The cloud is an incredibly useful tool for both work and entertainment. Without the cloud, there would be no Netflix, Spotify, Dropbox, or Microsoft 365. We wouldn’t have collaborated through the pandemic, and we would have been relying on advertising-filled and increasingly low-quality free-to-air television to keep us sane.
As useful as it is, however, the cloud does have one big issue: security. By its very nature cloud services store data on the Internet, and the more we store online, the more we risk losing. To give you an idea of the extent of the threat, just one cloud service, a popular creative provider, Canva, had a breach that exposed 137 million accounts in 2019. More recently, in December 2020, IoT vendor, Ubiquiti Networks, experienced a breach that affected as many as 85 million accounts. The problem here, too, was that IoT devices rely on the cloud to run.
These companies invest heavily in security, and yet they were still breached. Which raises the question: is it possible to safely use cloud computing?
The good news is that there are some basic, common-sense things that we can all do to protect ourselves as they use cloud services, which have become so essential to our modern lifestyles.
1) Use a reputable ISP.
Finding the right ISP is essential to using cloud services safely. In Australia, there is the concept of “clean pipes,” where a lot of the fight to protect users and cloud-stored data can be done at the ISP level. A good, reputable ISP will also be able to offer good information and resources around cybersecurity to users. As an additional benefit, the more reliable the ISP, the more reliable the speeds used to access cloud services will be, above and beyond the security concerns, making it safer to rely on cloud services for essential work.
The more that you rely on the cloud to work and play, the more expensive downtime becomes. Losing access to a video streaming service can be irritating. Losing access to your critical work documents with a deadline looming can be catastrophic. As work is placed on the cloud, the convenience of it becomes too much to ignore, but the more you’re going to need a reliable ISP that can resolve technical issues quickly should something go wrong.
2) Make use of best practices tools and techniques
We’ve all heard these ones before: make sure that every password is strong and unique to the other passwords you use, and set up two-factor authentication wherever possible. These don’t guarantee security (for example, if a cybercriminal knows your phone number, they could potentially get the number transferred to their device and then use that to break past your two-factor authentication), but as you can see from that example above, the process becomes a lot more elaborate and challenging. Having a good password manager that will create and manage passwords so you don’t have to, is a good investment, too. In many cases, cloud services are insecure because people make mistakes online (“password” and “123456” are STILL the most common passwords, against all best practice advice), so being just a little more circumspect with your online behavior can be significant in protecting you online.
3) Sign out when you’re not using a service
It can be a pain to log in every time that you want to use a service, but you should still sign out at the end of every session, even if there is the option to stay logged in. Why? Because technology can go missing. Perhaps you leave a laptop in a taxi by accident, or perhaps your house gets broken into. If the only thing that a criminal needs to do to get access to your accounts is figure out your desktop password, you could be in for a lot of trouble. Many devices (mobile phones in particular) have the ability to remote wipe. This often needs to be turned on and connected to an account before the device has been lost, however, so make sure it’s one of the things you do in setup.
4) Regularly refresh your connected accounts
It can be so convenient to log into cloud services using Google, Facebook or Twitter accounts. They can cut time out of setting up a new account and can sidestep the need to set up a separate login. However, these links can also be highly insecure, and if a hacker gets access to an account, it can quickly result in you losing multiple accounts in one go. Make a habit of reviewing those connected accounts frequently and, where they’re not longer needed, disconnecting them so as to not compromise your entire network of cloud services.
Being safe with cloud services does require vigilance, but it is entirely possible to achieve. Making best practice use of passwords, protecting your devices, and making sure that you’re using the right ISP will all result in a smooth, reliable, and secure cloud experience, whether that’s for work or play.