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Technology / Cloud technology

Cloud computing security: Why the cloud is safer than your desktop

One of the greatest concerns about cloud-computing services is security. Is it safer to put important information on the web, or should you keep it on your desktop or server under lock and key?

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The flexibility of accessing your valuable business plans, contact lists and price lists in the cloud from any computer with a browser also means that your data can be read by anyone who knows your username and password.

Concerns about cloud computing security are valid, but the reality is that in nearly every case, your data is better protected online.

Cloud vendors have invested a lot in working out how to preserve the convenience of browser-based software without sacrificing security. They‘ve ended up following the example set by the banking industry.

Online banking is essentially identical to cloud computing services in that if someone knows your customer identification number and password they can view your transactions and balances, and transfer your money to other accounts.

Banks have added an extra layer of security by requiring some customers (especially business account holders) to enter a string of numbers generated by a little electronic device known as a token.

"The major cloud providers have invested a lot more in data security than you ever could."

This is called two-factor authentication – the two factors are your password and the token passcode – and the largest cloud software vendors such as Microsoft and Google use it too.

Instead of asking you to carry around a second token, however, Google and Microsoft provide an application for your smartphone that generates the string of numbers for you.

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The token passcode must be entered on every device from which you will access the cloud service – your tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop. Google lets you recognise the device for up to 30 days before demanding a new code. If you’re using public computers then you have to enter a code every time you log in.

If you’re stuck without your smartphone and you reach the 30-day limit, an automated voice can call a landline and tell you the code.

Moving sensitive information into the cloud can be a confronting step for some. It is reassuring to see the blinking lights and hear the whir of your desktop’s hard drive and know that the day’s sales are safely recorded inside.

But the major cloud providers have invested a lot more in data security than you ever could. For example, consider the physical threats to your office computer – such as theft, fire, flood, and hard drive failure – and the steps you’d have to put in place to avoid them. Then think about the measures Google or Microsoft have put in place to combat the same threats in their enormous, heavily guarded and monitored data centres – data centres which are identical in many ways to those that run the online banking systems.

The cloud is not for everyone, but it often makes a lot of sense, and there are many advantages to cloud-based software. If cloud computing security is an issue for you, make sure your decision is made on facts rather than emotion.

How do you feel about cloud computing? Do you consider it more or less safe than DIY data security?

Sholto Macpherson

is the editor of BoxFreeIT, a news and reviews website about cloud computing software for small business. He is passionate about helping businesses save money and improve the way they work by moving to the cloud.

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