People like to talk about the cloud. So it's no wonder that the cloud has a certain fascination for many people. But while a conventional cloud is mainly about accumulating water, the digital cloud inspires with the storage of private and business data. So that the cloud does not remain a nebulous entity for you, you will learn more about it below.
What is cloud storage?
Imagine you have baked a cake. Now you don't lock the good piece away in the refrigerator at home. Instead, you're setting a coffee table that's conveniently accessible to all your friends, colleagues and family. It's never been easier to share something good with others - and save space in your own fridge at the same time.
But now, before you start putting your digital supplies on the coffee table with your arms full, think about which table you're going to place the pastries on - and who you're going to invite to the coffee klatch. If you're a digital baker and you've created a pie chart using Excel, Numbers or the like, you certainly don't want to give everyone a piece. The recipe for responsible cloud computing absolutely includes a pinch of caution.
How does cloud computing work?
Now set aside the imaginary calorie bomb for a moment and think about your hard drive instead. Some of what's stored on it you'd like to have with you wherever you go. Storing this data in a cloud makes it easy for you to access it from almost any computer in the world. To make this possible, you store your folders and files on an external server of the respective cloud provider. To do this, you usually have to log in with your user name or an e-mail address and a password - and you can access your photos, documents and digital records.
How do cloud storage solutions differ?
In order to use the cloud as an outsourced storage location, usually only a few clicks are required. Essentially, cloud solutions for data backup can be divided into two categories: for one, you store data exclusively on an external server, and for the other, you synchronize locally stored documents with a cloud. For the former, you use an upload platform via your Internet browser: You call up the corresponding website, enter your credentials, and you're ready to store your data on a provided server. If you also want to store them locally, many cloud providers make it easy for you to synchronize them with an app. Depending on the setting, this then automatically uploads the current version of an edited document or folder to your cloud after each save. So you wouldn't just have one pie on an external table, but two pies: one in your refrigerator - and a second in the cloud. To be able to access the data even without Internet access, you have to make it available offline, i.e. download it.
What can the cloud do?
Staying flexible - that's the desire behind the rapid spread of cloud services: When a company grows, the infrastructure has to keep up. If you don't want to keep buying new hard disks and servers, you can conveniently outsource computing and storage power - to the cloud. Many providers of cloud solutions operate entire server farms whose performance they rent out to users. The computing power used can be easily increased or reduced using this principle. This scalability is one of the greatest advantages of the cloud. An investment in hardware that may no longer be needed at some point can be avoided by outsourcing to external servers. The booked storage can be used in completely different ways - which also benefits private users.
What do I need the cloud for?
The benefits are obvious: you can ensure that the data is always at the same level on all devices connected to the cloud. Some of the storage services also keep older versions of files for a limited time, so they could restore them. You also save valuable storage space on your computer, smartphone or tablet. But the cloud can do even more: it can effectively protect you from criminals - because cloud backups are an effective way to strike terror into the hearts of cyber extortionists and ransomware. If you know your digital baby photos or videos from your trip around the world are safe in an offsite location, no one can blackmail you by encrypting them. Many security solutions relieve you of this worry and automatically create a cloud backup of your valuable data.
How is the data stored in the cloud?
Many services work according to the following principle: File 1, the original, is located on computer A. The original is stored on computer A. From there, file 1 is copied to the cloud. The connected smartphone or the next computer B is shown that file 1 is now in the cloud as a copy. Now the question arises about the settings of your cloud: Do the devices download the new file automatically or do you prefer to download the file manually only when needed? With the first option, you consume storage space on two devices and also occupy storage in the cloud. With the second solution, the storage on the device remains free, only an index shows which files are available for download from the cloud. Provided you are connected to the Internet.
Where does the cloud store my data?
Much more interesting than the "how" is the "where" when using a cloud: because the location of the coffee table rarely determines whether you have to reckon with uninvited guests. Germany has one of the strictest data protection laws in the world. If your data is stored on a German server, access is clearly regulated. This is quite different in the USA, for example. There, cloud services fall under the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law with far-reaching consequences for data protection and the privacy of citizens. Under the Patriot Act, the FBI, CIA and NSA can access your data stored in a U.S. cloud without your knowledge - even without a court order. Suspicion is sufficient for the cloud provider to disclose your data. You should also be careful with servers that are located outside the USA but belong to US companies. In general, you should therefore make sure that you only put your cake on the table with hosts whose table manners you trust.
How can I protect my data in cloud storage?
In the past, cloud providers sometimes stipulated in their contract terms that they were free to use the data stored by their customers as they wished. The only thing that can help here is to read the terms of the contract and, if necessary, switch to another provider who is less generous with their photos, documents and files. Also pay attention to the location of the servers offered and the associated legislation.
Pay attention to the terms and conditions
In addition, you should pay attention to what kind of claims your cloud service provider makes. With some services, you allow the server operator to access or even use your data. Therefore, make sure you choose a cloud where the data remains your inalienable property that no one can access without your consent.
Pay attention to encryption
Not all providers encrypt your data on its way to the cloud. So if your photos float unsecured high into the clouds, a criminal could read their data. The data may also be unencrypted on the server later. So either decide not to store sensitive data with such providers - or opt for a provider that offers encrypted data transfer and storage.
If you want to be really secure and have sensitive data, you should already encrypt it locally. Using special tools, you can turn your data into a code that is unreadable to outsiders. Only with the help of the appropriate key are the files then readable again - and you decide who gets this key.
Protect sensitive data
Accessing your data from anywhere is convenient, but not all data should always be available everywhere: passwords or account data do not belong in the cloud, especially not unencrypted. Specially developed password managers are recommended for securing access data. These also store the sensitive data in a cloud vault, which only releases the data after a master password has been entered.
Learning to share
With most providers, others can access a shared folder without logging in, using just a cryptic URL - and that doesn't just apply to people you know. While it's unlikely that someone will simply get to the address where your data to be shared is stored, the folder is still unprotected and freely accessible on the Internet. It is therefore safer to use solutions that allow sharing only between logged-in users or that allow you to change the privacy settings.
Separation for time
To ensure that you only share the data stored in the cloud with those you want to share with, you should log out of the web browser after each session. If you store the credentials for the cloud in the app, anyone who finds the device can access, modify or delete your data. Therefore, simply log out of the cloud after uploading or downloading.
Anyone who has an app from their cloud provider on their smartphone, tablet or computer should always protect the device with a code or password. Otherwise, unauthorized persons can not only gain access to the device, but also to the often very private data in the cloud, manipulate it or delete it forever. Of course, this also includes a reliable security solution on every device you use to access the cloud.