As some starlets found out the hard way over the weekend, just because you upload private files to the cloud it doesn’t mean they’re safe.
Computer systems can (and will) be broken into, and that cool, convenient cloud can quickly become the storm that rains on your parade.
Everyone has sensitive files they’d like to keep private: medical records, love letters, tax documents, and, yes, maybe even the occasional image of you or a loved one au naturale.
The problem is, once you upload files to the cloud, you give up some control over who can see them.
But there are some steps you can take to keep your most private data safe from prying eyes. All it requires a little diligence and time.
Check your phone’s settings
If you have cloud apps installed on your phone, there’s a good chance they are automatically uploading every photo you take to the cloud. Dropbox, Google+, and iCloud do this by default.
That sounds scary, but it’s actually meant to be a convenience: If your phone gets wiped, destroyed, or stolen, you still have the photos online.
But this means you really have to think before you take each shot. If the subject matter of your images isn’t something you’d share, open your app settings, look for automatic photo upload, and toggle it off.
And remember deleting an image from your phone doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone from the cloud, too.
We had some of the PCWorld staff test various services, and Google+ kept a photo in the cloud even after it was deleted from the phone’s gallery.
If you want that photo to be gone for good, be sure to log into the cloud service and check manually. As a wise Marine sergeant once said to me: Inspect, don’t expect.
And while you’re at it, encrypt your phone’s storage so that if it’s stolen, the data stored on it stays private.
Encrypt your sensitive files
Sure, you could keep all your files locally, but sometimes you have to share them or otherwise make them available online. Encryption offers the best protection when you do.
There are many ways to encrypt files nowadays, but I’ve got the three methods you should be aware of. Each has its own features, uses, and limitations.
Easy mode: 7-Zip
7-Zip is a quick-and-dirty way to encrypt your files in an archive. The 7z format supports AES 256-bit encryption, which is plenty strong for most purposes. The files in the archive are encrypted using a passphrase.
For Windows, download the 7-Zip software from the project’s website. The installation should only take a few seconds.
Once installed, Windows’ File Explorer (Windows Explorer for Windows 7 users) will have a 7-Zip submenu added to the context menu.
Keeping your digital life private isn’t that hard, but it does take a little effort. If you use good judgement, keep aware of your device settings, and follow the security measures outlined here, you won’t get caught with your pants down.
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