Cloud Drives are often used by professionals and corporate organizations to store data without investing much on in-house data storage infrastructure. It is a reliable, convenient, and secure way to store data and gives various benefits such as team collaboration.
However, recent worrisome incidents of data breaches like the Facebook data controversy, Hollywood celebrity phone hacks have somewhat are some of the challenges faced by cloud technology. In this article, we will discuss why storing information in its original form on Cloud Drives is not recommended. We’ll also discuss what are the various ways to prevent data theft and other cyber crimes with just a few simple steps.
Why Storing Information in its Original Form on Cloud Drives is Not Recommended?
Before we discuss how to protect your data, it is important to know why. Let us understand why the default encryption provided by your cloud drive service provider is not enough.
When you exclusively rely on the default encryption service provided by your Cloud Drive company, they have access to the Encryption Key which is used to decrypt the information back to its original format. In the event of data breach or server hacks, your data is vulnerable to hackers. They can easily decrypt the information using the stolen Encryption Key. There is nothing you can do to prevent it.
Secondly, many cloud service platforms work behind your back. Their automated systems and a select team of employees can easily access your data. They may occasionally check your files to determine whether your content violates their Terms of Service (ToS).
Many popular cloud servicing companies located in the United States are subject to government data requests, including surveillance systems.
Some cloud services employ automated tools for malware detection. These Web bots can access and analyze the contents of your data file to check it for viruses, malware etc.
Not just that, some not-so-popular, freeware cloud services use automated systems to scan your data and collect data for tailored advertising and digital marketing purposes. These companies exploit the customers by analyzing the contents of the files stored on their servers for monetary gain. This does happen, and this is the cost associated with so-called freeware services. It poses a serious threat to one’s privacy and is one of the important reasons why we strongly suggest you make your data truly yours.
Making Your Data Truly Yours
Encrypting files before uploading them to your cloud drive will help you reap the benefits of cloud storage technology without limiting the potential for abuse. You can continue to store your sensitive information online without worrying about data hacks and other cyber crimes.
Since the encryption key is with you only, the authorities at the data center cannot decrypt any information. Once you download the data to your computer, you use the same Encryption Key to convert the encoded files to their original format.
It is nearly impossible to break the popular AES-256 security algorithm. AES-256 has undergone excessive hack-tests from public and private attacks and has passed several data standard tests. It is also used by the US and world government agencies to transmit sensitive information.
What is Data Encryption? How Does it Work?
The process of encryption keeps your digital assets safe. An encryption algorithm (such as, AES-128, AES-192 or AES-256) and an Encryption Key File (typically, .pfx file) are the basis of the encryption process. Encryption safeguards your data against online theft, hackers, and unauthorized users. It is especially useful when accessing the Internet on public Wi-Fis such as airports and cafes. The hackers can actually “read” your unencrypted data before it transmits or travels to the servers. Encryption also leads to some other benefits such as firmware-level protection. It also protects your data in the case of laptop theft or unauthorized personnel getting access to your device during your absence.
An Encryption Key File acts like a password to decode the information in its original form. You cannot recover your original data if you ever lose this key. This is why we strongly recommend that you make multiple copies of this file and store them at multiple safe places.
Here are some common practices that can help you securely encrypt your data on the Cloud Drive:
- Do not use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Your password must consist of upper and lower characters, including special symbols.
- Your password should NOT be too short. It must be at least 15-20 characters in length.
- Your password should be simple to guess for you; but extremely difficult to guess for others.
- Do NOT use any of your old passwords again. If your old passwords are compromised, you’re out of luck.
Method 1: Encrypting Your Cloud Drive Using Windows BitLocker
As a Windows user, fortunately, you don’t have to pay to purchase another encryption tool. All Windows versions starting from Windows Vista come with the BitLocker tool pre-installed. If you’re using Home edition, you may have to download third-party software. Jump over to the next section for detailed steps.
What is BitLocker?
Windows BitLocker is a proprietary software from the tech-giant Microsoft. Your files appear just like they would otherwise. However no unauthorized people can read even a single bit of your information without an authorized Encryption Key.
