Do you recommend cloud storage for personal/financial documents? If so, what service is best? Do you recommend additional encryption?
Chances are, everyone reading this column has personal or financial documents stored in the cloud whether they realize it or not.
If, for instance, you have ever e-mailed yourself a personal document from home so you could open it while at work you're already in the cloud.
Copies of your personal document exist on your mail provider's servers, your company's mail servers and potentially several third-party mail servers that acted as go-betweens.
The term "cloud" is actually more of a marketing term these days, as its origins go back to engineering diagrams that used a picture of a cloud to represent the Internet.
Services like AOL have always been a "cloud storage" service where most of your personal information was stored on AOL's servers.
In general, today's cloud storage options have become so convenient that it's hard not to use them since they so tightly integrate into so much of what we use today.
Apple has its
iCloud, Google integrates Gmail with
Drive, Microsoft has its
Skydrive and then there are very popular third party services such as
There really is no single "best" service for everyone, so the devices and platforms that you use every day and how tech savvy you are would be a good starting point.
If you already us a lot of Apple products, then using their iCloud may be more integrated and easier to use, just like Google's online service integrate very nicely with Android devices and Microsoft's resource integrate with Windows users.
If you already use Gmail as your mail system, then using Google Drive makes a lot of sense from an integration standpoint.
If you are a multi-platform user, then you're likely going to get the most flexibility from either Google Drive or Dropbox as they are supported by virtually any device you would have.
Dropbox is by far the most popular service that's not connected with an operating system and one of the reasons is its Folder Sync service. Anything you save to that folder on your computer automatically gets pushed up to your cloud account so you don't have to remember to upload it.
Dropbox also has mobile apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Kindle Fire, so you can access your files from any of your Internet connected devices.
Where all of these popular services fall short is in the area of security of your files because your files are stored without encryption.
If you want more security, you can use third-party encryption tools like
Cryptsync with Dropbox, Google Drive and Skydrive to protect your files.
You can also look at cloud storage companies that encrypt your files before you upload them such as
Wuala but you better be very good at keeping track of your access codes.
These services have no way to let you back into your files if you ever lose your encryption key, which is great for security, but bad for forgetful people.
All of these services offer free starter accounts that range from 2GB to 10GB of storage, so pay attention to how they get setup. Uploading a lot of video files will max out your space the fastest, so avoid them unless they're critical.