How to ensure a worry-free cloud experience

cloud computing button on keyboard

Some small businesses love the idea of the cloud’s benefits (cost savings, scalability and flexibility to name but a few) but are scared off by data security concerns. But maybe you can have your cake and eat it?

Cloud storage services are the latest ‘must have’ for small businesses; it is very convenient to shift all that heavy content into the “cloud” and not have to worry so much about the cost of managing and upgrading your own servers, particularly with the ever growing amount of information you need to store. In addition, you and others can access that subject matter from anywhere and from any device. In principle, this sounds great, but are the current, primarily consumer offerings, the panacea they are set up to be?

From a practical perspective, there are typically a number of things you look for when deploying a new business system. Among the key criteria are availability, convenience, security and privacy. Against these metrics, cloud storage certainly ticks the first two, and at first glance, the third. But how good are cloud storage services if your information is confidential and needs to be kept private?

Available

Cloud storage services are definitely available. As long as you have a device that can access the internet they are ‘on’. For the rare occasions you can’t, as a mirror copy is usually saved locally, you can still access all but the latest of changes that might have been made. This means all your content – in particular documents like long reports, presentations, web graphics or large spreadsheets that might otherwise clog up servers or email systems – are also highly available.

There is no expensive software purchase, complicated installation or ongoing hardware requirement, which all adds up to cost savings in IT infrastructure. That is always great news, particularly if you are a small business without a dedicated IT function, or where you need flexibility of work location.

Convenient

This all makes cloud storage services very convenient. For instance, one of our customers, an adjudication service for the Australian building and construction industry, found that it was dealing with documents that are often hundreds of pages in length and exceed 10MB in size. This made email prohibitive for fast, reliable document exchange.

Another, an accountancy practice, found that it had to rely on customers breaking documents down into chunks in order to email them. The alternative was saving them to a CD or memory stick and then physically transporting or mailing them, often only to find that the CDs didn’t work or were not formatted properly.

Not only can this lead to wasted time and frustration, but also depending on the nature of the business involved, this type of delay could have bigger business issues.  For instance, with the adjudication service it was making the difference between conflicting parties winning a case or jeopardising it all because of a missed deadline.

With these obvious benefits no wonder cloud storage is proving so popular, and why solutions originally intended for the consumer domain, are finding their way into the enterprise IT infrastructure.

What about security and privacy?

For many small businesses, the thought that their company’s intellectual property might be saved in various cloud locations, most often in user-provisioned accounts where the organisation itself has no access (or sometimes even idea that the content is ‘out there’) is confronting.

While these cloud solutions do have layers of security, there have been enough hack attacks and instances of private information appearing in the public domain over the last year for many businesses to reconsider.

Most cloud sharing services were set up to deal with the type of content shared by you and I; personal photographs, music, home video, and birthday or Christmas wish lists. These types of documents are typically quite different to the type of information shared by businesses.

The challenge of ‘business’ information

The difference is that many types of business, by their nature, deal with much more sensitive information. Just think of the type of content matter handled daily by consultants, accountants and lawyers. Could you risk it ending up in the wrong hands? In fact, for some information types there are legal and ethical requirements around what activity can be conducted online and how.

So does that mean cloud storage services cannot be used for sensitive information or by some types of business, and that the benefits of simple, low cost file sharing are not available to them?

Fortunately not. There are ways to ensure the privacy of your content should you put it online. Through the use of privacy-enabled software, an additional layer of protection can be brought into play.

Privacy-enabled cloud storage

One way of looking at it is to think of cloud storage providers as online warehouse operators. Like those in the physical world, they provide a space where you can put your ‘stuff’ in a way that can be logged, stored, accessed and shared in a quick and easy way with people you authorise.

But what about if there is a security attack? Would you know if your warehouse had been broken into? How would you know that they haven’t subcontracted out the storage to someone else? Do you know that the operator is definitely not peeking in your cardboard boxes and leveraging your information? Wouldn’t it be great to have an additional level of protection that you as a business can add, so it is under your control, and ensures the privacy of the content stored?

This is what privacy-enabled cloud storage does – add a protective layer of encryption around your data. By adding this layer, it is like putting your online information into a locked, tamper-proof, safe box. In this way, no one can look at your content unless they have an encrypted key, even if someone broke in.

Adding value

By adding the privacy element in this way, not only are you protecting your content, but you can make the cloud storage solution work harder for you too.

For instance, a cloud privacy solution might allow you to deploy a customer portal capable of providing a very secure, private and personalised workspace for clients. So if you are a business that needs to share lots of information – a web designer or business consultancy for instance – you can prove to your clients that you are taking their information security seriously. We have found that such a solution can really enhance a company’s professional reputation.

In addition, because of this extra layer of encryption, every file’s activity is tracked and recorded giving an instant audit trail of who has read or uploaded a document, and when. In this way, you can be assured that documents are received, and facilitate instant feedback.

In conclusion, cloud storage services bring powerful business benefits, particularly to the small business, but as to which you should use, it depends on the sensitivity of information you are sharing.

If you are sharing occasional, low value content mainly amongst employees, the free consumer products can probably service your requirements. If however, information sharing, particularly with clients, is a key part of your business and your content is sensitive, adding in a privacy element to your cloud storage solution is a sure fire way to ensure that you can have your cake and eat it.

Peter Long is CEO, Lockbox.