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What Google knows about data security that you should know too

A new report on cloud storage prepared for Google by a Hamilton-based risk advisor shows that businesses and individuals need to take a global approach to keeping data safe.

Hamilton risk advisor's report for Google has tips that can help keep your data safe

Dropbox is an online file storage and document-sharing site that boasts more than 200 million users six years after it was started. (Gil C/Shutterstock)

A new report on cloud storage prepared for Google by a Hamilton-based risk advisor shows that businesses need to take a truly global look to completely secure data.

And in an interview with the CBC, James Arlen, director of risk and advisory services for Leviathan Security Group, says the same principles of data security companies such as Google need, apply to your personal data, too.

Arlen said the average person treats their personal memories like a digital shoe box, adding it just takes one "flood" for a catastrophic loss to occur.

"The person who kept all the photos of the first four years of their child's life on their computer and now their hard drive crashed," Arlen said. "Now your child's photographic life begins at four."

Taking it a step further, Arlen points out a lot of people may not even know they are at risk. Take for example, he said, people who use their personal device for work.

"One of things you agree to is if you lose your smartphone, work can wipe it," Arlen said.

"What happens if your smartphone has the only existing pictures of grandma's last day at the park and she died the following day, and because your phone got lost your employer wiped it?"

Arlen's report, commissioned by Google, was based on forced-data localization — a factor that becomes important for companies to know where exactly their data is stored for legal and regulatory reasons.

That fact turned into a partial failure in 2012 when an explosion at Calgary's Shaw Communications headquarters knocked out the 911 and 311 systems for the city.

In that instance, Arlen said that 'made in Canada' options for cloud computing are not necessarily the "best" options.

Tips for personal data storage

Arlen says that making your data more global increases it's chances of retention. To avoiding catastrophic loss, Arlen said people should have three versions of their hard drive: the actual drive, a backup, and a redundant chronological backup.

But having all of those copies in the same house, or in the same geographic area, won't protect the data from an extreme weather event.

"You only have to live through one house fire, one hurricane, one tornado to understand," Arlen said, "We'll call it a Stoney Creek Special — that basement flood that happens after a good couple days of rain, when those things happen you discover how unsafe your home is."

Without a safe home, replicas of your memories could be at risk.

"What it comes down to for most people is: If you're going to take the time to store the memory, you're going to want to store it in a way that's safe. And the safest way that you can do these things is to store it a close to globally as possible," Arlen said.

"You can depend on the fact that there are three full replicas of that's in your Google storage account, and those three replicas are not geographically close together," Arlen added.

Be wary of 'service agreements'

Arlen warned that services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and especially platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Flickr, all have users enter a service agreement.

Nothing, however, is compelling the services to store your data forever.

If the service is terminated, your account is deleted, or someone figures out your password and deletes your account, your data could be lost in one sweep, too.

He suggested turning on multifactor password options, which could use an alternate email or a text message to confirm, "wherever possible."

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