Is your practice prepared to survive a natural disaster?
We are now well in the peak of the 2018 hurricane season and hopefully you have prioritized and have already established alternative and additional storage space for all of your law office’s files. In light of last year’s destructive hurricane season which in many instances devastated families, businesses and societies in some Caribbean countries, you should at least be considering alternative storage solutions for your files. Loss of client files as a result of a natural disaster may also put you at risk for breach of your country’s legal profession code of ethics or guidelines for failing to store client files for the mandatory period which, depending on your jurisdiction, may be up to six (6) years.
If you are considering a move to cloud storage, or you’re hesitant to consider such a move, by the end of this article, I hope that many misconceptions and myths about cloud storage are clarified and that you will see the immense benefits of moving to cloud storage. At the very least, I hope you will consider using cloud storage as an alternative means of file storage especially as natural disasters become more deadly and destructive.
What is the ‘Cloud’?
A lot of the misconceptions surrounding the cloud in the first place may arise because persons may not know exactly what the cloud is. The ‘cloud’ simply put, refers to software and/or services that run on the internet instead of locally on your computer. A more in depth definition is that the cloud is “a global network of servers, each with a unique function. The cloud is not a physical entity, but instead, is a vast network of remote servers around the globe which are hooked together and meant to operate as a single ecosystem. These servers are designed to either store and manage data, run applications, or deliver content or a service”.
What are the benefits of cloud storage?
Many cloud storage services are free or considerably cheaper than managing on site data centres or a wired network in your office. In addition to being free or low cost to acquire in comparison to other alternative storage solutions, there are no/minimal fees involved in setting up, managing and maintaining your chosen cloud storage service.
Remote access to files
One of the most important features of the cloud is the ability to access files on any device and from wherever you are once you have the necessary password. This critical feature means that not only can you work on and access your matters wherever you are but in the event of an emergency or natural disaster such as a fire, earthquake or hurricane, which has become an increasing reality for many countries in the region, you can rest a bit more easily knowing that even though your physical files may be lost or destroyed, that your electronic files are stored safely on the cloud.
The security of cloud storage solutions has greatly improved since the last largely publicized cloud data breach some 4 years ago. Indeed, one of the biggest concerns surrounding the cloud is whether it is safe to store your data on such a platform. While there is no 100% guarantee that your files will never be compromised, if you choose the right cloud service provider and take proper and reasonable security measures, your files can be extremely secure on a cloud platform.
Firstly, your choice in a cloud service provider is critical. Your chosen cloud storage solution should have encryption at the heart of its service. The more commercial cloud service providers such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Box offer up to 256-bit encryption which is currently the strongest method of encryption there is. As it relates to encryption, it is important to be aware of whether the cloud storage provider provides encryption for your files at rest, that is when your files are being stored in the cloud and when your files are in transit, that is for instance if you are sharing a file with someone else and the file is being transferred to that person. Data is especially vulnerable to be intercepted by malicious actors while it is in transit across servers.
While it is important to choose a cloud service provider which has security at heart, you should not leave security entirely up to a third-party storage provider and you should also take measures to ensure or at the very least reduce the risk of your files becoming compromised.
Here are some common measures you can and should take to add an extra layer(s) of security to your cloud storage:
Complex passwords are the first line of defense against a malicious attack. The more complex the password, the harder it is for hackers to gain access to your files.
You should also not use the same password on multiple platforms. Having a complex password will be futile if you have used that same password on several other platforms.
Finally, you should also change your password often; every 60-90 days is usually the recommended period of time. This will also serve to reduce the risk of your files becoming vulnerable on a cloud storage platform.
In addition to your complex password, two-factor authentication can provide even greater security for your files. Again, many popular cloud storage service providers offer two factor authentication including Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft Azure.
If you aren’t satisfied with relying on your cloud service provider to encrypt your files you can always encrypt those files yourself. There are free or low cost encryption services which you can use to encrypt your files and then upload them to your cloud storage provider. While this also provides an additional layer of security, a downside to this measure is that every time you download your file from the cloud you will have to use decryption software before you are able to view the contents of the file.
At this point you may be asking yourself if it is worth it to take all of these security measures in order to ensure or reduce the risk of your files being vulnerable on the cloud and that it might just be easier to keep your files on your computer. Interestingly, when discussions surrounding cloud storage come up, persons are immediately concerned about its security. However, such persons simultaneously do not contemplate whether their current and traditional means of storing data are secure. Once your computer or device you use to work on client files or store client information is connected to the internet, your device and the files stored on your device are vulnerable and chances are, these files on your device aren’t encrypted. Anyone that has access to your Wi-Fi password can easily see the operations you’re performing on your computer if they know what they are doing. Further, if you’re accustomed to connecting to a public Wi-Fi your client data is at an even greater risk. As such, in using your current and traditional means of storing client data, your files may already be at even greater risk of being compromised. At least major cloud storage providers offer automatic encryption of your files and force you to create a strong password in order to protect your account.
Disadvantages of cloud storage
With all technological solutions, there are always benefits to its use as well disadvantages. Some of the disadvantages of cloud storage are highlighted below:
Generally, cloud storage can only be accessed via the internet. In the event of a natural disaster which causes loss of power and/or loss of telecommunications services, you would be unable to access your data during the loss of such services. While your data will continue to be on the cloud, you would not be able to engage in the normal course of business unless or until such services are restored. Even in the event of a loss of power, your files on the cloud will still safely be stored until a resumption of power or resumption of telecommunications services.
As stated earlier, you can take several measures to ensure that your data is extremely secure. However, there will always be some risk in storing your data on the cloud even if that risk is miniscule. As it relates to major cloud storage platforms, upon on analysis, there have been no recent recorded instances of a major cloud breach within the last 2-3 years. Many previous instances of a major cloud breach occurred as a result of human failure, which included, weak passwords, no two factor authentication and internal systems failures.
It must be stated that traditional storage solutions such as physical files in cabinets, other known alternative file storage solutions such as flash drives and wired networks also present their own unique challenges which include, lack of portability, huge physical space requirements, vulnerable to being lost or corrupted easily in the case of flash drives and vulnerability to damage or destruction in the event of a disaster.
Despite some of the mentioned downsides of cloud storage, there are immense benefits to be gained from utilizing cloud storage as an additional or alternative means of storing your client files which can also serve to make your practice more agile and survivable in the event of a catastrophe. At the very least, cloud storage should be implemented as a means of disaster preparedness for your law office especially as hurricanes, floods and other disasters become more frequent and devastating for the Caribbean region.