How Safe is the Cloud?

By Tony Larks, Vice President, Global Consumer Marketing, Trend Micro

Is cloud computing secure?

Remember that old saying, “ignorance is bliss”? It’s fair to say that when it comes to staying safe online, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s really important as a web user to stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you at all times. Like this cloud computing thing everyone keeps talking about. Is it safe? Is it secure? Actually…what is it?

The basics

The good news is that you probably already make use of cloud computing on a daily basis without knowing it. Cloud computing powers webmail like Yahoo and Gmail, blogs, social networking sites, online gaming, productivity tools like Google Docs and even online backup and storage.

Despite reference to it, there is no single, all-encompassing “cloud” as such, but many smaller separate ones. Some are run by well-known companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, who use their clouds to provide you with a range of online services directly; some are built and used privately by firms for their internal employees; and some are designed and built specifically to be rented out for use by individuals and online firms.

So, cloud computing actually resides in chips and servers in millions of datacenters – some connected to each other, some not – all over the world. These chips and servers provide the computing power to deliver services and applications via the Internet to your PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

In the other direction, meanwhile, you’ll be sending up your data – photos, emails, IMs, memos, etc. – to be stored on the servers of your service provider. This means that, for example, when you log-in to Gmail from your smartphone, it will almost instantly bring up your entire inbox of messages, wherever in the world you might be. And when you sync your iPhone with the Apple Store, you can access your apps and music and photos from iCloud.

The Risks

We all know how much ‘the cloud’ has helped to change our lives – just try a week without logging in to your Google or Facebook  account to see – but there are risks. Where people and money go, criminals usually follow. Cybercrime is big business and the bad guys are past masters at defrauding and extorting money out of their victims.

There’s also a thriving online black market where stolen user data is bought and sold, so it pays to be alert and follow some simple rules to keep the bad guys out. They’ll try to make money out of you either by tricking you into revealing some personal info via a phishing email – spoofed to look like it has come from an official source – or by infecting you with malware. The latter can be as simple as clicking on a dodgy link in an email or on a social networking site, opening a malicious attachment, downloading a kosher-looking mobile app or even visiting a legitimate site that has been hacked.

Top tips for staying safe

Cloud computing giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft spend a small fortune ensuring that their cloud data centers are as secure as they possibly can be, with internationally recognized IT standards and additional psychical security measures that you don’t get to see. But for all that hard work there are still some security gaps in the cloud and we, the users, must take some responsibility too. Here are a few tips:

  • Always use complex log-in passwords and don’t share passwords between different online accounts in case one is compromised.  Or try Trend Micro™ DirectPass, a solution that securely manages all your passwords for you.
  • Consider a secure online back-up service that will keep all of your data safe in the cloud, in the event your laptop or phone is lost or stolen. Try Trend Micro™ SafeSync™ for secure sync and access.
  • Stay alert on social networks. Be careful when clicking links, even if they appear to be from a friend. Be especially wary of shortened URLs.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links in emails without verifying the source of the email first.
  • Only download mobile apps through official app stores and consider downloading a mobile security client.  Use Trend Micro’s free security for Android or iPhone to block links to bad apps and the sites that host them.
  • Keep your Internet browser and computer up-to-date with the latest and most secure version by making sure security updates are always on.
  • Keep your PC or laptop protected with a cloud-based security which can block threats before they even hit your machine, and prevent data loss. If you don’t have a cloud-based security, you can download Titanium for PC, or Safe Surfing for Mac, free here.

Tony Larks works for Trend Micro and is guest blogging for the Fearless Web. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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How Safe is the Cloud?
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