TMCNet:  The Dallas Morning News Pamela Yip column [The Dallas Morning News]

[June 06, 2011]

The Dallas Morning News Pamela Yip column [The Dallas Morning News]

(Dallas Morning News (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 06--Is it safe in the clouds? More specifically, is it safe to store your personal data in an online vault, a practice referred to as "cloud computing"? In my column last week, I wrote about preparing financially for a natural disaster and the need to protect your sensitive personal information. One expert I spoke with recommended people store that information online in a backup computer server.


That prompted at least one reader to ask just how secure these online backup services are.

The answer is, it depends. Like most everything else, you have to do your homework before making the leap.

The services are generally secure, said Ondrej Krehel, information security officer at Identity Theft 911, which provides identity management, identity protection services, and data risk management services for businesses.

However, he said, "we see now that anything can be breached." An online storage service provides users with a system for the backup and storage of computer files. Your data is stored in online servers that are accessible anywhere you can get an Internet connection.

"Think of this as a mirror of what you have on your hard drive, and I get to specify what's on that mirror," Krehel said.

It's something to consider, given how the form of information has changed.

"If something happened to your house and you have some treasures that you want to be guarded, would you go out and get a bank safe deposit box and put your treasures in the bank safe?" Krehel said. "Now everything is being digitalized and a lot of our treasures are digitalized." Off-site copy Given what can happen, "you should have a backup copy of your important computer stuff not only on site on your hard drive, on a CD or a thumb drive, but off site as well, somewhere that's far away from where you live," said Dave Robinson, vice president of marketing at Mozy, an online backup service.

"When looking at services like this," Robinson said, "you should be asking yourself, is this secure? Is this something I'm comfortable with?" Ask whether the information you send to the backup service is encrypted and who has access to it.

At Mozy, "before the files even go anywhere, they get encrypted on your computer first," Robinson said. "When you're talking about protecting people's most sensitive information -- whether it be photos, whether it be tax documents -- we want to make sure that we are offering the highest level of security that we can possibly offer." Mozy charges consumers $5.99 a month to secure up to 50 gigabytes of data and $9.99 a month for up to 125 gigabytes.

Recently, Christopher Soghoian, a Washington-based cybersecurity expert, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking it to investigate San Francisco-based Dropbox, an online storage service, saying it deceived consumers about the security of its services.

"Specifically, Dropbox's employees have the ability to access its customers' unencrypted files," Soghoian said.

Dropbox officials said the complaint is "without merit." "Millions of people depend on our service every day and we work hard to keep their data safe, secure, and private," said company spokeswoman Julie Supan.

On its blog, Dropbox also said that "like most major online services, we have a small number of employees who must be able to access user data when legally required to do so. But that's the exception, not the rule." Strong passwords Ultimately, you should be always proactive about protecting your personal data, no matter where you store it.

Krehel had these additional tips: Read the privacy and security policy of the online backup service.

"It could be many pages long," he said. "However, at the end, you would like to know how your data, and perhaps metadata [data about data] are used for various statistics provided to third parties, especially if the service is free of charge." Create a strong username and password to retrieve your data and create strong credentials that are unique and not easily guessable from your Facebook, or social Internet life.

"If your email is used as username, ensure that you don't use the same password, and that the password is strong," he said.

After all, it's your private information so take every precaution to keep it just that -- private.

___ To see more of The Dallas Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dallasnews.com.

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