Seeing that low storage icon pop up on your device is inconvenient at best and distressing at worst. It is a common problem to have to delete files you really wanted to save just so you could make a little more space on your phone or laptop. Information is being generated at an increasingly fast pace and with that comes the risk of losing data if there is nowhere to store it. But technology always stays a step ahead of our problems. With the introduction of the cloud, this problem has been neatly dealt with. Cloud storage is a solution that offers third-party storage to individuals or companies in exchange for an affordable fee. Service providers store your data on their own servers securely. They also make sure that the data is accessible to you anywhere, whenever you wish.
How Cloud Storage Works?
You might be unfamiliar with the technical term but you might already be using cloud storage in some form. Google Drive is cloud storage. The files you send to online storage do not just sit there inactive until you download them to your computer again and use them. You can actively use them on the cloud. It is practically like having them on your computer but they don’t use any internal memory. Furthermore, online storage synchronizes with your system. This means that if you turn on synchronization, any changes you make on your files will automatically reflect on the data in your cloud storage.
So now that you know cloud storage is basically like an extension of your laptop’s internal memory, you might be thinking to yourself “All that is great but I have a lot of questions.” Let us try and answer some of the most common questions about cloud storage:
Is Cloud storage safe?
Security protocols are taken very seriously by cloud vendors as without proper implementation of them, they cannot obtain the necessary regulatory compliances to be able to run their company. It would help to know a little bit about the safety measures cloud service providers, or CSPs for short, take to protect your data:
Automated Monitoring Systems:
The best cloud vendors often have monitoring algorithms integrated into their systems that detect suspicious activity. An example is Securitybot at Dropbox. These detection systems are the first line of defense. Upon registering a threat, they alert the security team to deploy damage control.
Encryption is a process whereby data is scrambled into gibberish and can only be reverted back to its original form using a key. Cloud companies use encryption to protect your data. This means that when your data is at rest, in use, or being transferred to and from the cloud, it is completely unintelligible to whoever tries to access it without the key. While encryption is not a 100% unbreakable, without the key, it takes powerful computing to decrypt the data encrypted with a strong algorithm. Such an amount of computing power isn’t readily available to hackers.
You might think, what if the company accidentally leaks your password? At the cloud company’s end, hashing functions and salts are used to protect passwords. A strong hashing function almost irreversible changes your password into a different, unintelligible output called a hash digest. All the passwords are stored in files at the vendor’s end in the form of hash digests instead of plain text. If anyone gains access to these files, they will only find the hash digests, which cannot be used to access associated accounts or to get to original passwords.
In case a file goes suspiciously missing, cloud vendors also have data logs, that keep a track of your file activity. You can check against this log as to when it was moved.
It is pretty much safe to say that the best cloud vendors are doing more to protect data than one can manage on their own, locally.
Who, apart from me, can view my data?
Your data cannot be viewed by anyone except you, whomever you allow and on the case by case basis, the cloud vendor too. It can be viewed by the public only if you have made it public yourself.
Remember that your data is encrypted and has to be decoded using a key. Some vendors offer you services like being able to search through your own cloud data. For this, they need to keep the encryption keys which means they can view your data. However, other vendors allow you to keep the keys so even they cannot view your data. It is up to you to choose a provider that can meet your preferences.
Could all my data be accidentally lost?
An excellent feature of cloud storage is a reliable back up. Vendors usually save up to three copies of your data on different servers often in different locations. This practice is called redundancy. It makes sure that your data has a high probability of making it through anything from a virus to an unexpected volcanic eruption because a copy of your data would be resting safely in a far-off location. Moreover, Good CSPs usually allow users to restore files to date back in time. So, in the unfortunate case your files have been attacked by malware, you can reset everything to the date prior to the attack and suffer no data loss!
Using Cloud Storage:
Well, first and foremost, you are getting to extend your devices’ storage without having to physically make changes to your computer or to get USBs or hard drives or SSDs. You can use cloud storage that can work as well as, or even better than, any of those. Your files are available to you all the time to work with as you wish. Furthermore, these files are well protected and this protection is powered by some of the greatest tech giants in the world, who cannot afford to compromise on it. They also give you the option of keeping your data entirely private so only you have access to it. Then, you also get free back-up so if your own device gets fried, God forbid, you don’t have to overspend on repairs just so you could get your data back. It is all safe online. But that is not all. There are a few more benefits and this is where it gets better than local storage:
Easy Data Sharing:
You don’t have to worry about how to get that 10GB file to your friend in that USB. Or worse, how to get it to multiple people. You don’t even have to worry about waiting ages for files to upload so you can send them one by one. Online storage reduces big files to simple URLs. You just need to set your permissions accordingly and then with a simple share of a link, you can allow someone else to view your online file.
