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Are my files really safe if I store them in the cloud?


Safe Cloud Storage Options

When you're shopping for a cloud storage service for your files, you'll probably start by considering what you plan to store and how you need to access it. Along with that, determine how important it is to keep that information secure. For example, if you're storing important documents about your medical history or home finances, you may be more concerned about keeping your data safe than you would, say, music files from CDs you've ripped. Here are some safety features to look for when you're shopping:

  • A company with a reputation for excellent physical and network security
  • Multiple-level redundancy, meaning there are multiple copies of your data to prevent loss in the case of a single disk or server failure
  • Redundancy across multiple geographic locations, so when a natural disaster destroys your data at one location, that same data is still available elsewhere
  • How long it takes to delete a file across the redundant servers in the cloud, or if it's ever truly deleted from the cloud storage banks

Cloud security hasn't been as rigid for end-user storage services as it has for enterprise-level clouds. As a result, even the top cloud storage options available to you have some vulnerabilities. While these vulnerabilities are probably not a big concern for most users, they are worth noting if you decide to store sensitive personal information. The following are just a couple of examples:

Dropbox -- Dropbox is simple and sufficient for most users, encrypting your data while it's in transit over the Internet. In its simplicity, though, it did leave a couple of security holes. First, it left local authentication protection up to its users. All you need to sign in from another computer is a copy of your Dropbox configuration file, so you're responsible for limiting access to your local computer. Dropbox also leaves the names of your files in plain text. It's up to you whether you want a third-party security application to encrypt and decrypt the data in the folder you're synchronizing locally to protect filenames and prevent anyone from reading that data without your additional decryption keys [sources: G.F., Newton].

Amazon Cloud Drive -- Amazon stands toe-to-toe with Dropbox when it comes to simplicity and availability across platforms. Amazon is also up front about one of your security risks. In its user agreement, Amazon Cloud Drive declares its right to access your files and disclose account information to offer support and to ensure compliance with that agreement. Since the Cloud Drive offers streaming of MP3, this is largely to enforce copyright law regarding music. If you want to protect those files, you'll have to give up the streaming option for media files and use a third-party encryption app for all the data you synchronize to the Cloud Drive [sources: Vaughan-Nichols, Raphael].

So, our answer to the title question for this article is this: Yes, but know the limitations of your cloud storage service before you start uploading. For more information on cloud security, head on to the next page.


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