Keep Your Data Secure on the Cloud

  • CERT Admin
  • Mon Aug 29 2016
  • Cyber Guardian Blog

VOLUME 61 


Earlier days there was a time when, to use files (word processing files, spreadsheets, etc.) on different computers, you needed to save your files on a thumb drive or CD-ROM disk or whatever storage devices. The drive or disk then traveled around with you so that you could load your information onto other computers while holding your breath until the document or PowerPoint slide was actually retrieved! Not any longer. The safety, stability, and ease-of-use of cloud computing in education is resulting in widespread adoption in educational institutions of all sizes and types. 


Are there really any true advantages in education for storing information off-site on a server that could be located anywhere? The answer is yes! A recent conversation about cloud computing with several colleagues in the education field, including teachers, revealed significant advantages:
          

• No more carrying around devices, such as thumb drives or CDs. You don’t need to worry about losing the device, breaking the CD, or not having your information load properly.  

• Easy access! Lesson plans, labs, grades, notes, PowerPoint slides – just about anything digital that you use in teaching is easily uploaded and accessed anytime.  

• Stability: cloud computing is now to the point of being a very stable technology that you can rely on.  

• Security: Your data, content, information, images – anything you store in the cloud usually requires authentication (ID and password, for example) – so it is not easily accessible by anyone. In addition, should something happen to the technology at school, your content will still be available to you and your students if it is stored elsewhere. 

• Shareability: Working on an instructional assignment with other teachers? You can share some or all of your files that you have stored in the cloud. No more obtaining an extra thumb drive or burning another CD or DVD. You just need to send a link to the file(s) destination.  

• Tractability: Make changes to a lesson and want to change it back? No problem. Cloud computing will save multiple revisions and versions of a document so that you can chronologically trace back the evolution of an item. 


We trust the cloud more and more. Now even our documents from the bank, ID scans and confidential business papers work find their new residence on the cloud.


But can you be sure your information is safe and secure out there? 

Here are five data privacy protection tips to help you tackle the issue of cloud privacy: 


1. Avoid storing sensitive information in the cloud. 

Many recommendations across the 'Net sound like this: "Don't keep your information on the cloud." Fair enough, but it's the same as if you asked, "How not to get my house burned down?" and the answer would be, "Do not have a house." The logic is solid, but a better way to translate such advice is, "avoid storing sensitive information on the cloud." So if you have a choice you should opt for keeping your crucial information away from virtual world or use appropriate solutions. 


2. Read the user agreement to find out how your cloud service storage works. 

If you are not sure what cloud storage to choose or if you have any questions as for how that or another cloud service works you can read the user agreement of the service you are planning to sign up for. There is no doubt its hard and boring but you really need to face those text volumes. The document which traditionally suffers from insufficient attention may contain essential information you are looking for. 


3. Be serious about passwords. 

You must have heard this warning a hundred times already, but yet most people do not follow it. Did you know that 90 percent of all passwords can be cracked within seconds? Indeed, a great part of all the sad stories about someone's account getting broken is caused by an easy-to-create-and-remember password. Moreover, doubling your email password for other services you use (your Facebook account, your cloud storage account) is a real trap as all your login information and forgotten passwords always arrive to your email. 


Here is an efficient method of creating a secure password:  

1. Choose a random word (preferably a long one) -- for example, "communication." 

2. Now let's say you are signing up for Gmail. What you should do is add a "Gmail" word to the word you have chosen. Thus your password for Gmail will be "communication Gmail." If you sign up for Skype, your password will be "communication Skype", for example. 


Therefore, you need to remember only your "core" word and the structure of your password. To strengthen it even more you can add a certain number before the name of the service, for example your birth date. In that case your password will look like "communication12111975Skype", etc.
You can invent any other way of memorizing your passwords, the one that appeals to you. But the main point doesn't change - such a method is really simple and effective. 


4. Encrypt.

Encryption is, so far, the best way you can protect your data. Generally encryption works as follows: You have a file you want to move to a cloud, you use certain software with which you create a password for that file, you move that password-protected file to the cloud and no one is ever able to see the content of the file not knowing the password. 

The most easy and handy way is to zip files and encrypt them with a password. When creating the archive check the "Protect with a password" option, type in the password (keeping in mind the no. 3 rule) and only after that you can move it to the cloud. If you want to share it with someone just give the password to that person. 

In case you have more time and energy or want to provide an even higher level of protection for your files you can use “TrueCrypt” encryption software. It's an open source encryption program with which you can create an encrypted file (the so called "virtual disk") and keep all of your private files protected with a password. 


5. Use an encrypted cloud service.

There are some cloud services that provide local encryption and decryption of your files in addition to storage and backup. It means that the service takes care of both encrypting your files on your own computer and storing them safely on the cloud. Therefore, there is a bigger chance that this time no one including service providers or server administrators will have access to your files (the so called "zero-knowledge" privacy). Among such services are Spideroak and Wuala. 

When choosing the best way of protecting your information keep in mind how valuable that information is to you and to what extent it is reasonable to protect it. Therefore, the first thing you should do is to define the level of privacy you need and thus a level of protection for it. If you do not actively use the Internet to work, even a two-step verification involving SMS with a code sent to your mobile phone may seem cumbersome, though most people who use email for sending business data appreciate this option.  

Not everyone is ready to pay for data to be stored, but if you use cloud storage for keeping corporate data, you'll find paying for safe and secure data storage reasonable. So try to strike that delicate balance between the required level of protection and the time/effort/money spent on it.  



Ishadi Gulawita 

Ishadi is an undergraduate of Uva Wellassa University of Sri Lanka, currently following Bachelor of Industrial Information Technology and currently working as Intern - Information Security Engineer at Sri Lanka CERT|CC 

Last updated: Mon Aug 29 2016