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What is the cloud and how to make the most use of it

What is the cloud and how to make the most of it

When asked the question ‘What is the cloud?’ you may have looked up at the sky and responded with ‘Well, first of all there isn’t only one, and it depends; it could be cumulus, stratus,  stratocumulus or cumulonimbus?’ But this isn’t a lesson from your primary school Geography lesson days.

I’m sure at this stage of the digital evolution you know a little bit about what the cloud is, and hopefully your grandmother has heard of the term too, not when discussing the weather, but within the context of the ICT (information and communication technology) sector.

How did the cloud originate?

In the beginning, the ‘cloud’ was something that people almost feared. It was seen as mystical and dangerous and almost seemed to be out of a fairytale book. There was uncertainty about security and where it was actually located. “It can’t just be up there, hanging in cyberspace, what is it going to do with my files and how do I get them back down again?”

What most people don’t realise is that they are probably already using the cloud without even knowing it. What it is, in a nutshell, is software and services that run on the internet rather than on your computer or those really expensive servers businesses use to store their company files.

The cloud originated from the idea that businesses and people needed a more efficient way of storing information. A way that was secure, cost-effective and easier to manage than your own servers or external hard drives.

The cloud is efficient and secure
The cloud is efficient and secure

What can I use the cloud for?

  • The great thing about the cloud is you can access files and systems from anywhere, as long as you have a good fibre internet connection. The computing power is also far superior to any internal office network you may have set up and you can buy as much space as you want. You don’t need to worry about things like storage space limits.
  • Although you can deploy cloud computing in several different ways you need to take into consideration where the services are hosted, security requirements (read our blog on how to create a strong password as a start), customisation capabilities, to meet the unique needs of your business, management services and online support.
  • Think of platforms like YouTube. When you upload a video to YouTube of your cute, furry kitten chasing a ball of wool, that video is hosted on the cloud. When you download that video again you download it from the cloud otherwise, how would you be able to get millions of views of that cute ball of fluff? You are not hosting that video for viewers on your computer nor are you hosting the video on your server at the office, no; it is being hosted “in the cloud”.
Your YouTube videos are hosted in the cloud
Your YouTube videos are hosted in the cloud

There are three types of cloud deployment

  1. Public deployment
    Where the services are provided off-site over the internet. Although this cloud service, like Google Drive, is really efficient, they are not as secure as private cloud services.
  2. Private cloud services
    These are maintained on a private network. These cloud services offer better security measures and a sense of control but they will cost you more. An example is Microsoft Office 365.
  3. Hybrid cloud services
    This is a blend of both public and private cloud computing services. The hybrid option is nice because you can spread your needs out across different options and then start to reduce your costs. Some of the challenges may be integration between the different platforms including different security measures.

Some other cool things about our white, puffy friend

  • Another cool thing about cloud-based services is that you pay monthly and when you want to cancel, you cancel. Wouldn’t it be great if some of the bigger cellular network companies operated like that.
  • Also, for personal use, a lot of the services available have free options that are more than sufficient. Just remember though that if you are using a mobile device the cloud does chow your data while using it.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, if you use the cloud and your device is suddenly destroyed by a meteor, not to worry, your information like photos, videos, music, writing and important business documents doesn’t go with it because, it’s all in the cloud, and your information can still be accessed when you up and running again.
If your computer or servers get destroyed you still have your information
If your computer or servers get destroyed you still have your information

Final thought

Don’t be afraid of what the cloud is, it’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff, it really works well and makes you and your business or schoolwork or personal administration at home much more efficient and safer.

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How to create a strong password and keep your digital profiles safe

How to create a strong password and keep your digital profiles safe

If you want to know how to create a strong password and keep your digital profiles safe, then you are on the right blog.

Creating a strong password can be an administrative nightmare as you could end up with numerous accounts with numerous usernames and passwords. The average number of passwords that every online user holds is 26 per person. Gasp! Yes, 26! Keeping track of all of them and ensuring that they are all hack-proof is a juggling act.

What generally tends to happen is that when we don’t know how to create a strong password or feel the one we have is ‘good enough’, we take a blanket approach and either use the same passwords for different accounts or create similar versions of the same password.

