Just a few years ago, keeping files secure was a simple task—you could move them to a thumb drive, delete any duplicate copies, and store the thumb drive in a safe location. As technology has advanced, however, data security has had to adapt to usability, and that means adjusting for Cloud sharing and storage.
Moving your secure documents and files into Cloud storage can feel risky, but you can combat the risk with proper encryption. If you’re new to the realm of data encryption and Cloud storage, keep reading to learn what encryption is and how you can use different encryption methods to keep your Cloud-based files safe and secure.
What Is Encryption?
Every file or piece of data on a computer exists as a series of characters that gets interpreted by various programs on your computer. In its most basic form, encryption uses a predetermined pattern to change those characters, scrambling them so they can’t be used. Only the user who holds the encryption key—usually accessed with a password—can unscramble the data again.
Once used almost exclusively by security techs, encryption is now a tool that can and should be used by the masses. In the words of Taylor Miller, security expert at ATTSavings, “Encryption is no longer the purview of government officials and hackers; it has never been easier to make your files safe.”
There are many procedures used for encryption, but Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is among the most secure out there. Files can be encrypted to AES in three ways: native password-based encryption, app-based encryption, or Cloud-based encryption. Here’s a closer look at each method.
1. Native, Password-Based Encryption
If you have ever used password protection on a document with Microsoft Office, you’ve used a form of native encryption. This encryption method is fairly basic, but it can be effective if you’ve chosen a complex, hard-to-crack password. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all have password-based encryption options, as does Adobe Acrobat.
- Native encryption is easy to use—you don’t have to go through another program to handle the encryption.
- Native encryption requires no external software, and other users can access your files simply by knowing the password.
- Depending on the program you’re working with, there may not be a native encryption option.
- Natively encrypted files may run into compatibility problems between different versions of the same software.
- On certain programs, AES isn’t set as the default encryption standard. In these instances, you may need to change the encryption setting to AES, which ensures maximum security.
2. Application-Based Encryption
If you want to go a step beyond native, password-based encryption, consider using an encryption software application. These apps have become very user friendly in recent years. Some programs allow you to encrypt entire folders or directories, providing automatic encryption for any additional files uploaded to those locations.
- Application-based encryption programs allow you to encrypt most files, regardless of the programs they come from.
- Depending on the software you choose, you may be able to encrypt many files at once.
- These programs often allow you to select your level of encryption.
- If you intend to share encrypted files, the users you share with may need to have the same encryption software.
- While many encryption packages are free for private use, using a program commercially often requires the purchase of a commercial license, which can be very expensive.
- You will likely need to move files out of your Cloud storage account before editing them to ensure proper encryption.
3. Cloud-Based Encryption
Some Cloud storage services have built-in encryption to protect your data. This method is good to use in tandem with another method listed here, as it effectively doubles up on the protection you’ve already got. Do note that not all Cloud storage providers offer encryption, so you’ll want to clarify what security protocol—if any—your host uses.
- Like application-based encryption, Cloud-based encryption allows for encryption of any file, no matter which program the file or data originated in.
- Depending on the Cloud service you choose, encryption may be automatic.
- You won’t need any additional programs to decrypt the data you access.
- Collaborators can easily access Cloud-encrypted files without compatibility issues—all they need is the password to access the hosting account.
- Like offline encryption software, using encrypted Cloud hosting commercially will likely require extra money for licensing.
- Some services store encryption keys internally, which can be problematic if the host experiences a breach.
Cloud hosting makes collaboration—especially long-distance collaboration—much easier than it used to be. But that increased ease of use, needs specialized security to back it up. Fortunately, encryption is a great way to ameliorate some of those Cloud-based risks, so use one or more of the above methods to help ensure your data stays protected.
Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com