There was a time when clouds were easy to understand. They were either large, white, fluffy things that made odd shapes in the sky; or they were huge, dark, gloomy things that threatened rain. Sometimes they glowed with brilliant oranges, reds, and purples, or looked like something out of a horror movie, but even then, they were recognizable and understandable.
Then, as more and more people started using mobile technology, the word cloud took on a whole new meaning. It went from a type of weather phenomenon to some vague nebulous place where all of our important stuff ends up, and may or may not be private or particularly safe.
So what is “the cloud,” why is everything up there, and how does it get there anyway?
What is “the cloud?”
In short, a cloud is just a central area that you can access from anywhere on the internet. It’s usually used for data storage, but it can also have other uses.
Let’s say you have one of those PODS containers, and you use it to store your book collection. You have a magic device and key that allow you to access that POD from wherever you are, even if you are in a different country.
To put it in computer terms:
If you purchase electronic books from Amazon, your Kindle library is your POD (or cloud), and the Kindle and Amazon login are the device and key. As long as you have an internet connection, you can login to your kindle device and access your eBooks from anywhere in the world. The same goes if you use the Kindle app on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
How do things get onto the cloud?
In the past, you would have to actively log in to a cloud space and actively move things there. However, as mobile devices became more advanced, developers found ways to make saving things on “the cloud” automatic on some devices.
If you have smartphone, iPhone or tablet, Google, Apple and Microsoft all require you to create accounts to get full functionality out of their devices. These accounts let you access the app stores and perform other functions, and they also includes apps – for Google it’s the Google Drive, for Apple it’s the iCloud, and for Microsoft it’s the OneDrive – that automatically transmit data from your device up to the cloud.
The idea is to keep all your data in a central area so that you always have access.
Unfortunately, these automatic clouds can also be a problem because, users often don’t realize that the stuff on their devices is getting copied up to a central location; and that if they delete it from their devices that it still exists somewhere. It also means that anyone else with the key can access that data. In fact, that’s what happens when hackers target clouds, like the recent attacks on Apple’s iCloud.
Protecting Your Privacy
Having your data on the cloud isn’t all bad. In fact, there can be several advantages, such as saving space on your device, and not losing everything if your device gets completely hosed. However, because many clouds are public, security is a big issue.
Some companies have developed private cloud computing. With private cloud computing you set up your own cloud that is not part of the public services like iCloud, Google Drive, or One Drive. You can still access a private cloud through any internet-enabled device but, unlike the public cloud, only you and the people you want to share access with know that it exists. A private cloud provides an extra layer of security because if hackers don’t know that it exists, they are less likely to go looking for it. Also, because you have set up the private cloud yourself, you have some control over the type of security you use to protect your data.
Currently, private clouds are more a business function and, from a financial standpoint, might be out of reach to the average consumer. However, average consumers can protect themselves on public clouds in the following ways:
- Update your cloud password often;
- Update the settings on your device to determine which items are automatically copied to the cloud;
- Periodically go out to the actual cloud drive and manually delete any data that you do not wish to keep on the drive, or copy it to a secure location off the cloud. If it’s not something you want the world to see, don’t store it somewhere that can be accessed through the internet.