We live in a digital era – one in which much of our sensitive and personal data is stored on digital devices.

With so much of this important information stored electronically, backing up your data is more important than ever. While this used to be a job for external hard drives, more consumers are turning to personal cloud storage services.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that a wide variety of cloud services are now available, many of which are free. Another is that you can access data backups from almost any device that can access your cloud.

With an onslaught of great cloud services, we have come to expect many things from a cloud service in 2018, including lots of storage space, ease of use and the ability to access our data seamlessly from nearly any device. Despite the spotlight that cloud storage services have been getting, not everyone has made the jump yet. Before you start storing your sensitive data in a digital cloud, here are a few things you might want to know.

How Secure Is My Data?

This is often the first question that people have when they consider cloud storage as a viable option. It’s hard to blame them with all of the news about nude celebrity pictures being leaked from cloud storage systems such as Apple iCloud.

You may be shocked to learn that cloud storage, in general, is pretty safe. However, the security of your data depends greatly on the service you’re using and your password.

Just like any online service, the first thing you have to worry about is your password. If someone gets access to your password, they gain access to all of the information stored on your cloud. That being said, many cloud storage services are using extra layers of protection to keep your information safe. For example, the Microsoft OneDrive and other competitors allow you to turn on two-step verification. This requires you to verify your identity when you log into your cloud from a new device. This is typically done by having a temporary identification code sent to your email or mobile device.

There are other ways that cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Google Drive protect your data. Some of these methods are listed below:

  • Information can be stolen en route from your computer to your cloud. Many services encrypt this data so that even if it’s stolen, it can’t be read.
  • Information stored in the cloud is encrypted, so if hackers do break into a service such as Dropbox, they wouldn’t know what they’re looking at.

You can also take extra steps to protect your data yourself. For example, you can use your own encryption tool to encrypt files before uploading them to the cloud. If someone steals them, only you have the key to unlock them. Last, read the privacy policies of each online storage system. Some of the most popular cloud storage services don’t have the best privacy policies.

For example, Microsoft OneDrive doesn’t allow for the storing of nude pictures, and they actively scan your files for infringing material. Microsoft says that it does this to prevent people from uploading child pornography, but the fact remains that they can, and have the right to, access your information. The same is true for Amazon Cloud Drive. Its privacy notice informs you that it has the right to access files and disclose account details. These measures are in place to prevent issues such as copyright infringement against music since the Amazon Cloud Drive allows for streaming of MP3 files.

Can I Access Cloud Data With My Smartphone or Tablet?

The short answer is yes. In fact, this is one of the main reasons for having data backups on cloud storage services. However, it’s important to note that not all cloud services can be accessed from all devices. Most, if not all, cloud services can be accessed directly from your computer. Determining which ones can be accessed from Android, iOS and Windows phones and tablets is a bit more complicated.

For example, some cloud storage services such as Dropbox can be used across all devices. Other services, such as Apple iCloud don’t run natively on the Android operating system. Thankfully, companies are working hard to get their cloud services running on all devices. Services such as Google Docs even make it possible to do word processing right from your browser.

How Much Does It Cost? What Do I Get for Free?

The cost and amount of storage that you get varies greatly from service to service. Thankfully, the majority of these services offer some amount of free storage. Here is an overview of the amount of storage that you get for free from the most popular cloud storage services:

  • Microsoft OneDrive – 5GB
  • Dropbox – 2GB
  • Google Drive – 15GB
  • Apple iCloud – 5GB

Unfortunately, Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t offer free storage. It does, however, offer 5GB of storage for people who sign up with Amazon Prime. It’s also worth noting that some of these services give you ways to earn free extra storage. For example, Dropbox allows you to invite friends and earn extra storage without paying for anything.

If you want more storage from these services, you have to pay for them. Just like the free storage, the amount that you pay depends on the service that you like the most. Thankfully, most of them are pretty affordable:

  • Microsoft OneDrive – $2 per month for 50GB
  • Dropbox – $10 per month for 1TB
  • Google Drive – $2 per month for 100GB or $10 per month for 1TB
  • Apple iCloud – $1 per month for 50GB or $10 per month for 1TB
  • Amazon Cloud Drive – $12 per year for unlimited photos or $60 per year for unlimited everything

Can I Use It for Backups?

Now for the real question: Are online cloud storage services a good option for backups? The companies want you to believe yes. The real answer isn’t so black and white. While backing up some of your information in the cloud is a good idea, you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in the cloud storage basket. With external hard drives becoming cheaper, there is still no substitute for backing up your computer and files on a hard drive that only you have access to.

The best solution is to use a combination of the two. Back up files that you wish to have access to on multiple devices on the cloud service of your choice. However, use a large external hard drive as a failsafe for all of your files. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of multiple cloud storage services at once. Maybe consider storing work and documents on the OneDrive or Google Drive. Then back up your pictures on Dropbox. In the end, the choice is yours, and you have multiple options to choose from. Only you can decide which service fits your needs the best.