Internet users of a certain age might recall earlier days of personal computing, with stacks of labeled floppy disks or CDs lying around the office. Those have all but disappeared thanks to the widespread availability of cloud storage, which took off around 2010.
Back then, only a few big companies offered it, including Amazon, Google, and Apple. Today, however, there are many more cloud storage services available, some of which are far more private and secure than the earliest cloud services. The affordability of cloud storage has also increased, making it possible to upload huge amounts of data to the cloud relatively cheaply.
Even if you already use cloud storage for some things, you may benefit from additional privacy and use cases you might not have considered.
What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage lets you save files on servers owned and operated by the cloud storage provider. Typically the provider creates multiple copies across several data centers in different locations for redundancy. These servers are where your files are physically located and are what is commonly referred to as “the cloud.”
Read a more technical explanation of what the cloud is
You can upload files to the cloud from your device through a web-based software interface. You can also download the files to any device by logging into the same interface.
Features and benefits of cloud storage
Cheap cloud storage has fundamentally changed computing in ways most people don’t realize. It enabled companies to launch websites and expand their operations without needing large, up-front investments in server infrastructure.
But cloud storage also benefits individual internet users in big ways. If you’ve ever run out of space on your phone, you know the convenience of saving photos and videos directly to the cloud. Here are some of the biggest benefits of cloud storage:
Security for your files
In general, cloud storage offers security benefits over local storage for a few reasons. Files that you only store on your device can be lost if you lose or break that device. Additionally, files on your device are vulnerable to attacks if your system gets hacked. One common attack is ransomware, in which a hacker gains access to your device by phishing or other means and then encrypts all your files until you pay a ransom.
One of the benefits of cloud storage is that your files are saved in highly secure data centers in multiple locations. (That said, not all cloud storage providers are equally secure. See the section below on the importance of end-to-end encryption.)
Data is synced
When you upload a file to the cloud, that file becomes accessible on any device with an internet connection. (This is one of the pros and cons of cloud storage — you need an internet connection to access files, though many providers have an offline mode.)
Data syncing has an additional advantage for collaborating with others. With cloud storage, multiple people can access a shared folder. So you can work with teams across the office or across the country, uploading, modifying, and downloading files in real time.
The cost savings are especially true for enterprise users, but individual consumers can also benefit from efficiencies with cloud storage. Thumb drives are almost obsolete because it’s so easy to store and share files (even very large files) on the cloud. You can also add large amounts of storage to your account relatively inexpensively.
Ability to add more storage as needed
Cloud storage providers usually have tiered plans with different amounts of storage available. With local storage, you need to buy new hardware if you run out of space. With cloud storage, you can upgrade to a new storage tier instantly.
Why use cloud storage
There are many use cases for cloud storage, including the following:
Sharing large files
Most email platforms have a maximum file size for attachments. The benefit of cloud storage is that you can upload the files to the server and then grant file access to your recipient. For example, Proton Drive lets you share large files for free with no size limits.
It’s never been easier to take high-quality photos, but storing and sharing them can be a logistical challenge. Using cloud storage is the easiest way to catalog your pictures. You can store almost unlimited pictures in the cloud at a relatively low cost and retrieve them indefinitely.
Like photos, sharing videos is one of the biggest advantages of cloud storage. Videos are usually very large files that are difficult to send via email or other means. With Proton Drive and other cloud storage providers, you can easily back up and share large video files.
Not everyone uses the same cloud storage service, which can make sharing files by granting access to shared folders difficult. Link sharing was created to solve this problem. With link sharing, you can upload a file to your cloud provider and generate a link to that file that anyone can access. In Proton Drive, you can create a sharing link to any file, which grants anyone with the link the ability to download that file. Files are stored end-to-end encrypted and accessible to your recipients, whether they use Proton Drive or not.
Backing up your data
IT professionals sometimes recommend backing up data you can’t afford to lose in four locations: on two physical drives and two cloud storage providers. Whether you go to such lengths or not, it’s smart to back up your data to the cloud periodically. This is useful if you ever lose your device or need to replace it.
The importance of encrypted cloud storage
Most cloud storage providers aren’t end-to-end encrypted. This means that the company operating the service can access the contents of your files and often does so for advertising or usability purposes.
The two main risks are to your privacy and your data’s security. On the privacy front, companies like Google are known to automatically scan users’ data (sometimes with disastrous results(new window)), and the company can potentially turn over data to third parties without your knowledge. Using end-to-end encrypted cloud storage eliminates these risks because the data is encrypted on the user’s device before being uploaded to the cloud.
Security risks are greatly reduced with end-to-end encryption. Google, iCloud, Dropbox, and many other cloud storage providers retain a copy of the key to decrypt their users’ data, leaving it vulnerable in the event of a data breach. With end-to-end encryption, files can never be decrypted without the unique private key that only each user knows.
Proton Drive’s security model provides a technical overview of how this kind of cloud storage encryption can work.
Proton even extends its encrypted protection to its file-sharing links, which you can protect with an additional password and an expiration date. The Proton Drive app automatically generates and adds a random password to the link that you copy, ensuring Proton can never access your file, even if you don’t use an additional password.
How to use Proton cloud storage
Proton Drive offers up to 1 GB of free cloud storage, and creating an account is simple:
- Sign up for Proton Drive.
- Go to drive.proton.me(new window) with your browser or open the Proton Drive app for iOS(new window) or Android(new window) and log in using your Proton Account credentials.
- Upload files or folders by dragging and dropping them into the file manager. Or click on New and select Upload file or Upload folder and select the files or folders you wish to upload to your cloud storage.
Learn how to use the Proton Drive web app
Cloud storage is great for sharing large files, backing up and securing your data, collaborating on shared files in real time, and accessing synced files across multiple devices. Cons of cloud storage include requiring an internet connection and privacy concerns. Using an end-to-end encrypted cloud storage service can mitigate privacy and security issues.
People often use the cloud for saving photos and videos, collaborating with colleagues, and sharing large files.
The cloud refers to internet-connected servers that can store data and run software, often provided as a service to individuals and companies that require computing but don’t want to own and operate server infrastructure. Cloud storage is one service commonly offered by cloud computing companies.
Like all Proton services, Proton Drive is free. When you create a Proton Account, you can get free access to encrypted email, calendar, VPN, and drive.