Although this approach may seem adequate to you, we  all need to remember that there are hackers “out there” that start with this exact approach when targeting your accounts i.e. they target common passwords or passwords that begin with a capital letter, or ‘admin’, or ‘password’ – yip, people do that. Insane, I know.

How to create a strong password.
Hackers target common passwords

If you want to run a check to see if your passwords have been breached in any way check out this website haveibeenpwned.com.

What hackers are capable of

Hackers are getting smarter and smarter and know that most web users don’t really know how to create a strong password.

They first target the easiest and most commonly used passwords. After that they move onto passwords with the least amount of characters. The more characters you use in a password the harder they are to break. It has been discovered that a password with 7 characters can only take 0.3 milliseconds to crack, but a password with 12 characters, can potentially take up to 200 years to crack.

Think of a safe with a combination lock. If you use your birthdate and a safe cracker starts with that because they have your Identity Number, then no problem to break in right? But if you used a combination of eight numbers that were randomly selected by rolling a dice, then not so easy to break.

Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters
Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters

The different types of hacking attacks

We could write a full article on the different types of attacks you may experience but this article is about how to create a strong password. So here is a snapshot of the most common attacks and some tips on how to safeguard against them

  1. Keylogger attacks – the action of recording the key strokes a person is making while typing on their keyboard.
    Tip – use a password manager so your password is auto-filled and not typed.
  2. Brute force attacks – a bot uses common passwords like ‘password’ or ‘1234’ and enters them into your login page. There are multiple attacks over time and if the bot hits the right password, they are into your account.
    Tip – use a lockout policy i.e. if there are for e.g. 3 failed login attempts it locks out anyone from entering a password again until it is reset.
  3. Dictionary attacks – a bot uses all the words from a dictionary and enters them into your login page. There are multiple attacks over time and if the bot hits the right word, they in. Just ask LinkedIn, they had six million passwords hacked in 2012.
    Tip – Don’t use predictable words or common passwords.
  4. Phishing attacks – Hackers masquerade as ‘legitimate’ businesses and get users to open attachments, click on links or download malicious files.
    Tip – Never click on links, download files, or open attachments from unknown senders and always verify requests for payments or updating your bank details by calling your service provider. Contact them directly to verify an email. Also, never email personal or financial information even to those you trust, as your email can still be breached.
Phishing is a common type of hacking attack
Phishing is a common type of hacking attack

How to create a strong password and other tips to protect your digital profile

Password creation:

  1. Use your web browser to create randomly generated passwords. Your favourite web browsers now offer random password suggestions when you create a new account on any platform
  2. Use an excel spreadsheet and then go mad with typing random letters, numbers and symbols into different blocks. Spread your fingers across your keyboard so as to avoid common typing patterns.
  3. Use a combination of letters in both lower-case and capitals and avoid common capitals e.g. using a capital at the beginning of your password.
  4. Use numbers and symbols when creating a new password.
  5. Fourteen characters is ideal and eight characters is the minimum to use when creating a new password.

Protecting your digital profile:

  1. Us a VPN (virtual private network) – the only way to cloak your web activity (including from your ISP) is to connect to a VPN. Here is a list of tried and tested VPN’s from security.org.
  2. Use identity theft protection  – there are some good identity theft protection software packages that you can use like from this local security company.
  3. Two factor authentication – try using two factor authentication for the most sensitive of accounts. You can set this type of security up at authy.com.
  4. Store your files in the cloud. Use cloud based services to store your information. You can use platforms like Google Drive for personal information and for more advanced features you can use a platform like Microsoft Office 365. For more information on the cloud read this blog post – What is the cloud and how to make the most of it.
Make your password as secure as possible
Make your password as secure as possible

How to keep all your passwords safe

Now that you know how to create a strong password, you need to keep them safe.

  1. Avoid using an excel spreadsheet – this method is far too common when making sure all your usernames and passwords are secure. What if you forget that one password or your laptop gets stolen or lost?
  2. Rather use one of these tools to secure all your passwords:

Lastly and most importantly

Your first line of defence is your device (phone, laptop etc.). Make sure you know how to create a strong password for your device that is the most complicated password of all. If someone gets into your device and you have saved all your login details within your browsers well then, game over.