5 Tips to Keep Your Data Secure on the Cloud

How can you be sure the information you store on the cloud is safe? The short answer is you can't. However, you can take some protective measures. Here are five data privacy protection tips to help you tackle the issue of cloud privacy.

The number of personal cloud users increases every year and is not about to slow down. Back in 2012 Gartner predicted the complete shift from offline PC work to mostly on-cloud by 2014. And it's happening.

Today, we rarely choose to send a bunch of photos by email, we no longer use USB flash drives to carry docs. The cloud has become a place where everyone meets and exchanges information. Moreover, it has become a place where data is being kept permanently.

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We trust the cloud more and more. Now even our documents from the bank, ID scans and confidential business papers work find their new residence on the cloud. But can you be sure your information is safe and secure out there?

Actually, for the time being you cannot. Data privacy legislation proceeds in a tempo that is unable to keep up with the speed of technology progress. Just take a look on how countries or regions deal with legal issues concerning data privacy on the cloud.

You'll hardly find any universal rules or laws that could be applicable to any user and any cloud service irrespective of geographical boundaries or residence. Today's legislature in the area of information privacy consists of plenty of declarations, proposals and roadmaps most of which are not legally binding.

Cloud Security Issues Span the Globe

Information privacy on the 'Net presents a problem for law makers all over the world. All legislative process stumbles over several issues. First, there's transborder data flow. Some countries are successful in regulating privacy issues of the data stored on the servers within the country, but they usually avoid transborder data flow regulation.

The most popular data storage servers are in the United States, but people who use them come from different countries all over the world, and so does their data. It remains unclear which laws of which country regulate that data privacy while it flows from the sender to the server.

Another problem is defining who, and under which circumstances, can gain legal permission to access data stored on the cloud. Users believe that their information isconfidential and protected from everyone just because it belongs to them and is their property. But they often forget that the space where they store it (namely the Internet) is not actually theirs and it functions by its own rules (or no rules). Therefore, you may still have to give up your data if one day state authorities ask for it.

But even if the law happens to be applicable to your situation and is on your side you still don't want to spend your time and effort later in the court proving how right you are, do you? So with all that legal uncertainty you simply have no choice but to take control and be responsible for your own data.

Cloud security

Here are five data privacy protection tips to help you tackle the issue of cloud privacy:

1. Avoid storing sensitive information in the cloud.

Many recommendations across the 'Net sound like this: "Don't keep your information on the cloud." Fair enough, but it's the same as if you asked, "How not to get my house burned down?" and the answer would be, "Do not have a house." The logic is solid, but a better way to translate such advice is, "avoid storing sensitive information on the cloud." So if you have a choice you should opt for keeping your crucial information away from virtual world or use appropriate solutions.

2. Read the user agreement to find out how your cloud service storage works.

If you are not sure what cloud storage to choose or if you have any questions as for how that or another cloud service works you can read the user agreement of the service you are planning to sign up for. There is no doubt it's hard and boring but you really need to face those text volumes. The document which traditionally suffers from insufficient attention may contain essential information you are looking for.

3. Be serious about passwords.

You must have heard this warning a hundred times already, but yet most people do not follow it. Did you know that 90 percent of all passwords can be cracked within seconds? Indeed, a great part of all the sad stories about someone's account getting broken is caused by an easy-to-create-and-remember password. Moreover, doubling your email password for other services you use (your Facebook account, your cloud storage account) is a real trap as all your login information and forgotten passwords always arrive to your email.

Here is an efficient method of creating a secure password:

  1. Choose a random word (preferably a long one) -- for example, "communication."
  2. Now let's say you are signing up for Gmail. What you should do is add a "Gmail" word to the word you have chosen. Thus your password for Gmail will be "communicationGmail." If you sign up for Skype, your password will be "communicationSkype", for example.

Therefore, you need to remember only your "core" word and the structure of your password. To strengthen it even more you can add a certain number before the name of the service, for example your birth date. In that case your password will look like "communication12111975Skype", etc.

You can invent any other way of memorizing your passwords, the one that appeals to you. But the main point doesn't change - such a method is really simple and effective.

4. Encrypt.

Encryption is, so far, the best way you can protect your data. Generally encryption works as follows: You have a file you want to move to a cloud, you use certain software with which you create a password for that file, you move that password-protected file to the cloud and no one is ever able to see the content of the file not knowing the password.

The most easy and handy way is to zip files and encrypt them with a password. To that end you can use B1 Free Archiver -- a free multiplatform compression tool. When creating the archive check the "Protect with a password" option, type in the password (keeping in mind the no. 3 rule) and only after that you can move it to the cloud. If you want to share it with someone just give the password to that person. Note that B1 Free Archiver zips files only in B1 format which makes the overall protection of your info more reliable.

The only software that opens B1 files is B1 Free Archiver, therefore you won't be able to open any B1 archive, even one that isn't password-protected, without this utility. B1 encrypted archives appear to be more safe and secure than the usual zip files.

In case you have more time and energy or want to provide an even higher level of protection for your files you can use TrueCrypt encryption software. It's an open source encryption program with which you can create an encrypted file (the so called "virtual disk") and keep all of your private files protected with a password.

TrueCrypt is a bit harder to use than B1 Free Archiver, but it gives you the choice of encryption algorithms (in addition to AES it also offers Serpent, Twofish, etc) some of which deliver a higher level of reliability. But at the same time it also has its drawback as compared to encrypted zip files.

In TrueCrypt you preset a precise volume of your encrypted file from the very beginning so a lot of space may be wasted before you fill it with data. The size of an encrypted zip file depends only on the data volume contained in it.

5. Use an encrypted cloud service.

There are some cloud services that provide local encryption and decryption of your files in addition to storage and backup. It means that the service takes care of both encrypting your files on your own computer and storing them safely on the cloud. Therefore, there is a bigger chance that this time no one -- including service providers or server administrators -- will have access to your files (the so called "zero-knowledge" privacy). Among such services are Spideroak and Wuala.

Spideroak provides 2GB space for full featured backup, sync, share, access and storage for free. However, you'll have to upgrade to Plus Plan for $10/monthly if you need more space. Wuala offers 5GB for free and paid accounts with the price depending on the amount of space you need.

Cloud security

When choosing the best way of protecting your information keep in mind how valuable that information is to you and to what extent it is reasonable to protect it. Therefore, the first thing you should do is to define the level of privacy you need and thus a level of protection for it. If you do not actively use the Internet to work, even a two-step verification involving SMS with a code sent to your mobile phone may seem cumbersome, though most people who use email for sending business data appreciate this option.

Not everyone is ready to pay for data to be stored, but if you use cloud storage for keeping corporate data, you'll find paying for safe and secure data storage reasonable. So try to strike that delicate balance between the required level of protection and the time/effort/money spent on it.

Victoria Ivey a tech enthusiast and writer. She has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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