Cloud computing: your best friend or your worst enemy

We’ve all heard of the seemingly vague and hovering cyber cloud, where all data seems to magically store in the virtual depths of the Internet. The cloud is becoming an ever-present tool in our daily lives. Computer hard drives hardly offer enough storage these days. All documents, music files, and photo files begin to pile up. Add video files and business software programs and you’re going to need some backup.

What is the cloud?

The cloud refers to an abundant storage of computer servers across the world that hold your files and allow you to access them from any computer with internet access. A network of computers acts as a storage system away from your local hard drive by which you can upload files to avoid the possible loss of     

How does it work?

You’re most likely accessing the cloud every day and may not even know it. The cloud works by uploading or sharing any information on cloud based computing systems. Cloud based storage systems are simply any website by which you have uploaded information that you can access from multiple computers. Any Internet service that requires a username and password is most likely connected to the cloud.

If you have used any e-mail account with a web-based service such as Gmail or Hotmail, you have used the cloud. If you have ever used Dropbox to send a large file, you have used the cloud.

Business benefits

The cloud can be a business savior in terms of costs and efficiency. As the head of a business, it is your responsibility to equip your employees with the essential software and hardware to perform. More employees would mean more spending on software or software licenses. The cloud is the way around this spending.

With the cloud, you would only have to upload one application to a web-based system. As long as all employees have Internet access, they will be able to log into a program that hosts all services needed for the job. No more software purchases for every new employee.

The cloud also allows a web-based loading efficiency that takes the stress away from your local computer’s hard drive. The cloud, as mentioned, acts as a network of computers that runs the applications and all the data you’re working on. No more software crashes from a hard drive overheating and malfunctioning.

Be careful on the cloud

The cloud is an extremely useful tool that should certainly be utilized, but you want to be aware of what information you’re sharing. Although files are usually secured by usernames and passwords, there is certain information you should never put on the cloud. The cloud system creates high incentive for hackers, and we’ve seen enough televised celebrity scandal hacks to understand the reality. These are a few questions to ask yourself before you engage in cloud computing:

  1. What’s the reputation of the cloud storage service?

You want to store your files with companies that have a history of excellent physical and network security. A little research goes a long way. If you discover previous hacking scandals or unfavorable security risks in the user agreement, you may want to find a better option.

  1. Does my cloud storage service encrypt my files?

It is important to ensure that your service encrypts your files. Encryption is the process of coding information in a way that only allows for you or a computer to decode it. Algorithms are stringed together to assemble your information in a way that is nearly undetectable for hackers.

You can easily see if you’re information is encrypted by the https:// or padlock beside the URL in your browser. Be aware that https:// is not the same as http://. The “s” is the sign of encryption.

  1. Do I have sufficient passwords?

Usernames and passwords are the keys to unlocking your information. You want to create a password that is fairly long with numbers and punctuation marks. Every character is another barrier for a hacker. If it is hard to remember, write it down. The difficulty you may have in remembering the password is directly translated to the increased difficulty for the hacker to figure it out.

Remember that most hacking situations occur by simply giving your password to people you feel like you trust. Always keep your passwords to yourself. Many hacking scams involve callers acting as technical support and asking for your username and password to various cloud computing services. Do not easily give this information away. Any real technical service will usually not ask you for passwords or highly personal information. Keep it to yourself!

Once you’ve decided on a solid storage service that gives you the best assurance for security, you will want to be aware of what files you should and should not store on the cloud, no matter how secure you feel.

Safe files for the cloud

There is plenty of information that is perfectly suitable for cloud storage. Business email information is fine for the cloud. You simply want usernames and passwords in a secure location off the cloud.

Of course you always want to assess the information of these emails, and if they are particularly private, you may want to use a non web-based email address or to contact this person by other means.

Basic data files are fine for the cloud. Any word documents or slideshow presentations should be used on the cloud. The cloud is the updated form of communication within a business. Files and documents are easily accessed on any computer. It offers a sharing of large files almost instantly.

Photos and videos are also okay for the cloud. Once again, only you can assess the content and the privacy. If these are some photos you’d rather keep between a few people, you may not want to upload them to a cloud computing service. You may not be Jennifer Lawrence and a main target for hackers, but anything on there has the possibility of being revealed.

Files to avoid uploading to the cloud

You do not want any personally identifiable information stored on the cloud. This information would include your date of birth, driver’s license numbers, social security information, or credit card information.

Tax information should also not be on the cloud. Data hackers constantly attempt to hack businesses in attempted thievery. Don’t give them an easy target.

Ultimately, any personal information or photos should not be shared on the cloud. Medical information and questionable photos/videos are always open to the risk of being seen by unwanted eyes.

The cloud can be your best friend and your worst enemy. It is an incredibly innovative tool for business communication efficiency and should certainly be taken advantage of in these settings. Personal information that can jeopardize your security should be left off the cloud and out of harm’s way.

Keith Peterson is the president and CEO of Halo. He assists clients in developing business strategies that are enhanced through data, analytics, and technology. Visit for information. Follow Peterson on Twitter for the latest on BI and Supply Chain Analytics at @KPeteHalo