The cloud has become the standard for data storage. Just a few years ago, individuals and businesses pondered whether or not they should move to the cloud. This is now a question of the past. Today, the question isn’t whether to adopt cloud storage but rather how.

Despite its rapid pace of adoption, there are some lingering concerns around cloud storage. Perhaps the most persistent issue is the matter of cloud data security. With as much critical data as there is stored on the cloud, and with a “nebulous” grasp on exactly how it’s stored and who has access, how can people be sure it’s safe?

Growing cloud usage

Cloud usage has exploded in recent years. Five years ago, global cloud traffic was at 3,851 exabytes, a number which has since skyrocketed to more than 16,000 exabytes. As the functionality and connectivity of the Internet grows, cloud traffic will likely increase with it.

People store a vast amount of information on the cloud. It’s not just businesses hosting IT operations or client data on these platforms anymore. Individuals use services like OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud to store everything from tax documents to family photos.

With all this data so easily accessible on the cloud, privacy and data protection become more prevalent concerns. Where exactly is the data going and who can see it? If someone can access all of their documents, pictures and contacts instantly from their phone, can hackers just as easily obtain this information? There are more than 1 billion cloud users today who, if they don’t already know, should be asking themselves these questions and learning how to keep their cloud data private and secure.

Securing cloud data

Cloud storage may seem like a security threat at first glance, but it can offer superior security over other methods for businesses. So, what about individuals? By taking the right steps towards careful cloud usage, people can be sure their data is safe.

Keep local backups

The first step in cloud data protection is locally backing up data. Storing things on the cloud offers greater convenience and utility, making it an ideal primary option, but it’s essential to back up important files. Having backups on a local storage device like a flash drive or server ensures files are safe in the event of a breach.

Use the cloud judiciously

Users should be mindful of what kinds of data they store on the cloud. As secure as modern cloud storage is, there’s no such thing as being too careful. Most files are fine to keep anywhere, but sensitive information like bank info or Social Security numbers are best left offline.

Use encryption

Encryption is one of the most helpful methods of securing any digitally stored data. By encrypting files before uploading them to the cloud, users can ensure that the files are safe even from their cloud provider. Some providers offer varying levels of encryption services, but third-party software provides another layer of protection.

Read the terms of service

Most people skip over the terms of service, but this can be a security risk. If someone agrees to terms they didn’t read, they could legally give their cloud service provider more rights over their data than they realize. It can seem like a tedious task, but reading user agreements highlights what a company can and can’t do with data on their platforms.

Use good password hygiene

One of the simplest ways to bolster cloud data security is by using a strong password. Hackers can crack 90 percent of passwords in a matter of seconds because the vast majority of people prefer easy-to-remember passwords over strong ones, and a disappointing number of people choose passwords like “123456” or “password” to protect their online info.

The advice here is simple: Create a unique, long password that includes special characters, numbers, and letters. On top of that, change your password every few months to better improve your security. Do not share your password via email or text, and do not use easily identifiable information in your password, like your birthdate or address.

Multi-factor authentication further secures the login process. Most cloud providers should have the option to turn on two-step verification so that users need more than just a password to access their data. This function ensures that even if a hacker cracks the password, they still can’t get into the server.

Protect yourself from cyberthreats

Antivirus programs are an essential part of all computer-based functions, including cloud storage. Some forms of malware like keyloggers can give hackers entry into protected systems without users realizing it. By using a cloud provider with built-in antivirus software, third-party antivirus software or both, users can ensure they’re safe from these threats.

Common security mistakes

Quite often, the most significant threat to cloud data protection is improper use. In the corporate sphere, more than 40 percent of data breaches are the result of employee errors. No matter how many safety features a system has, user mistakes can always jeopardize security.

One of the most common cloud security mistakes is poor password handling. People use weak or repeated passwords, don’t change them or even list passwords on unsecured online documents, putting their information at risk. Users can avoid this by using strong passwords and changing them periodically.

Data breaches are not as substantial a problem if there is no sensitive data at risk. To avoid essential or private information from leaking or being stolen, the most secure practice is to store these somewhere other than the cloud. People should use cloud storage for things they need to access frequently, but not for things like credit card numbers.

Finally, many people also fall victim to phishing or pharming scams. Users can easily avoid these by never clicking suspicious links or giving out personal information to an unknown source.

With robust security measures and a healthy dose of general internet safety guidelines, cloud storage can be as secure as any other option on the market.