Cloud storage has made storing our data a simple and accessible task. But much like using any service over the internet, a security-conscious voice echoes from the back of our minds. Rather than saving your precious data on a hard drive you physically touch and shove under your mattress for safe keeping, cloud storage puts your data in the hands of corporations and placed into the cloud.
For some, that can be a scary thought. Delve into the practices of cloud storage however, and you can grab a little reassurances over where your data is being stored.
What is cloud storage?
Before we get down into the specifics of cloud storage, we need a basic understanding of what it is. Cloud storage isn’t actually that complicated, and has been around for longer than you might think. That email service you’ve been using long before any dedicated consumer cloud storage services came into being- that is essentially a cloud system. All the emails you receive and send are stored in that particular provider’s servers on the internet.
The same goes for cloud storage, only this time you get to choose what data (be is photos, documents or photos) is stored in your account. You might not need to use a hard drive or USB stick, but somewhere along the line is has to be stored in a physical device. Cloud providers operate huge “server farms”, filled with storage-laden servers hooked up to the internet and ready to keep hold of your data.
From there, you can access the files you place into the cloud from anywhere. The beauty of the cloud is that all your data is stored online, so you can access it at any time and via any device.
Where does my data go?
The short answer is that actually, you’re unlikely to ever find out exactly where your data is being stored. A cloud service may be based in a particular country such as the United States, but that doesn’t mean all their servers are. Server farms might be located at any point around the globe, but you can do a little bit of digging into your cloud provider of choice.
There is also the added problem of redundancy. In order to allow customers to access their stuff at any time, data needs to be stored in several different places. That way, if a particular server has a fault or loses power, the service is not affected. Thanks to redundancy then, your data might be stored in many different locations at the same time.
Two of the most popular services on the market, Dropbox and Google Drive, offer a little bit of insight into where your data goes once you’ve stored it in the cloud.
Dropbox for example, state that all their servers “are located in data centres across the United States”. In Google Drive’s help pages, they also state that any data is by default stored in the United States. If you don’t fancy that, you can specify where you’d like it to be stored. Using a “bucket location”, you can choose the location for your files. Locations include certain regions, such as the US, inside the EU or Asia, or even locations within those regions, such as central United States or Western Europe.
So is it safe?
With all the confusion over exactly where your data is, concerns over security are an obvious bi-product. Cloud services will encrypt your data as you store it, and your greatest concern for the security of your data is likely to fall with you. Take some simple security steps like: create a solid password; use the two-step authentication that comes with many services; ensure all the apps you use for cloud storage are kept up to date.
Security is one thing, but privacy is quite another. Google and Dropbox have both been rumbled in the past when found to compromising user privacy. Government agencies are known to dabble in the cloud on that services say so, and how much you trust a particular service or care about people rummaging through your data should be things to consider before choosing which to go for.
Whilst the larger corporations have been found untrustworthy in the past, some of the lesser-known names can fill the gap and offer beefed up security.