The cloud   collectively, an online data storage infrastructure   represents one of the easiest ways to manage and access your documents, photos and other digital files. However, it also presents certain security risks. When you upload your data to the cloud, follow these seven tips to protect it from intrusion and unauthorized access.

Encrypt Your Data First
Encrypting and password-protecting your data creates a two-step security process. If an intruder manages to access your data in the cloud, he or she must also decrypt it. Many of the cloud storage providers automatically encrypt data for their customers, but if yours doesn't, employ a third-party program to encrypt the files yourself.

To increase cloud data security further, choose a unique password that incorporates numbers, letters and symbols. You can choose a relatively insecure password that's easy for you to remember, such as your dog's name, then punch it up by adding a symbol such as an exclamation point at the end and a number such as your birthdate at the beginning (e.g., 05121980Rover!).

Access Only on Personal Devices & Connections
Maybe you love to surf the internet from the local coffee shop or sort vacation photographs while you wait for your flight at the airport. Whenever possible, avoid accessing the cloud entirely unless you're using your own device, such as your computer or smartphone, and your own private internet connection.

If you must enter the cloud while on a public computer or connection, keep your data safe. Don't allow the device to save your password, for example, if the browser prompts you to.

Install Antivirus Software
Even if you use one of the best online storage services, you could make your data vulnerable in the cloud if you fail to protect your PC. Antivirus software detects Trojans, viruses and other forms of malware that could compromise your security. Update the software regularly and install all patches as the manufacturer makes them available.

Use Cloud Storage With Remote Wiping
Cloud storage providers like Carbonite and IDrive allow you to remotely wipe your devices in the event of theft or loss. If you leave your smartphone on the train or someone steals your laptop during a conference, the cloud storage app lets you eliminate all traces of your secure data from that device, but you can still access it in the cloud.

Keep Track of Connected Devices
Most online storage services permit you to connect more than one device to your subscriptions. You might give your phone, laptop, desktop computer and tablet access to your cloud storage account. However, if you sell your laptop or recycle your phone, make a point to remove it from the app.

Similarly, if you lend your device to a friend, temporarily remove it from cloud storage. While you might trust your friend implicitly, you can't know who else might have access to the device while it's in his or her custody.

Keep Financial Data Out of the Cloud
Bank statements, investment reports, 401(k) documents and other financial data belongs in physical or on-site storage. While security in the cloud continues to advance, there is no reason to tempt fate and put your finances at risk. Instead, keep those files on your home computer or in a fire-resistant safe under your bed.

For other secure information, use your best judgment. For example, some people are uncomfortable storing work-related documents in the cloud, especially entrepreneurs. According to Inc.com, corporate espionage (the theft of trade secrets) costs American businesses as much as $480 billion every year.

Back Up All Cloud-Stored Data
Back up all your data, no matter where you keep it. Redundant forms of storage protect you in case something goes wrong with one. For example, if you accidentally drop your external hard drive in the backyard pool, your data remains safe in the cloud. Conversely, if your cloud storage experiences a breach or technical problem, you can still access your hard drive. Several options for redundant data storage exist, including USB hard drives, thumb or flash drives, backup software, and saving the data on multiple devices.

Is cloud storage safe? Many people ask this question, and the answer depends on how you use it. If you safeguard your data and exercise caution when choosing which types of data to store in the cloud, you should never experience any security issues.

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