The Clouds Are Gathering in Your Personal Space

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Clouds. Cloud computing. The Internet cloud. Technology-speak is getting cloudy. Even Webster’s dictionary defines clouds from a tech perspective: “the computers and connections that support cloud computing.”

You may not realize you’ve stored some of your most personal and private information in the cloud for years. Your online banking is “in the cloud” as are your credit reports, your student records and even the tax records on your house. You rely on banks, governments and other entities to protect your personal information from hackers and attackers.

Now, personal clouds made for consumers and families have proliferated. You can choose online clouds from Amazon, Apple, Google, Dropbox and others. Or, as Computer World mentions, you can opt for a personal cloud storage device you attach to your home network. It encrypts all your data, decrypts it when you need to view it and allows you to share it with others if you choose.

All of these choices bring a new set of security concerns for families who expect safety and security for their personal information. Here’s what you can do:

1. Don’t Store Credit Card or Bank Statements Online

Your credit card company and bank already have your info stored quite securely on their servers. Don’t ever make the mistake of saving anything to a cloud service provider that contains your bank account or credit card numbers. Identity thieves look for just that kind of information. Did you know id theft crooks find it easy to validate a credit card number so they can decide whether to use your credit to make purchases? Do this experiment: Find one of your expired credit card numbers and check out sites like Credit Card City that use the Lung algorithm to determine if a credit card number is valid. You’ll quickly see how easy it is for identity thieves to confirm they’ve captured a valid credit card number.

2. Don’t Store Your Passwords in an Online Cloud

Sure. You’re overwhelmed with passwords. Almost every website in the world wants you to login and create a user name and password. You already know that many of them want your email so they can spam your inbox to sell you their stuff. But what if your hard drive crashed and you lost all your passwords to the sites you really care about? You’d have to re-install your operating system and start from scratch. What to do? Maybe you’re thinking it’s a good idea to back up your entire list of passwords in the cloud.

Not so. If you really need to back them up somewhere, use a flash (thumb) drive you can put in a safe place. Don’t ever put your passwords online. Doing so is a “Class A” risk. If thieves ever retrieved your file they would have access to everything that’s important to you.

3. Ouch! Medical Records

Since Congress mandated electronic medical records, according to HealthIT.gov, your doctor has probably spent more time with his or her back turned toward you and typing into a laptop, than looking you in the eyes as you explain your medical condition and concerns. Your medical records are already captured electronically each time you go to the doctor. Don’t replicate any of your medical conditions, lab reports or other health information in the cloud. Why? Medical identity thieves look for just that kind of information so they can file fake claims against your insurance company and pocket the money, as InsuranceFraud.org explains.

4. Your Passport is a Free Pass to Counterfeiters

You’re going out of the country and you’re worried about having your passport stolen, so you decide to put a snapshot of your passport somewhere online, in the cloud. Then, if you’re hung up in Quito, Ecuador or South Africa, you can easily pull down a copy of your passport for the authorities and present your legitimacy. The cloud makes sense. Or so it seems.

Counterfeiters who break into online cloud systems would love to take over your identity. Instead of the above scenario, rely on taking additional hard copies with you, as MSN suggests.

Best Practices for Mom and Her Family

The cloud is free from most providers, usually up to about 5 gigabytes. Just be very careful about the personal information you put out there. You don’t know the geographical location of servers that store your information – they could be anywhere in the world. When you delete items from the cloud, are you sure they’ve really been erased from every server? This wonderful tech world covered with clouds provides almost endless free storage. Essentially, it’s up to you to choose what you consign to those vaporous clouds. As Elizabeth Taylor said, “I fell off my pink cloud with a thud.” Don’t do that!

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