This guest post by Derrick Waddell was previously published in his blog, Teach the Cloud.
I live and work in the cloud, and over the past few years, many people have joined me there. There has also been a lot of reluctance to move into cloud computing from people who are afraid of turning over control of their data to companies with giant server farms. Understandable. For the most part, though, cloud computing is just as safe and secure as your local machine, and the benefits far outweigh the concerns for me. If you are reluctant, though, or are new to the cloud and still trying to find your footing, here are a few tips to help you.
1. Be smart with sensitive information
When you’re computing in the cloud, you’re essentially using someone else’s computer. Whether you’re storing documents on Google’s servers using Google Docs, storing your images on Yahoo’s servers using Flickr, or simply opening documents on someone else’s computer using an iPad app that touts cloud-based Microsoft Office, your stuff is on someone else’s machine. Don’t put any sensitive information like social security or credit card numbers out there. If you don’t want your mother to see those pictures, don’t upload them. If you’re a law clerk, don’t upload those sensitive case documents. Basically, just be smart.
2. Choose a company you trust
Most companies like Google, Yahoo, and Apple have enough money to invest in good security systems and have enough know how to keep your information safeguarded. They’re also not as likely vanish off the internet and take your data with them. Some of the new cloud startups are just that–new. Many of them will be gobbled up by a larger company or end up shuttering their offices, so make sure you don’t use them for anything you don’t want to lose. If you do, make sure you follow step three.
3. Backup your data
Backup, backup, and backup again. No digital information is infallible whether it’s stored in the cloud or on your local machine. Hard drives fail, flash drives get washed, and servers die each and every day, so be sure you backup your data in more than one place. Personally, I do most of my document creation with Google Docs, so most of my documents are stored on Google’s servers. Once a month, though, I download all of them and put them into my Dropbox so that I have a redundant online backup. I also store the downloaded documents on my local machine at home and on an 32GB flash drive at work, just in case. This follows Peter Krogh’s 3-2-1 backup rule: at least three copies in two different locations with at least one offline. This also goes back to step two. I use Google for most of my cloud-based activity because they make it easy for me to take it out of the cloud and store it locally using the tools found at dataliberation.org. If I had chosen a different company, I may not have had that option.
4. Use secure passwords
The last, and probably most important, step is to use secure passwords for your cloud services. A study released last year revealed that some of the most common used passwords are among the most insecure, and the things you store in the cloud are only as secure as your password. The best option is to use a different password for each service/account. Check out this list from Google, this post from Gina Trapani, or this video from Sophos for tips on creating strong passwords. If you still have a hard time remembering passwords, you could try a tool like LastPass or KeePass that helps you manage your passwords easily.
All in all, the cloud is a safe place to live and work. Just like anything else involving digital data, it’s much safer if the user takes steps to safeguard himself/herself. Hopefully, with these tips, you can join us in the cloud and feel safe and secure when you do. If you have any other tips or tricks, please add them to the comments below.