With the increasing occurrences of cybercrime, people are seeking alternative ways to store their data. Cloud computing has hence become a buzzword in the IT sector right now. Unfortunately, its meaning and implications are still not very clear in some circles.
The chances are high that businesses and individuals alike have at one time or another used the cloud unknowingly. Media sharing platforms like Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube use a cloud. Several webmail services also rely on the cloud for data storage. They include Gmail and Hotmail.
What Is the Cloud?
Cloud computing is the use of the power of the internet to outsource tasks that were traditionally performed on a computer. The tasks range from handling simple storage to more complex processing and development. It also entails the interconnection of a vast and powerful remote network of interconnected machines.
This outsourcing has proved handy for users who are tired of continually having to free up space on their hard drives. It also saves them the agony of buying new storage for all the new media they need to store.
For businesses, cloud computing gives them the advantage of running essential programs and applications through the internet. In the long run, they make huge savings on space, time, hassle, and money. Payment for cloud services works in the same way as paying for utilities like gas or electricity.
The cloud is extremely flexible, allowing users to have instant access to scaled-up computing power on the go. Once they complete their tasks, they release this power back to the cloud.
It’s essential to realize that the cloud exists in far-flung data centers which are only accessible through the internet. The collection of networked computer hardware systematically provides users with a complete computing experience. These come in the form of online services.
The hardware is not physically tangible in the public cloud, but users can control it remotely through web interfaces.
Features of the Cloud
One of the central elements that make the cloud popular is virtualization. This entails the use of virtual machines created with software that divides the computing power, storage and memory of a given device into smaller units. Each of the units runs on its operating system but allows for computing resources to be shared and allocated throughout the cloud.
Cloud computing comes in three distinct categories. These are Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). IaaS is the platform where big players like Amazon and Google rent out computing infrastructure to other companies. PaaS is an online space where developers create online applications targeting a specific set of users. SaaS refers to the use of various cloud software over the internet.
Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter are perfect examples of SaaS cloud applications. These are platforms that the average internet user has interacted with at some point.
The cloud is considered powerful because millions of people can interact with the same information at the same time over different devices. Services like Dropbox and Apple’s iCloud, provide users with unlimited storage capacity for their contacts, calendars, email, music, and photos, among other data. They can gain access to this information from any device upon login into the associated accounts.
Since the devices can be synced automatically with the cloud, the need to fumble with USB cables and other physical storage gadgets is eliminated. Cloud storage systems encompass hundreds of data servers linked together by a master control server. However, a simple server might involve just one system.
Another feature of cloud computing is the connection it offers clients to remote computing infrastructure through a network. In this case, the infrastructure comprises shared processing power and software, among other resources. This leaves the user free from having to maintain and update their software regularly. At the same time, they can harness the processing power of a vast network.
Where Does Your Data Go When Stored in the Cloud?
Anything you upload to the cloud, or which you can access from the cloud, has its base on dedicated servers and storage volumes. They are known as data centers and cloud service providers own them. The owners are responsible for ensuring that the servers are up and running at all times.
Data centers vary in size from small to huge ones, but their function is the same across the board. They’re charged with the task of keeping all data physically safe from destruction or theft and also to avail it when it’s needed. The centers also run massive cooling systems that keep electronic from heating up and also help in backing up systems.
Upon uploading your data on the cloud, it’s physically stored in several different places or locations, depending on where the data centers are based. Data center owners make multiple copies of your data and store them in disparate locations to ensure at least a copy is accessible in case of any disruption.
The fact that data is stored in an actual but unknown physical location is irrelevant to most individual cloud users. The bottom line is that they can access the information over the internet they need when they need it. However, organizations that use the cloud for sensitive data like government documents or health information need to understand where the data goes.
Besides, they also need to understand the data protection and privacy laws that apply to data centers. Most critically, they need to take measures to protect their data stored in the cloud.
