Rick Maybury offers advice on the benefits of using online storage service the Cloud
My external hard drive is showing signs of unreliability and I am looking into replacing it, but what with? Is the ‘Cloud’ actually safe? Where are the myriad hard drives that make up the Cloud? In what countries are they set up? Are they fully protected from failure, power outage, virus corruption, sabotage, religious fanatics, you name it, whatever?
R.M. Stephens, by email
To date Cloud storage has proved to be generally reliable and secure but because the server computers can be located anywhere in the world, and are accessible through the public Internet, they are vulnerable to all of the threats that you have mentioned, plus a few more besides. For example, a disruption to your Internet service could make your files unavailable and from a security standpoint you have to accept the fact that they could be accessed by government agencies and anyone with sufficient resources and determination. Cloud storage companies can and do fail, though thankfully this is still a fairly rare occurrence and hopefully you will have sufficient warning and be able to retrieve or move your data. The bottom line is that if you absolutely must be able to get at your data at any time and be assured that it is as safe as possible then the answer is to encrypt it and store it locally on at least two external hard drives, with the second one kept securely ‘off-site’, preferably deep underground in an earthquake-proof bunker… But seriously, nowadays hard drives from the major manufacturers are incredibly reliable and data can usually be retrieved, even after a catastrophic failure so in the end you will have to make the judgement on where to keep your files and backups based on their value, importance and sensitivity, because no method of digital storage can ever be one hundred per cent safe.