research their cloud service providers before deciding on one.

One of the first things to look at when researching companies is how they handle security. Many services have dedicated teams who work on protecting consumer data and detecting threats. They also typically offer two-factor authentication, which requires users to enter a code sent to their phone in addition to their password before accessing their account.

Another thing to consider when comparing cloud service providers is consumer safety: how they will respond if the account is hacked or information was stolen. Some companies offer refunds or identity theft protection services for this reason. Some may even have dedicated teams who work on recovering stolen accounts and restoring them to users' hands.

Finally, it is important to also consider the cloud host’s privacy policy. Even with a robust security system in place, if the host is going to sell or share your data with other parties, you ultimately may not be as secure as you thought. A privacy policy should clearly express who your data can and cannot be shared with by the host, and under what circumstances.

Enable two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication is a security measure that allows you to protect your accounts by requiring two pieces of information to sign in. When you turn on two-factor authentication, you'll need to enter your password and a six-digit code sent via your phone or received via text message.

This extra layer of security helps protect your data from hackers. If someone gets your password and tries to log into your account, they still need access to the device that generates the second code — which means they'd have to have physical access to the second device for the hack to be successful.

Deactivate old devices  

Older devices no longer connected to your cloud network can pose a security risk to your data. They could be targeted by hackers who want to access the data you store on them, or they could be infected by malware.

To mitigate this threat, monitor your cloud network to ensure no older devices are connected. You can also use apps that will automatically deactivate unused devices.

Encrypt your data

Individuals can reduce the risk of breaches by encrypting their files before uploading them to the cloud. Various free and paid encryption software programs are available to consumers. In addition, if you’re not as tech-savvy, some cloud storage providers will encrypt your data for you.

In general, though, many different types of encryption software can be used to secure your data. Some are free, and some require a license fee. Regardless of the type you choose, you must use a reputable program. If you’re ever unsure, you can always seek out online reviews about a program’s services to gauge previous customers’ experiences.