How to Protect Your Cloud
For businesses to securely leverage the full benefits of using the cloud, they must address the security concerns that come with it. When leveraging cloud services, enterprises should evaluate several factors like
- Data encryption for both data in transit and data at rest
- Data security in a multi-tenant cloud environment and how it gets separated from system vulnerabilities
- Privacy controls on data accessibility and how long it can be stored or used
- Maintenance and management controls the provider puts in place to keep data updated and protected
The majority of security professionals have their own concerns about the ability to secure cloud-based Infrastructure and services. This section looks at some of the best practices that cloud users can employ to overcome the issues that cloud computing labels as weaknesses.
- Don’t Store Sensitive Data in the cloud
This tip may sound counterintuitive as to why the cloud exists. One might ask how much data they can store on the cloud. The truth is, there’s no real privacy on the internet, and the rising cases of theft identity are proof of this.
It’s advisable to avoid storing personal, confidential, and sensitive information like passwords and financial information on the cloud. Sensitive information also includes intellectual property like copyrights and patents. Regardless of the protective measures you take to protect this information, it could end up in the wrong data management system.
The results are potential data leakage and compromise.
- Take Encryption Seriously
Encryption is so far the best way companies can protect their data. How does data encryption work? It entails the use of a special type of software to create a unique password for a file that needs transferring to a cloud. Once the password has been created, the file is moved to the cloud, where no one can ever retrieve it unless they have the password.
One of the third-party encryption tools you can use is the B1 Free Archiver, which is a free multiplatform compression tool. When using the tool, ensure to check the “Protect with a password” option and type in your desired password. Only then can you safely move it to the cloud.
Take note that the tool only zips files that come in the B1 format. It’s the most reliable format for making your data more secure than the usual file types. Besides, the only software that opens B1 files is B1 Free Archiver.
If you need a more advanced form of encryption, use the TrueCrypt software. As an open-source encryption program, you can create an encrypted file to keep all your data well protected with a password.
This software is a bit more complicated to use than the B1 Free Archiver but offers a wide range of encryption algorithms. This means a higher level of reliability and security for your data.
- Ensure the Cloud Service You Use is Encrypted
Instead of having to go the extra mile of using third-party encryption tools, look for cloud service providers that offer the service. It would be better f they offer both encryption and decryption of the files in addition to storage and backup.
With this, there’s a bigger chance that no one, including the server administrators, can access the files. Some of the services you can use are Spideroak and Wuala. The former offers 2GB space for a full backup, share, sync, access, and storage, all for free. However, for additional space, you’ll need to sign up for the premium version.
Wuala works in the same way, only that it offers 5GB free space. The amount payable for the subscription versions depends on the additional space you need.
When thinking of the encryption options to use, let the value of the data be the guiding factor. You also need to consider the reasonable extent to which you want to protect it. This calls for the need to define the level of privacy you need, and hence the level of protection for the same.
Paying for data storage is not a viable option for some businesses. However, if you use cloud storage for storage of corporate data, you’ll find the option safer and a lot secure. The crucial thing is to strike a balance between the level of protection you need and the money you’ll need to spend on it.
- Backup Your Data Locally
Just because your data is on the cloud and you can access it from various devices doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind. In times of poor internet connectivity, you may not have access to the data, yet you might require it urgently. Other factors may also tamper with accessibility.
It’s always advisable to have electronic copies of your data. Should the original copy get corrupted for one reason or another, you’ll still have access to that information.
You can do your backup on different cloud storage or manually in the external device storage. Doing both gives you a stronger sense of data backup.
- Use Stronger Passwords
Hackers work around the cloud, trying to guess passwords to the accounts they target. They have several methods they use to hack passwords, including buying passwords from the dark web. The business of buying and selling passwords is a booming industry on the black market. If you’ve been using the same password for years, the chances are that it has already been compromised.
Other approaches they use are brute-force attack, dictionary attack, and phishing. Brute force attack refers to the attempt to guess several password combinations until they hack it. The hacker uses automated software that tries different combinations in the shortest time possible.
A dictionary attack is where the hacker tries to use a list of words as you’ll find them in the dictionary. If you use a regular word as your password, you’re unlikely to survive a dictionary attack.
