Answering Computer Question: How Safe Is It to Use the Cloud?

In my last post I gave you a non-technical explanation of what the cloud is.  I had a student named Ronald write to ask me about whether it was a good idea to use cloud services. He said:

“I just have to question how safe cloud storage really is, what is stopping hackers from accessing our information, what happens if the service goes bankrupt, or if there is a major failure of a cloud system that holds all our information.

We loose it all, what happens if a cloud system decides they will sell our information to the highest bidder, we have no recourse only your word that this is the right thing to do…”

My response:

Great question. While you’re thinking smart,  there’s one thing you’re not realizing –  you already are  using cloud services… and have been for years!

Since you have a Yahoo address, it means you are storing your emails and address book (and possibly attachments or other files) “in the cloud” (i.e. online) and you are benefiting from their spam filtering and virus scanning services, which are also “cloud based”.  This is true of any web-based email service, including Gmail and others.

And chances are, you don’t have a copy of your email or address book on your computer, which means if Yahoo shut down (which may sound unlikely, but is by no means impossible) you would lose all of your emails, addresses, etc.

This is one reason I prefer not to use “web mail” (where you go to a website to check your email) but instead use an email system where I can store everything on my own computer where I can always access it and protect it by backing it up.

It may be impossible to avoid having email stored online at some point (since it’s delivered through the Internet) but I can keep a copy of it myself and then chose whether it will also be stored online, rather than only keeping it online.

Which is pretty much my take on using cloud services in general — I suggest to anyone that if you use it, be aware there are potential risks just like you mentioned, and make sure keep at least one copy of all your important files (emails count as files too) someplace in your actual physical possession.

And, of course, make sure to back up your files regularly while you’re at it!

These days, files are some of the most important things you own — everything including emails, music,  videos,  photographs, tax documents, personal or business records, and more.

The question is, if your files *only* exist online, do you really own them?

 You should always be thinking about these issues anytime you use any service where you store *any* of your information online. This applies to anything from storage services to social networking sites.

I hope that helps.  I talk about a lot of these issues and have for many years — one set of lessons to check out that cover these topics is my How to Understand and Safely Use Social Networking Sites album available on iTunes.