How to stay safe in the cloud
One of the most significant benefits of ubiquitous internet connectivity has been the rise of cloud services. From a computing experience that revolved around locally installed software and data, a large proportion of our activities now involve applications and stored information that reside primarily online. From email to photo and video sharing, and even whole application suites, virtually any task can now be achieved with as little as a browser or internet-connected app.
It’s truly liberating to be able to access your files and software anywhere you need to, on any device – notebook, tablet or smartphone. You also don’t need such huge amounts of local storage to carry all your data, such as your entire music collection, with you at all time. But this also poses a new set of problems for keeping your data secure. A report by Hiscox Insurance claimed that cybercrime cost the global economy $450 billion in 2016. In this feature, we look at the most common weaknesses in cloud security, and suggest how you can address them.
One key aspect to bear in mind is that cloud security is only as good as the way you use your apps and devices. Whether it’s by hacking into your home network via an insecure router, phishing emails, weak passwords, or having one of your mobile devices stolen, there are many ways that access can be obtained to your data on the cloud. But you can take steps prevent these attacks.
In mid-2017, routers from one of the UK’s leading broadband vendors were found to have been shipped with a very simple default password. However, keeping the default password on your router is never a good thing, even if the default one isn’t so simplistic. You should also ensure that your router’s firewall is turned on, although it should be by default, and properly configured.
There are also good habits to get into when using any service that is internet connected. There is a constant arms race against phishing emails, which are becoming increasingly difficult to discern from real emails. A good rule of thumb is never to click on any link in an email until you’re sure it’s legitimate. You can usually preview the URL of a link without following it by hovering your mouse over it, and if you don’t recognise that as being the website of the company the email claims to be from – don’t go there!
Password management is another area that is increasingly problematic for anyone who is not a MENSA-grade memory expert. We now rely on umpteen different cloud services, each with their own login credentials. It’s very tempting to assist your limited ability to recall the random alphanumeric strings that are recommended to be used as passwords by writing them down on bits of paper, in a locally stored text file, or on a cloud-based service. But these are all potentially very insecure, particularly if you rarely change your credentials.
It’s nearly impossible to remember some of the passwords that are auto-generated by a system to be as hard to guess as possible. You may have no choice about these either. However, where you can choose your own passwords, a great way to create random-looking passwords that you can remember is to use a memorable sentence and take the first letter or letters from each word, followed by a memorable number sequence of your choosing. This will be similarly strong to a completely random string, but much easier to recall.
It’s recommended practice to change your passwords regularly, so having a system like this for creating passwords that are hard to guess but easy for you to remember is essential. You should also try to keep track of all the services for which you have supplied credentials, as having one that is easily broken could mean someone has a means to impersonate you and gain access elsewhere. To help with this, Kaspersky’s Security Cloud includes a vault only you can access where you can keep all your passwords.
When you are using a mobile device, there will be many times when you are on public networks and accessing your cloud services in public spaces, both of which can pose dangers. It’s a good rule of thumb never to allow your device to be discoverable when on a public network.
Also, be very careful before you join a public Wi-Fi access point, ensuring that it is what it’s claiming to be. Criminals have increasingly been creating rogue access points with SSIDs that have been copied from ones nearby, so users unwittingly join them thinking they’re the real ones – thereby giving access to their devices.
When using your device in a public space, make sure nobody is looking over your shoulder when you log into cloud accounts, as this is an easy way for them to grab your credentials. Also make sure all your mobile devices themselves are adequately password- or biometrically-protected, so that if you lose one or it is stolen, this won’t give someone access to any cloud accounts that are installed and currently logged in.
Even if you keep your end of the security bargain, quite large companies can still fail at theirs, with the recent Equifax breach just the latest example. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on security news, so you can act as quickly as possible if a breach occurs with a service you use. You shouldn’t put complete faith in a cloud backup, either, or your internet connection. It’s a very good idea to keep at least one local copy of your most important data on a home desktop or NAS device on your home network, and ensure this is as up to date as possible.
Fortunately, security isn’t just about you and your habits when using the cloud. There are tools you can use to help you spot new dangers and provide protection for your devices automatically. For example, the aforementioned Kaspersky Security Cloud adapts to whatever you’re doing and enables the protection you need, such as keeping your connection safe when you’re using public Wi-Fi.
Kaspersky Security Cloud also runs in the cloud itself, so doesn’t put a heavy load on your device like some locally-based services. It includes a built-in advisor that provides context-sensitive advice about steps you can take yourself to remain secure in your current environment. There’s a portal for managing all your devices, too. A Personal account protects up to three or five devices, and a Family account can protect up to 20 devices from multiple users at once.
It’s hard to stay out of the cloud these days, we live our lives online through one device or another, but by taking the right precautions and arming yourself with a safety net like Kaspersky Security Cloud, you can enjoy all those cloud-based services and benefits without worrying.