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How Safe is the Cloud?

Have you ever hesitated to store a document on the cloud because you thought it might not be safe? Or do you avoid storing anything in the cloud? If you do store documents in the cloud, have you wondered if Dropbox was a safer place to save it than Google Drive? Or 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 Tech Helpline tech support analysts. Tech Helpline from Florida Realtors® is the real estate industry’s #1 tech support service. It is available as a benefit through local and state MLSs, brokerages and associations.


Let’s take a look at the cloud. What are the options available to safely store documents? Here’s what tech experts say are the best practices.


How safe is safe?


There are two components to your files being “safe.” They must be safe from being accessed and safe from being opened. Before the cloud, access was a physical thing. We stored our files on our computer’s removable discs and hard drives. To gain access, you had to go physically to the device. The internet changes all that. Now we can access our files remotely.


This makes it even more critical to be sure we password encrypt files. Especially files we don’t want to be opened by anyone who does not have the password.


Encryption is “the ability to store and transmit information in a form that is unreadable to anyone other than intended persons.” Encryption has been around for thousands of years. The first form of cryptography was in Egypt, dated 1900 BCE.


The level of encryption today is exceptional. It’s particularly robust in the cloud and through services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Driven by the mobile revolution, we are moving from storing data on portable hard drives, CDs, DVDs and flash drives to the cloud.


The generations who grew up with computers store everything in the cloud these days. It’s very convenient, and the cloud 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 that we stored our data on were supposed to last for “up to 100 years.” Unfortunately, they are not only fading away in popularity – their optical ink also is fading. The key phrase is “up to.” These lifespan estimates require perfect storage conditions. The problem is most of us don’t store our discs under ideal conditions. People are now discovering the data they stored on CDs and DVDs can no longer be retrieved.


Moreover, the lifespan of a flash drive is 15-20 years. And there’s a caveat. If you use the thumb drive over and over again, it will wear out faster. Isn’t that what these devices were designed to do? All of these reasons make a compelling case to store your data in the cloud.


Moving to the cloud


A multitude of options exists to store your files in the cloud. There’s Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive from Microsoft, Box and many more.


Most have a free option with limited space. Cloud services offer an upgrade to a monthly or annual subscription fee for 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. Pricing continues to improve. 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?


The experts say that any cloud service can be hacked – and almost all of them have. Then again, CDs, flash drives, and computers have been lost or stolen.


All of the primary online storage services pretty much use the same bank-grade security to protect the transmission of data. There are pros and cons to each. The principal responsibility for better protection remains with the user. You still have to be smart. You need to password protect your most important documents. And you must use more complex passwords to keep those files secure.


A final thought


We all have this fear of someone hacking our data stored in the cloud. But yet, we never think twice about giving our credit card information over the phone. We provide confidential details to people we never see. We have no idea where they are. We 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.