Important: BitLocker tool is available in only Pro, Ultimate and Enterprise editions. If you’re using a Home or Standard edition, please jump over to the next section. We’ll accomplish the same task using a secure freeware, open-source encryption software such as 7-Zip.
Step 1: Turn on BitLocker Functionality
We must turn on the Windows BitLocker functionality to use this feature. The steps are described below:
- Type BitLocker in the Search Box on the taskbar.
- Open Manage BitLocker from the search results.
- In the BitLocker Drive Encryption window that opens, click Turn on BitLocker.
- It will take some time for BitLocker to check whether your computer configuration supports it.
- If it does, a success message would appear after completion. Continue following the steps below.
- If it doesn’t, jump over to the next section for an alternative solution. Your Windows version does not support BitLocker.
Step 2: Encrypt a Folder
Here’s how you can encrypt a folder of your choice before uploading it to your Cloud Drive:
- Plug in a USB flash drive to your computer.
- Right-click a folder on your hard disk that you want to encrypt, select Properties.
- Click on Advanced.
- Check Encrypt contents to secure data.
- Click OK | Apply.
- Windows will prompt you to apply changes to the root folder or all sub-folders and files. Select the Apply changes to this folder, subfolders and files option.
- Click on OK.
- Windows will prompt you to backup your encryption key. Select the Backup your file encryption key option.
- Select Backup now (Recommended).
- Click Next | Next.
- Select the Personal Information Exchange – PKCS #12 (PFX) option.
- Check both the boxes namely Include all certificates in the certification path if possible and Enable certificate privacy.
- Click Next.
- Specify a password, retype it to confirm and then click Next.
- Choose your USB drive as the target location to save the Encryption Key file.
- Specify EncryKey.pfx as the name for your file. Click on Save.
- Click on Next.
- Click Finish, and then OK.
Congrats! You’ve successfully encrypted your information and backed up the Encryption Key file to the USB flash drive. Now you can safely remove your USB flash drive.
Step 3: Upload Encrypted Folder to Your Cloud Drive
Simply upload the encrypted folder to your Cloud Drive. The upload procedure may vary depending on the cloud platform you use.
Important: DO NOT format the USB flash drive you used to backup your Encryption Key. Formatting will wipe out any data stored on your USB flash drive and you’ll permanently lose the Encryption Key file used to decrypt the data. You will NOT be able to access/ read any of your files again.
Method 2: Encrypting Your Cloud Drive Using Free 7-Zip File Manager
7-Zip File Manager is a major competitor to the popular WinRAR and WinZip file compression utilities. A majority of us have already used this software at one point of time to zip and unzip large files. Little do we know, we can securely encrypt our data and protect our Cloud Drive against data thefts, hacking and other malpractices. The best thing: 7-Zip is free-of-cost and it is open source. You do not have to pay to be able to use it. 7-Zip supports the popular AES-256 encryption algorithm. As an open-source, you can audit the software for security loopholes and also inspect that the vendor has not injected any code to spy on your personal information.
Important: 7-Zip File Manager must be installed on the target machine in order to decrypt your information back to its original form. If you do not want to use 7-Zip on the target machine for decryption, you must select the ZipCrypto algorithm instead of AES-256 in step # 6 below. However, it will mean a trade-off with your file security. This is because ZipCrypto is not a proven or mature algorithm unlike AES-256 which is proven, stable & more reliable.
Step 1: Encrypt Your Folder
Here is how to encrypt your folder contents with just few simple steps:
- Download and install 7-Zip File Manager from the official website.
- Right-click a folder of your choice to encrypt.
- Select 7-Zip, followed by Add to Archive.
- Specify a name for your archive file.
- Set the Archive Format to Zip option.
- Specify a password for your encrypted Zip file. Enter the same in the confirmation box.
- Set the Encryption Method to AES-256 in the drop-down box located at the bottom right corner of the screen.
- Click OK.
- Note down the password in a secure place, in case you forget it.
Strep 2: Upload the Folder to Your Cloud Drive
After finishing up compressing and encrypting the folder contents, upload the Zip archive file to your Cloud Drive. It’s that simple!
Raza Ali Kazmi works as an editor and technology content writer at Sorcim Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. He loves to pen down articles on a wide array of technology related topics and has also been diligently testing software solutions on Windows & Mac platforms.