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Using the cloud

The cloud is a convenient and fairly secure way to manage your online information – but there are some risks to be aware of.

What is 'the cloud'?

'The cloud' is all the services that you access through the internet, including:

  • storage services, like Dropbox or Google Drive, where you can store documents
  • email services, like Gmail or Yahoo mail
  • gaming services, such as PlayStation Now
  • social networks, like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Any time you store information on one of these online services, rather than on your computer, you’re using the cloud.

How it works

Cloud service providers have a network of servers (computers) that they manage and maintain in data centres. Most service providers have servers all over the world.

You connect to the servers through:

  • your internet browser — like Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge, or
  • applications – like the Facebook app, YouTube app or computer games.

As long as you have an internet connection, you can access the cloud at any time and on any device. This could be your computer, your phone, your tablet, or your games console. You don't have to carry a particular device around with you to be able to access the cloud.

The risks

Using the cloud comes with lots of benefits. Cloud service providers:

  • back up your information for you
  • keep their servers updated
  • may use encryption to help keep your information safe and secure.
  • store your information on more than one server – if there's a problem with one server, your information is still available through another.

But there are still risks.

You need an internet connection

You can only access data you have stored in the cloud when you're connected to the internet.

For example, if you can't connect to the internet, you can't access Facebook, your email or any documents you store online. This can be a problem if you travel outside of your phone's service area, if you lose power or if your device runs out of data.

You're trusting your important information to a service provider

When you use the cloud, you're relying on your service provider to:

  • keep your data safe and private. Companies like Google have security measures in place to protect your data. But nothing’s bulletproof.  If there is data you really don't want to lose, keep a copy offline as well as in the cloud,. You could also use a tool like winzip to encrypt data before you put it in the cloud.
  • maintain your data. If the company goes out of business, you’ll lose access to any information stored with them.

How to protect yourself

  • Use strong passwords on your accounts

    Use a different password for each of your cloud-based accounts. For example, don’t use the same password for your Facebook account as you do for Netflix. That way, if someone gets access to one of your account passwords, they won’t get easy access to your other accounts as well.

    Make your account passwords long and strong – try short sentences that are easy to remember.

    How to create good passwords

  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)

    Adding another level of security with 2FA makes it harder for an attacker to get into your online accounts — just knowing your username and password isn’t enough.

    Use two-factor authentication to protect your accounts

  • Keep offline backups

    If there's something that you really don't want to lose, or really don't want other people to find, don't store it in the cloud. Store it offline instead.

    Back up your data and devices

Get help

If you’ve experienced an online security issue, your first step is to contact the service provider.

You can also report an online issue or security incident to us at CERT NZ.

Get help now