The Best of the Tech Helpline: How Safe Is the Cloud?

Keeping your data secure online


 April 27, 2018
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Do you hesitate to store a document in the cloud because you think it might not be safe? Do you wonder if Dropbox is safer than Google Drive? Do you think your files are more secure on a portable hard drive, CD, DVD or a flash drive?

These are common questions agents ask the technical support analysts on the WRA Tech Helpline. What do the analysts recommend? Read on to learn about the best practices.

How safe is safe?

There are two components to your files being ‚Äúsafe.‚ÄĚ First, files must be safe from being accessed, and second, files must be safe from being opened. Before the cloud, access to files was physical: You could only gain access by physically accessing the device.

The internet changed that. Now we can access our files remotely.

Today’s storage makes it even more critical to password-encrypt files. Encryption is the ability to store and transmit information in a form that’s unreadable to anyone other than those intended. Encryption has been around for thousands of years. The first form of cryptography, found as hieroglyphs carved into tomb walls, dates back to ancient Egypt.

Today’s encryption is exceptional. It’s particularly robust in the cloud and in services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Driven by the mobile revolution, storing data has moved from portable hard drives, CDs, DVDs and flash drives to the cloud.

Generations that grew up with computers store nearly everything in the cloud today. It’s convenient and is a better place for your data. It’s better not only because it’s easier to access, but because you can access your data, theoretically, forever.

Failing media 

CDs and DVDs used for storage years ago were supposed to last for ‚Äúup to 100 years.‚ÄĚ Unfortunately, these tools are not only fading away in popularity ‚ÄĒ their optical ink also is fading. These lifespan estimates require perfect storage conditions, but most of us don‚Äôt store our discs under ideal conditions, and the data stored on CDs and DVDs may be at risk of no longer being retrieved.

Moving to the cloud 

Several cloud storage options exist: Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive from Microsoft, Box and many more. Most have a free option with limited space with options for paid additional storage. The more space you need, the higher the cost. The good news is the price to store files on the cloud has dropped significantly. The drawback is, instead of paying a one-time fee, you’ll be paying for storage forever.

Is there a difference? Is one cloud storage brand safer than the other? Experts say that any cloud service can be hacked ‚ÄĒ and almost all of them have. Then again, CDs, flash drives and computers have been lost or stolen.

All the primary online storage services use the same bank-grade security to protect the transmission of data. The principal responsibility for better protection remains with the user: The user still must be smart. As a user, you must password-protect your most important documents. And you must use more complex passwords to keep those files secure.

Moreover, the lifespan of a flash drive is 15-20 years with a caveat: If you use the thumb drive repeatedly, it will wear out faster. Isn’t that what these devices were designed to do? Another compelling case to store your data in the cloud!

A final thought

Many of us may have a fear of someone hacking our data stored in the cloud. Yet we likely don’t hesitate to give our credit card information over the phone. We provide confidential details to people we never see and give them our information fearlessly. So why then do we fear the cloud? The moral of this story: don’t fear the cloud, just use it wisely.

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA, and is authored by Melissa Mazanec-Becker. 

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