Allowing someone to view your files isn’t the only option. You can even allow them to make changes to it. Think about how much easier that makes collaborating with people who are geographically away from each other. All members of a group can access the same project online and make live changes to it from their respective locations. It saves both time and cost of travel and the work still gets done.
All service providers have several different sorts of data plans. This means you can purchase as much or as little storage you want every month. So suddenly, if your storage needs are reduced, you don’t have to worry about having bought all that storage hardware. Or if they go up, you don’t have to go buy hardware. You can just scale your online storage plan up or down at no extra cost.
Perhaps the most important thing to note is that you get all of the above perks for a fraction of the price of doing it all on your own. Online storage plans are generally in monthly installments and affordable. Most providers also give you some space for free and charge for additional memory.
Picking a Cloud Service Provider:
At the end of the day, choosing cloud storage does mean handing your data over to a third party so it won’t fare well to choose blindly. You should thoroughly research a vendor before choosing one. Invest in names that have well-established reputations so you know you are getting the best security and accessibility there is out there. You can also continuously monitor and verify your vendor’s practices throughout the time you are using their service. Also, remember your own preferences of data handling when choosing a provider for example, do you want it to be zero intelligence (meaning do you want to keep the encryption keys with yourself).
Below, we have outlined some of the top service providers out there:
Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage. It lets you view photos as well as play music and videos. It also lets you sync to Office online. It offers both at rest and in-transit encryption. Dropbox is great for collaboration. They also have a referral program which allows you to earn up to 18 GB free space if you refer 32 friends. You can take advantage of their referral program and earn 18 GB of space without paying a hefty amount each year.
OneDrive offers 5GB of free storage. Among its advantages is that it can easily sync to Microsoft applications, which makes it good for collaborations. It offers both at rest and in-transit encryption.
3) Amazon Drive:
Amazon Drive offers 5GB of free storage as well as unlimited photo storage. It has a fast file syncing. The company has come out with good subscription plans.
4) Google Drive:
Google offers a whopping 15 GB of free storage. It has strong customer support. It is great for collaboration and in-app syncing. It offers both at rest and in-transit encryption.
5) Apple Icloud:
Apple offers 5GB of free storage as well as reasonable prices on their plans. Icloud is good for integration with other Apple devices. It offers both at rest and in-transit encryption.
None of the aforementioned services are zero-knowledge, however. This means that the vendors hold on to the encryption keys. If you are not comfortable with that then following are two leading cloud vendors that are zero-knowledge and offer competitive services and prices.
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pCloud offers great value for money on its paid plans and 10GB of storage otherwise. It has shared file security and fast file syncing. It even offers multimedia playback so you can watch or listen to your media files on the service. pCloud also has both at rest and in-transit encryption.
Mega gives you up to 15 GB of free storage and you can get more free storage but that has an expiration date. It has encrypted link sharing as well as at-rest and in-transit encryption.
Practicing Caution at Your Own End:
Cloud service providers cannot protect against the bad judgment on your part. This is why the companies issue certain safety guidelines so you don’t compromise your own data’s safety. Set a good strong password that combines different types of characters and is devoid of common words or personal information that can easily be found out. Once you have chosen a good password, do not use it on other websites as a vendor cannot account for their security. Most CSPs offer two-step verification as well. To access your account, in addition to your password, you have to enter a code sent by the company to your private phone or email. Use this option as an extra layer of protection against intrusion. And finally, if your files are way too sensitive, and you are extra apprehensive about putting them online, you can add an extra layer of your own encryption to your folders before shifting them to the cloud. By employing your own safe practices in conjunction with the robustness of a top cloud vendor’s security infrastructure, you ensure your data is secure to the greatest possible extent.
In conclusion, if you make informed choices and take precautions, opting for a cloud storage service can make life more convenient. All the data that eats up your storage can suddenly take up no storage at all without going out of reach in any way. There is no hassle of physically carrying your data or taking great pains to protect it. The storage space is completely customizable to your own needs. And best of all, you get great value for your money because of the reasonable storage plans out there.
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