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How safe is your data in the cloud?

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Cloud storage has made its way into nearly every aspect of the internet. It's rare to work with any company that isn't using some form of cloud storage, whether it's for simple file-sharing or long-term document storage.

As a business grows, so does its workload in terms of organizing and filing of paperwork. It's becoming less and less sustainable for larger businesses to do it all with physical documents and filing cabinets. The convenience and intuitiveness offered by cloud storage is usually too good for any company to pass up.

Many cloud storage services offer easy and instant implementation, including free storage options which make it convenient to immediately get started using digital documents. However, it's important not to dive into using any cloud service without investigating the security measures built into the platform. 

There are many platforms that provide basic and nominal web security, but not nearly enough when it comes to handling private documents. Businesses often deal with clients' private information, so the bare minimum of security just doesn't cut it. 

Dealing with the fallout out after a customer data breach is something that businesses rarely, fully recover from. According to a 2018 study by the Ponemon Institute, in the event of a data breach, it costs a company an average of $148 per compromised record. The financial consequences of fines and legal fees are compounded by the loss of reputation, which will likely result in decreased business. That's why it's imperative to treat sensitive information, or anything that can lead to breaches, with the utmost care.

Furthermore, many governmental and industry regulatory bodies require businesses to put in place certain security measures in order to stay compliant with their determined standards. When selecting a platform to house company documents, you should shop for solutions that include security characteristics and features. 

Encrypted sharing

Just as cloud computing is prominent on the web, so is encryption. The most common form of internet security is essential when working with the cloud, especially if it's through a SaaS platform on a web browser. 

Nowadays, it's rare to visit a professional service's website that isn't secured through SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) encryption—indicated by the "https" certificate in the web browser. This indicates that there is a two-way authentication process that takes place before a secure connection for data transfer is established.

You need to work with a platform that utilizes this capability, as well as encryption of files with 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), which is the standard used by banks and government entities. The strength of the encryption, however, is only as good as how it's used. Documents shared over the web can be vulnerable to being intercepted by malicious parties, so it's wise to utilize platforms that encrypt files throughout the sharing process. Sending important files to partners or clients as email attachments is a major mistake. Rather, you need an application that first establishes a secure connection with the recipient for them to directly download. This way, you remain in control of the files, where they're going, and how they're encrypted.

Access control

While encryption is a necessity, it is uncommon for malicious parties to strong-arm their way to your data by breaking your encryption. Rather, attackers find it much easier to use legitimate means to get into the system.  We lock up our offices when we leave for the day, and our online environments are no different. But it's not as simple as having a strong lock and key, as attackers are using more crafty tactics to get into our systems. 

Perhaps the number-one way malicious parties attempt to gain access to our information is through phishing. Scammers attempt to take advantage of lax security policies and lapses in good judgment, to deceive their way into obtaining confidential information. This is also a common way scammers will trick individuals into obtaining their financial information or into directly giving them money through non-traceable means such as gift cards or money orders.

Major security breaches can occur without the company even knowing it's happening. Hackers can gain access to a system by deceiving a user into giving them their login information, usually with the mistaken belief that the hacker is a superior or an IT professional that needs to fix a critical issue. Once they have access, some hackers are able to install a backdoor, allowing them access anytime they wish to discreetly obtain data over a period of time. Once the backdoor is discovered by IT, it's usually too late to undo the damage.

We can "phish-proof" our locks by not just providing a single key. Multi-factor authentication is the simplest and yet one of the best defenses we have against these types of attacks because it relies more on giving the user access based on who they are, rather than on something they have which can be stolen. 

Besides making sure users have a strong password, a second form of authentication should be utilized before giving access. Common forms of this authentication include one-time security codes that are generated as the user logs in and can only be obtained by accessing a secondary platform. This can be the user's private email, or through a mobile authentication app. 

It's also possible to require the use of a physical key that takes the form of a USB drive or fob. However, one of the most sophisticated forms of multi-factor authentication involves biometrics, such as a thumbprint, eye scan, or face scan. More and more computer and mobile hardware is being released with biometric interfaces for better and more convenient security. 

Other factors that are easy to set up and enforce, but more restrictive in certain ways, include limiting access to the platform during certain times of the day and only in trusted locations, usually determined by the IP address being used.

Role-based permissions

It's something we don't want to think about, but another common source of data breaches can come from the inside, carried out by the individuals we hire and make users in the system. Internal breaches are uncommon, but not impossible, so measures need to be taken in order to protect company and client data from disgruntled employees who wish to profit or just cause damage.

The easiest way to do this is by ensuring that not every user is immediately given carte blanche access to everything available in the system. Instead, assign them to a category of users that has clearly defined levels of access to the system. Group-based permissions are the best way to dictate a hierarchy of access within the system. 

It's ideal to restrict data access to users based on a need-to-know basis. There's no point in giving a user access to any category of data they'll have no use for, no matter how mundane it might appear. If a user's login information is hijacked, then that's less data that an intruder can access.

Greater security and productivity

Company data, namely confidential business documents shouldn't be treated with the same lackadaisical care put into casual communications. It needs to be safeguarded by the best security protocols available in order to avoid disaster. The financial consequences of a data breach, no matter the size or nature, are too great to risk on an easy-to-implement system with minimum security measures that is used for the sake of convenience.

And finally, implementing tight security isn't just a means to prevent the worst from happening but also a way to boost confidence among clients and partners. Better peace of mind can ultimately lead to less stress—and more productivity. 

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