Global Information Technology

January 16, 2014

Tech Talk: Securing Information in the Cloud

More and more information is being stored in the cloud, and the number of personal cloud users is on the rise with no signs of slowing down.  Social media sites such as Facebook in the U.S. and Sina Webo in China are sites where everyone meets and where data is being stored permanently. Today, we seldom exchange photos via email or carry USB sticks for storing documents. Instead, we trust the cloud as our preferred place to meet and exchange information.

So how can we be sure the data and information we’re storing in the cloud is safe and secure? The short answer is that we cannot. At West, we have stepped up our data privacy initiatives to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that our information assets are secure. As part of our ongoing communication and awareness training on information security, we discourage storing sensitive information – financial, intellectual property, and personally identifiable information – in the cloud. That can be easier said than done, so keep critical information out of the cloud and on more appropriate storage solutions.

At West, we also encourage using strong passwords. While that advice may be overused, most people don’t follow it. According to Information Security Magazine, most passwords can be cracked within seconds. Most accounts are broken into because they have easy-to-use-and-remember passwords. Re-using passwords for multiple services (email and cloud storage accounts for example) can be an easy way for hackers to get personally identifiable information on you. So use strong passwords – the longer the better – and add numbers and special characters to make them harder to crack.

To date, encryption is still the best way to protect any type of data. Encryption software (some tools are free) is used to create a password for the file. Then the password-protected file is moved to the cloud. No one can open the file or see the content without knowing the password.  There are also some cloud services that provide encryption and decryption of files in addition to storage, so you get the added benefit of security and backup of data. This increases the odds that no one will have access to your files, although it also means that even an IT administrator may not be able to recover your data. This is referred to as “zero-knowledge” privacy.

When making decisions on the best way to protect information, keep in mind how valuable that information would be if it were lost or compromised. Classify the level of data privacy you need for your data and then the level of protection for it. While not everyone may be ready to pay for it, if you use the cloud to store valuable information or corporate data, the price for safely securing that data is fairly reasonable and will allow you to weather any storm.