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How to Keep Your Small Business Safe in the Cloud

This is the second post in our series about data security for small businesses. To find out more about the series and see a list of posts, go to A Terrifying Statistic for Small Businesses. And be sure to check our out previous post on password-protecting your business.

More and more businesses are taking advantage of the cloud for data storage. Whether it’s a major provider, like Dropbox or Google Drive, or your own personal cloud, it’s crucial to take steps to protect your data from snooping and cyber crime.

This post will teach you the basics of cloud data safety and detail a number of services that will help you protect your business from data theft.

Why Use the Cloud?

If “the cloud” still evokes images of fluffy, white collections of moisture, you might be wondering what we’re talking about here and what it has to do with your business.

In the technological world, the cloud refers to the storage and processing of data on remote servers. What this means, simply, is that instead of storing something on your hard drive, you store it on a hard drive that’s been rented (usually for free) from someone else.

This helps keep your hard drive from filling up, making it easier to share with colleagues, and makes sure that you still have a copy of your files if your computer gets stolen.

Is the Cloud Safe for My Business?

While cloud storage and processing are fantastic ways to help move your business into the digital age, there are a number of factors that could make it a security threat.

Always having access to your data no matter where you are, the ability to easily share information, and the fact that you’ll always have a backup are significant advantages, it’s important to not overlook the risks of storing business data in the cloud.

Cloud services are a really obvious target for hackers, for example—they know that individuals and businesses store a lot of sensitive information there, and getting access to it could prove to be extremely profitable. They also know that people don’t take steps to protect themselves, making it much easier to victimise them.

And while most cloud storage providers take precautions to protect their customers’ data from hackers, there’s no telling just how secure they actually are. In a competition last year, a novice hacker gained entrance into a cloud server in just under four hours—and he didn’t even have a degree in computer science.

Late last year, the Adobe Creative Cloud was hacked, exposing at least some data from almost 3 million customers. And if Adobe can be the victim of cyber crime, so can you.

In general, using cloud storage is a safe thing to do, but you have to make sure that you’re taking the necessary steps to protect yourself.

Protecting Your Business Data in the Cloud

So what can you do? How do you stay safe in the cloud?

1. Use Good Password Practices

The simplest thing you can do is something that we covered earlier in the week: protect yourself using good passwords. If you store a lot of sensitive data on Dropbox, using a password like “fishandchips” isn’t doing you any favours. Check out our previous post on password-protecting your business and apply these principles to your cloud storage as well.

2. Choose Wisely the Data You Store in the Cloud

Even a well-protected cloud storage server is still like any other server—it’s connected to billions of people via the internet, and it has a physical location that could also be compromised. For this reason, it’s a good idea to think carefully about which things you store in the cloud.

For example, you might need to access your customer list on a regular basis. But do you need to have their addresses? Or just their phone numbers? What about payment information? E-mail addresses?

You should only store the data that you absolutely need in the cloud. The less information that you’re storing, the less could be potentially compromised. (If you’re using the cloud to keep backups of your data, keep reading to find out about encryption, and check back next week for a new post on backing up your business data.)

3. Use Multiple Cloud Storage Services

With all of the free cloud storage available, there’s really no reason to ever pay for a premium account and lock yourself into a certain provider. Dropbox provides 2GB for free (though it’s easy to get more), Google Drive gives you 15GB, and Box comes with 10GB for free. And that’s just three of the major providers. There are plenty of others, like Amazon, OneDrive, and SugarSync.

Splitting up your information makes it more difficult for any single person to access all of it. If you keep customer contact information on Dropbox, inventory on Google Drive, and business contacts in Box, less of your important information will be lost if one of those servers is hacked or goes down.

If you’re nervous about keeping track of where everything is, you can use a service like PrimaDesk, JoliCloud, or CloudKafe to manage all of your cloud storage accounts from a single place.

4. Consider Using Your Own Cloud Server

If you’d like to store a lot of information online, and you’re concerned about security, creating a cloud server for your business might be the best way to go. It allows you to control who has access to the information, set up high security measures, and make any tweaks to the server that you need to.

Even if you’re not a tech genius, setting up a server for your business is easy. Companies like WD make a lot of products that will help you do this, like the MyCloud series. You can also check out CIO's 6 Steps for Setting Up a Small Business Server Room.

5. Encrypt Business Data in the Cloud

We haven’t covered encryption in this series yet, but it’s coming soon, and that will provide a more comprehensive overview of encryption and how you go about using it. But if you’re looking for cloud security solutions right now, I’d recommend encrypting your data.

Encryption, while it’s extremely effective in keeping people from stealing any of your information, has a price: it takes time to encrypt and decrypt files. So if you’re encrypting and decrypting a file that you use all the time, you might find that it slows down your workflow quite a bit.

But if you’re storing backup data on a server, or information that you don’t need to access quickly and on the fly, encryption is a great way to ensure that it stays safe. Even if you do access the data on a regular basis, the added peace of mind for you and your customers might be worth the time and expense.

If you’re interested in encrypting your data, check back soon for our post on encryption, which will give you a list of tools that you can use to keep your files totally secure. Until then, however, you can take a look at Boxcryptor, a subscription service that encrypts cloud files for you.

While we place a lot of trust in our cloud storage providers to keep our data safe, encryption takes safety out of their hands and puts it into yours, giving you more control over your own security.

Conclusion

Using cloud storage for your business is a great way to share data, save room on your local hard drive, and protect your information from problems with your local computer. But storing data in the cloud also gives a measure of control to the storage provider, which can put you at risk.

By using strong passwords, carefully considering which data you store in the cloud, use multiple cloud storage providers, set up your own server for extra-sensitive data, and encrypt your business data, you'll take that control back and ensure that you're as safe as possible without sacrificing the convenience of online storage.

Image credits: Ibrahim Iujaz via Wikimedia Commons, ChrisDag via Flickr. Want to keep up with Dann? Follow him on Twitter or circle him on Google+.

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