Phishing is the most loathsome of the password hacking tactics. It’s when cybercriminals attempt to intimidate, trick, or pressure you into revealing your password. They use social engineering in which they make you believe that there’s something wrong with one of your accounts.
They then direct you to click a link that takes you to a fake website that resembles the account in dispute. When you fall for this trick, the attackers get hold of your password as soon as you type it. Phishing attacks also try to lure you through phone calls. Be especially careful about calls that claim to be from your credit card company.
How can you protect yourself from password hacking? The advice you’ll get from all over is to use strong passwords that adhere to these tips:
- As a minimum of 12 characters
- Includes numbers, symbols, lower case, and capital letters
- Isn’t a word from the dictionary or a combination of dictionary words
- Isn’t based on obvious substitutions
While these are useful tips, it can be overwhelming to keep them all in mind, especially if you have a plethora of accounts. You might resort to replicating the passwords across different accounts, which raises insecurity to a certain level.
This is where the use of password managers comes in. With a strong master password, it’s easier to gain access to all your accounts without having to memorize several of them. The master password is the last one you need to remember.
Password managers come with several great features like a password changer and a security dashboard.
- Test the Security Measures in Place
Avoid the mistake of assuming that all files are perfectly secure on the cloud. You may not be aware of this, but some organizations, especially those with extremely sensitive data, hire certified ethical hackers. The purpose is to test the security position of the accounts.
The tests are as necessary on the cloud and as they are off the cloud. They help establish the level of vulnerability and help in the creation of incidence response tools. If you can, there’s a way you can get unauthorized access to your own account; the chances are very high that someone else can too.
- Employ Virtual Private Cloud and Network
There are many options when it comes to cloud service providers. Instead of going for a multi-tenant instance, your cloud storage service provider could provide a private environment for your account only. This implies using a virtual private cloud (VPC).
With this option, you’re assured of connecting securely to your corporate datacentre. All traffic to and from the VPC will be routed to your corporate data center over a standard, encrypted Internet Protocol security connection.
- Compliance Certifications
As you consider the cloud service providers to engage, ensure to check their compliance certifications. Two of the essential certifications in cloud services are PCI DSS and SOC 2 Type II.
The PCI DDS certification is achieved after a series of detailed audits aimed at sensitive data. A SaaS provider has to prove that they can store, process, and transmit sensitive data, like credit card information, in a secure and protected manner.
This certification is a multifaceted security standard and encompasses requirements for security management. It also covers policies, network architecture, software design, and procedures, among other critical protective measures.
The SOC 2 Type II certification is helpful in internal risk management processes and vendor management programs. It also applies to compliance oversight by confirming that cloud service is specifically designed and rigorously managed at the highest security level possible.
These two are just some of the essential security provisions that service providers must build in their cloud service.
- Install Strong and Reliable Antivirus
So far, the mentioned security measures are best for securing data in the cloud. However, sometimes, the security threat is not in the cloud, but the system you use to log in. Hackers can still gain access to your cloud account if you don’t have proper system protection measures in place.
Ensure you’re not exposing yourself to hackers by exposing providing hackers with penetration points.
As technology evolves, people are also moving from traditional storage methods of their online data. The cloud is becoming a more convenient place for storing sensitive data for both individuals and corporations. The preference is mainly on the notion that cloud computing is more secure and a lot more reliable than traditional computing.
While this is true, it doesn’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind when it comes to cloud cybersecurity. Hackers work tirelessly in search of data and systems that they can exploit to bring organizations down. As you choose a cloud storage service for your data, concurrently think about its security.
Some of the ways to secure the data stored on the cloud are to use password managers. They eliminate the need to memorize the passwords to various online accounts. Enhance your password security by encrypting your data and using cloud services with encryption and decryption options.
Other tips include avoiding the storage of sensitive data on the cloud, installing reliable antivirus, and using certified cloud services. With hackers, you can never be too sure, and you better be safe than sorry.