What is Online Cloud Backup & Is Your Data Safe?
Cloud computing in general has been a consistently growing trend over the past decade and the total market is expected to be worth approximately $100 Billion by 2014 with online backup making up about 50% of that value. Early innovators like Google, had envisioned a “world in the cloud” from as early as 2001 with products such as google docs being launched in 2006; long before the average consumer realized the existence of any sort of cloud technology. The truth is that many online services that we have grown accustomed to from early on were built with the cloud concept in mind.
What is Cloud Backup?
In its most basic terms, cloud backup is storing or uploading your computer files, from single or multiple computers, to a service provider’s servers in a data center using a standard internet connection. The concept of cloud is essentially that hardware infrastructure and resources such as networking, disk space, etc. are shared thus reducing operational costs and increasing efficiencies. The vast number of servers and disk space available recently, virtually provides an almost unlimited amount of storage capacity.
Cloud backup service providers often provide software that run based on user defined schedules to collect and encrypt computer data and transfer to a remote data center and / or external hardware.
But why the cloud you ask? We need to think about all risks of loss of data. Some of us may be backing up our data on external drives; now that is a good idea but it is not the most ideal since disk drives fail, data gets corrupted, they get destroyed in accidents, get lost or stolen. Not to mention natural disasters. You are not totally secure. The hardware and infrastructure required to build a truly secure facility is out of reach of every consumer and most businesses.
Backing up in the cloud leverages a host of computing facilities and hardware that are additional protected by hardened ultra secure facilities with backups of the backups in multiple server locations. So in the case where a provider experiences a total backup location failure, your data is mirrored to others data centers and thus remain available for download. Some online backup software offers the option of storing copies of backups to external drives and network locations of your choice for additional peace of mind and convenience, especially for times when there is no internet connection.
So Is It Safe?
There have been many assumed conspiracies surrounding data in cloud. Some believe private firms work in partnership with rogue government agencies to collect personal data stored in the cloud, basically as a means for surveillance. There has not been any solid evidence supporting such activity and the truth is that as long as computers with personal data can be accessed via an internet connection, there exists some risks.
As with all activities we have to use the available tools to make our data secure as you would secure your home or money invested.
Service providers have made security a crucial aspect of their online backup business and data encryption takes place at all stages of the data backup process. Some providers first encrypt local machine data at the 256bit AES standard, then in transit, encryption is in 128bit SSL and finally at the data center, encryption is bumped up to 1024bit AES. You will also be given the opportunity to create a password to access and secure your stored data.
Encryption is essentially the process of transforming your data into a version unreadable to anyone except those in possession of a special “key.” This unique key would only be known by the computers transmitting the data. Therefore, if the data were to be intercepted by a third party, the information would be unusable because they would not possess the key to “unscramble” the data. Encryption was first used by militaries and governments to facilitate secret communication. This military grade technology is now available to consumers. There are providers that allow consumers to be sole custodians of their encryption keys meaning it is technically impossible for the provider to access their data. The risk with this though is that if the encryption key or password is forgotten then the data is lost forever; the provider would be powerless to help with any recovery attempt.
These types of encryption cannot be cracked with readily available technology in this age and it would take 50 supercomputers millions of lifetimes to exhaust a 256-bit key space. In fact, 64 bit encryption happens to be the world record for the biggest RC5 bit key cracked in 2002 which took nearly 5 years to achieve with a massive distributed attack.
There are also laws that prohibit and govern providers’ access to customers’ data.
Basically, online backup is safe and in some cases safer than storing data on your own drives since the average consumer, although generally using anti-virus and anti-spyware software, do not encrypt their local files and there is always the risk of hardware failure, theft and natural disasters.
Choosing the right Cloud Backup Service
Choosing the right cloud backup service requires a bit of investigation. Here are some points to look for:
- Providers with multiple data centers
- Data encryption at all stages of the backup process
- Good reputation on the internet overall. Should be a Better Business Bureau member with a grade A
- Software should have mobile device support
- A flat rate for multiple PCs
- Unlimited file versioning – This means that if you accidentally delete files they can be restored
- Metered by usage requirements
Cloud backup is safe and not having a proper disaster recovery plan for your home or office PCs is the risky part. Backup service providers generally allow free trials, so use these opportunities to determine which is best for you.