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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection | post

Understanding the Risk of Identity Theft Associated with storage in the ‘Cloud’

by Steve Schwartz on

The 'Cloud' - how safe from identity theft is our data if it's stored on the "cloud." In simple terms, the "cloud" refers to data processing, and/or data storage that takes place remotely, on distant servers connected to our computers over the internet rather than data stored on our computers or on a device connected to our computers.

It used to be the Cloud was the domain of business - usually big business - to store data at an off premises location where the data could be stored in a safe environment, usually as backup should it be needed in case of some computer disaster. But over the past few years more and more individuals have begun using services offering file backup at remote locations for the same reason business does - as backup in the event of some computer calamity.

It's likely you, or more probably your kids, are already using the cloud whether or not you actually realize it. Your bank is probably storing your account information in the cloud, so when you sign on to do banking you are technically signing onto the cloud. Ditto if you or the kids have a Facebook page, or an iTunes account or a Netflix account. All are stored in the cloud.

As this growth of cloud use accelerates, and it's clear that it is, the obvious question arises whether the use of some remote server to back up personal files and data represents a new danger.

There is almost universal agreement that in terms of identity theft, storing data on a well designed and well managed cloud service provides a higher degree of security and safety than data stored on your home computer. It's much more likely that in a moment of thoughtlessness you will download some malware onto your own computer that will compromise your data, than the likelihood that a hacker will be able to get access to your data stored by a well run cloud storage system.

Boston University's Information Services has a thoughtful paper on the subject. Will the cloud service you are choosing protect the personal information you store from ID theft? BU's experts recommend you consider the following when choosing a cloud storage provider:

  1. Are their security standards appropriate?
  2. How much data will you be storing?
  3. Is your data encrypted when being uploaded to or downloaded from the cloud?
  4. Is your data encrypted when stored in the cloud? Understand how access is shared with your cloud folder.
  5. Understand your options if the cloud provider should be hacked or should lose your data.

All this is not to say that cloud storage is not without its worries. Look at number five above, for example. If personal information you store remotely suddenly becomes misused, the question arises who do you hold responsible? Is it the owner of the server where the data was stored? Or, might it have gone astray in the transmission from your computer to the cloud or back to your computer if you called the stored data up. These are the type of question that will bedevil legal scholars - and undoubtedly the courts – for years to come.

Most cloud storage services charge by the month and by the amount of data you store. A good rundown can be found here. You should look for a service that makes securing the data it stores a high priority. Avoiding ID theft should be at the top of the list for consideration in choosing a cloud storage service. So chose from among those with good reputations for avoiding identity theft.