Curious about the security of your documents in the cloud? You’re not alone. We recently received an email from Dana in Marietta, Ga., who is asking this,
“I just read your article on saving documents to the cloud. What is your opinion on protecting those documents by encrypting them first? Does that prevent companies like Google from harvesting them? Also, how are these files removed after the death of the individual?” – Dana, Marietta, GA
Wonderful question, Dana. Data encryption can be an overwhelming concept at first, but when broken down, it is simple.
Encryption is a process of transforming data into an unreadable form that can only be accessed by authorized parties with the decryption key, which is basically just a password that can turn the data back into text that can be read and used.
This makes it nearly impossible for anyone without access to steal, change, or compromise whatever you are protecting. You may choose to do this to protect sensitive files like financial or medical documents.
However, encryption does not guarantee complete privacy. Some companies, like Google, may have access to your encryption keys or use other methods to decrypt your data.
Therefore, encrypting your documents may not prevent Google from harvesting them, depending on how you use their services and what their policies are.
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The main appeal of cloud encryption is improved cybersecurity. Encrypting your documents before uploading them to the cloud can provide an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access, data breaches, hacks, malware and cyberattacks.
If or when data breaches occur on a site with your information, your data is much more likely to be safe if encrypted.
You can add an extra layer of security by encrypting your data yourself before sending it to the cloud. While most cloud services do encrypt your data automatically, they do so in a way that isn’t the safest or most private.
They can still read your data, and if a hacker manages to get into the server with your data, they can read it as well.
There are many really good third-party encryption apps that allow you to encrypt individual or large groups of files.
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There are also built-in encrypting methods on both Windows and Mac. These methods can also help you password-protect certain important documents and files, like financial records or personal information.
If you are encrypting only a single file and not a folder, it’s just as easy.
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This one is a bit more complicated and reserved for our more technically brave. If you are unsure about this process, you may want to try the following using dummy or test folders and files first.
An encrypted copy of the file will be created in your preferred destination. However, the original, unencrypted folder will remain.
Now what should you do?
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The now-encrypted file will have the extension .dmg at the end of it. To test it, try double-clicking it to open.
When you attempt to open the file by double-clicking it, it will ask you for the password you just set to open the now encrypted file. After doing so, a “disk” with the same name will be created, which you can now find under the “Locations” area in your finder.
After testing this out and opening it, for maximum security, it is recommended you move the original folder to the trash bin wherever you have it on your desktop. Then, click on the trash can, and select Empty Trash. Remember, after you do this, you won’t be able to retrieve the files. Be sure you have the password you just put into your password manager or written down in a good place.
Now, you will only have the encrypted file remaining.
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Everything you encrypt becomes useless without the digital key. If you have many items encrypted in many different places, it can be hard to safely store or remember all of your different codes. In addition, if somehow the key is lost, forgotten, corrupted, or destroyed, there is no way to gain access to your information.
It is also important to realize that no security is completely impenetrable. While unlikely, there is a possibility that an outside source cracks your encryption key. The whole concept and doing it manually can be pretty complicated too.
One of the key ways to protect your data as you encrypt your documents is through the use of a password manager.
It will help you to create unique and difficult-to-crack passwords that a hacker could never guess. It also keeps track of all your passwords in one place so that you never have to remember them yourself.
The fewer passwords you remember, the less likely you will be to reuse them for your accounts.
Check out my best expert-reviewed password managers of 2023 here.
Some providers may delete your files after a period of inactivity, while others may allow you to designate a beneficiary or a digital executor who can access your files after your death.
It is important to ensure your data or the data of your loved ones, is left in safe hands. There are a few different ways to ensure this.
If you encrypted files above, be sure to let your loved ones know that password otherwise they won’t be able to open your encrypted files.
To set up a legacy contact on a Mac, click here. To set up a legacy contact on a PC or Android, click here.
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Google lets the user set up an “Inactive account manager.” This account will automatically contact the people you list after you have been inactive from your Google account for a chosen period of time. Here’s how to set it up:
There are also alternative measures that can be taken to keep your information safe, even after death. Some password managers, like 1Password for example, have you create an Emergency Kit when you sign up, which includes all the information someone would need to log into your account. Print it out or download a copy to a USB drive and place it somewhere safe, like a lock box, where your loved ones can access it in the event of your death.
How do you feel about encrypting your documents before uploading them to the cloud? Are you prepared to ensure your data is accessible to close friends or family members after you pass away? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.
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