What exactly is “the cloud” and why should you care?

So many of our clients have heard of “the cloud” buy don’t know what it is, how it works, and why they should care about it.

Let’s take a look at the answers to these questions.  First, what is “the cloud”?  When a network diagram is drawn, one of the items on the diagram is the Internet.  The Internet is represented on the diagram by a basic drawing of a cloud.  So, anything that is not on the local network, inside the building(s) is considered to be on the internet, hence the term “the cloud”.  Anything not local (on the PC, or on a server located in the building) is on “the cloud”.  We can have software running on the cloud (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, Adobe applications, etc.).  We can also have storage on the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud).

How does it work?  Simple.  You install the client software from the cloud provider, enter a user name and password and you’re on the cloud.  Now, whatever you place into the folders on your cloud drive is on the cloud.  If your computer were to stop working, anything stored on the cloud would still be accessible from another computer.  If you have more than one device (a device is anything that can access the internet including a computer – PC or Mac, smartphone, tablet, game console, etc.) you can access your cloud data from any of these, provided you have the user name and password.

So is it safe to store things on the cloud?  It’s probably safer on the cloud than it is on your local device.  Malware Bytes just wrote an exceptional article outlining the safety of storing things on the cloud, which is well worth the read.

Here are some tips from the article:

If you’re ready to store data on the cloud, we suggest you use a cloud service with multi-factor authentication and encryption. In addition, follow these best practices to help keep your data on the cloud secure:

  • Use hardcore passwords: Long and randomized passwords should be used for data stored on the cloud. Don’t use the same password twice.
  • Back up files in different cloud accounts: Don’t put all your important data in one place.
  • Practice smart browsing: If you’re accessing the cloud on a public computer, remember to log out and never save password info.

What’s multi-factor authentication?  Probably one of the very best methods of protecting yourself.  If you own a smartphone, you give the cloud provider the number.  If someone logs into your account from an unknown device, and you have two-factor authentication enabled, before it allows them to log in, a code is sent to the smartphone via text.  Prior to gaining access, the code must be entered.  If the code is wrong or not entered, no access is granted.  It can be done via e-mail also.  Two-factor authentication should be used for any and all sensitive data and sites, including banks and credit card sites.

What’s encryption?  Encryption is where the data stored is encrypted, meaning that it’s useless unless the public and private keys are used to decrypt it.  Anytime you see the “https://” before a web site URL, the data is encrypted.  This prevents the bad guys from taking a hard drive containing data and simply hooking it up to a computer and reading it.

Hardcore Passwords:  In Alabama the most popular password is : rolltide.  Second most popular is: wareagle.  If you’re using either one of these, or variations of them, change them.  Now.  Don’t use your spouses name, your child’s name, your pet’s name, your birthday, or any word that can be found in the dictionary (combining words is OK).  Your password needs to be at least 8 characters long, contain both upper and lower-case letters, at least one number and one symbol.  The longer, the better.  We prefer passphrases instead of  passwords.  RedDog12! meets the minimum security, however it won’t take long to crack to an expert.  “The red Dog was running on the land with 12 friends!” won’t be cracked anytime soon and meets all of the requirements.  Yes, a space is considered a character.

Different Cloud Accounts:  We use all of the major cloud accounts.  We don’t store all of our data on each.  Some data on one, other data on others.

One neat thing that some cloud providers, like Dropbox, provide is sharing capabilities.  Person A can grant access to a folder in their cloud account to Person B.  Both A and B can look at the files in the folder, but only those files. Person B cannot see anything else on Person A’s account.  This is very useful for parents who have kids in college.  Instead of e-mailing something as an attachment, simply place it in the cloud folder and within microseconds the other person has the file.

This post only touches the very surface of the capabilities of the cloud.

Should you ever need help with your cloud account, or just need help setting one up, contact PCMDX today at pcmdxal@gmail.com or via phone at 205-201-0389.  We’ll service both business and residential accounts, and specialize in security.  And don’t forget to like us on Facebook so you can get updates on important computer and security information.