At its most basic level, “the cloud” is just fancy-talk for a network of connected servers (a server is simply a computer that provides data or services to other computers). When you save files to the cloud, they can be accessed from a computer connected to that cloud’s network. The cloud is not just a few servers, but a network of many servers typically stored in a warehouse—or several hundred warehouses. These warehouses are guarded and managed by companies such as Google or Apple

When you save files to the cloud, you can access them on any computer, provided it’s connected to the Internet and you’re signed into your cloud services platform. Sign in for one service and find your entire library of documents

Why are people concerned with cloud security? Your files are physically out of your hands. You aren’t saving to a hard drive at your house. You are sending your data to another company, which could be saving your data thousands of miles away, so keeping that information safe, is now dependent on them.

Risks of cloud storage Cloud security is tight, but it’s not infallible. Cybercriminals can get into those files, whether by guessing security questions or bypassing passwords. But the bigger risk with cloud storage is privacy. Even if data isn’t stolen or published, it can still be viewed. Governments can legally request information stored in the cloud. Tens of thousands of requests for user data are sent to Google, Microsoft, and other businesses each year by government agencies. A large percentage of the time, these companies hand over at least some kind of data, even if it’s not the content in full.

Benefits of cloud storage On the flip side, the data you save to the cloud is far more secure than it is on your own hard drive. Cloud servers are housed in warehouses offsite and they are heavily guarded. In addition, the data in those servers is encrypted, which makes hacking it a laborious, if not formidable, task for criminals. Whereas a malware infection on your home computer could expose all of your personal data. Another benefit to storing data on the cloud is cost effectiveness and ease-of-access. You can store tons of data, often for free, using the cloud.

Final verdict Yes, your data is relatively safe in the cloud—likely much more so than on your own hard drive. In addition, files are easy to access and maintain. However, cloud services ultimately put your data in the hands of other people. If you’re not particularly concerned about privacy, then no big whoop. But if you have sensitive data you’d like keep from prying eyes…probably best to store in a hard drive that remains disconnected from your home computer.