Don’t Let Cloud Storage Rain on Your Parade—or Your Privacy

Cloud storage, it’s all the rage, right? Or not… It seems many people use cloud storage without realizing it. Despite all of the mention of it in the press over the past couple of years, consumer awareness of cloud storage is low, and that’s a bad thing because that ignorance is putting them at risk.

True life tales of cloud storage fails
For example, here’s what happened at our house: My husband complained that his iPad was performing poorly because much of the memory was taken up by pictures. (He takes a lot of pictures with his iPad!) I don’t know much about iPads (OK, I know nothing about iPads), but I Googled the problem and suggested he set up iCloud and Photostream so his pictures would be stored virtually and he could remove them from the iPad—storage and memory issue solved, right? Wrong. The next time he logged on to his work iPad, he saw photos from his personal one. Oops!

Then I got curious about my own pictures that are on my iPhone. I knew I had an iCloud account (although I don’t know why), so I went online, logged in to it for the first time ever, and found all of the photos currently on my iPhone in a folder in cloud storage—that I never intended to have anywhere but on my phone unless I want to upload them to Shutterfly to get prints.

Now, it’s not as if we are up to no good at our house and we have something to hide. But for my husband, it’s unprofessional to have. Say, pictures of our piglets or our chickens show up on his work iPad, and I don’t want pictures I take to exist anywhere but on my phone—just because.

So I started doing a little digging into this whole cloud storage thing. Just how safe is it? What do average consumers like me and my husband need to know to keep our data safe in an age of cloud storage that we’re using without even realizing we’re doing so? And here’s what I found out…

Know if and when your data is stored in the cloud
According to one study, 90% of Internet users are using the cloud but only 29% say that they are using cloud storage. If you don’t know you’re using it, you’re not taking steps to protect your information. If you’re uploading sensitive information, and 21% of files uploaded to file-sharing services contain sensitive data, it’s even more important that you be aware.

Keeping your data safe “in the cloud” is not your provider’s job
Free cloud storage options abound, with consumers using Dropbox, GoogleDrive, OneDrive, iCloud and other options. Although all of these options are offered by big companies that you can assume have great security, it is not their job alone to protect your data once it’s stored in the cloud. You as the user have a responsibility too.

Know what’s connected to what
At our house, ignorance caused data to be unintentionally shared. When I took a look at the settings on my iPhone, for example, I had all kinds of settings to “On” that should have been “Off.” We also need to be aware of which devices share data. For example, my husband’s two iPads are obviously sharing data but probably shouldn’t be. That’s a danger, because any device that’s compromised in the cloud opens the door to every connected device to also be compromised.

Know which people have access
For families that share cloud storage, users need to know who can access what data. Access can be restricted, so users should take steps to do so when necessary. This applies outside of your household too: What kind of access do outsiders have to your data? How public or private is that cloud storage?

Know which apps have access
If you’re using cloud storage, check which apps have been granted access to it and disable any apps that really don’t need that access.

Start with a strong password
Researching this topic, I read several articles on protecting data stored in the cloud and every article stressed the same point: Use a very strong password. Most consumers are quite lax in creating passwords, with over 4% still using the 123456 version, and many use the same password across multiple accounts. All the encryption in the world won’t matter if you don’t start with a strong password.

There’s admittedly much more to be said about protecting your privacy when using personal cloud storage, and this is just a very basic rundown of things you should know. But know them you should, so you can take steps to make sure your cloud storage doesn’t rain on your parade—or your privacy.

P.S. If you’re not yet using cloud storage or you want to get more proactive about it (as opposed to using a default), PC Mag has a great rundown of the best personal cloud storage options of 2015.

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