What is the most secure way to store documents?

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Whether it’s personal documents such as your birth certificate or confidential business files like work contracts, we all have sensitive documents we need to store securely. With so many storage options available, it’s important to understand the different ways you can store documents and how secure each method is. 

In this article, we show you the pros and cons of each storage method and how you can securely store and protect your sensitive files. 

What are the different ways to store documents?

Online in the cloud

One of the most popular ways of storing sensitive documents is in the cloud. You’ve most likely used a cloud storage service, such as Proton Drive or Dropbox, when you upload a file to the internet to share with your friends and family. 

Advantages of cloud storage

  • Accessibility: Cloud storage allows you to access documents from anywhere and at any time, as long as you have an internet-connected device.
  • Data backup: Cloud storage allows you to automatically back up your data since your file is stored across many servers. If you lose the original copy of your file, you can simply download it again from your cloud account. 
  • Collaboration: Many cloud storage services offer built-in collaboration features, allowing you to work with others in real-time and track changes.
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Disadvantages of cloud storage

  • Security risks: Most cloud storage solutions are designed to withstand common security threats, but they aren’t immune from data breaches. If an attacker hacks your cloud provider’s servers, your files are at risk of being exposed. 
  • Privacy concerns: Once you upload a file to the cloud, your cloud provider encrypts it and stores it in their servers. But the private key that decrypts your file is stored alongside the data. This means your cloud provider and other malicious actors could easily decrypt your file. 
  • Dependence on internet connection: Most cloud storage solutions require you to be online to access your files. However, some cloud providers like Proton Drive allow you to create an offline cache of your files, so that you can access them even without an internet connection. 

In folders on your PC locally

Before the arrival of cloud storage solutions, most of us stored files locally on our personal computers (PC). 

Advantages of storing files locally

  • Data control: When you store files locally on your PC, you have full control of your data. You can choose where to store them, how they’re organized, and who can access them. This gives you greater control over the privacy and security of your files. 
  • Offline access: Storing files locally also means you can access them without an internet connection. This can be useful if you work in areas with limited internet access. 
  • No subscription fees: Unlike cloud storage services that may require a subscription, storing files locally on your PC does not involve ongoing subscription costs.

Disadvantages of storing files locally

  • Risk of data loss: Storing files locally on your PC involves the risk of data loss due to hardware failure or theft. Without proper backup measures in place, you might lose your files permanently. 
  • Limited accessibility: Storing files locally also limits accessibility, as you can only access your files from the specific PC where they’re stored. This may not be suitable for remote work or when you need to access your files from different devices. 
  • Vulnerability to security threats: There are security threats, such as malware, viruses, and ransomware, that might compromise the security of your PC and files. 
  • Storage limitations: Your PC’s hard drive has limited space, which can fill up quickly if you have many files to store. 

In physical storage devices

Another common method of storing files is using physical storage devices, such as USBs and hard drives.

Advantages of storing files in physical storage devices

  • Portability: When you use a physical storage device to store your files, you can bring them everywhere you go and easily transfer them between different devices or locations.
  • Offline access: Like your PC, physical storage devices let you access your files even without an internet connection. 
  • No subscription fees: Once you buy your physical storage device, you own it for life. This makes it a cost-effective option for your storage needs.

Disadvantages of storing files in physical storage devices

  • Prone to wear and tear: Physical storage devices are susceptible to environmental damage, such as water damage and physical wear and tear. This can result in a permanent loss of your data.
  • Storage limitations: Most physical storage devices have limited storage capacity compared to PCs and cloud storage. If you’re trying to store a large file, you may need to split it up and store it in multiple physical storage devices.

Saving files as hard copies

Finally, you could also print out and store important documents as hard copies. 

Advantages of saving files as hard copies

  • Physical tangibility: Hard copies are a tangible form of your documents that can be touched, held, and physically stored. This can provide easy access when you need to quickly locate or reference specific documents.
  • Offline access: Hard copies do not require an internet connection to access, making them available 24/7.
  • Increased security: Since you can control physical access to your hard copies, they’re less vulnerable to online data breaches or hacking. You can also choose to store them securely in locked cabinets or safes. 

Disadvantages of saving files as hard copies

  • Risk of loss or damage: Unlike files stored in the cloud, hard copies are susceptible to loss, theft, and damage. Once you lose or damage your hard copy, it may not be easily recoverable.
  • Lack of version control: If you store your document as a printed document, you won’t be able to easily update or revise it. Managing multiple versions of a document can also be challenging. 
  • Limited accessibility: To share your printed document with others, you’ll need to physically transport it, either by mailing it to your recipient or meeting up in person. This can be time-consuming and costly. 

What is the most secure way to store files online?

Ultimately, how you choose to store your files depends on your personal needs and preferences. Storing files locally on your PC and in physical storage devices gives you the advantage of offline access, but cloud storage offers the convenience of accessing your files from multiple locations and the ability to share them easily with others. It also provides you with redundancy and backup options, making it the most secure way of storing your files.

If you’re looking for a trusted and secure cloud storage provider, Proton Drive offers a Free plan that gives you 1 GB of storage. All files you upload are automatically protected with end-to-end encryption on your device before being stored on our servers, which means no one else besides you and the people you share your files with can access your files. That’s because only you have access to your private key.

We also use cryptographic signatures to verify the integrity of your files, giving you peace of mind that your documents haven’t been tampered with. 

With Proton Drive, you can:

You don’t need any special skills or technical knowledge to share files with Proton Drive. Simply upload a file and generate a file-sharing link, and let our software handle the encryption. There’s also no file size limit — if you can upload it, you can share it. If you’d like to help us make privacy accessible to everyone, consider upgrading to a paid account.


How do I securely store files online?

As with everything on the internet, there’s no such thing as 100% security. But if you’re looking to securely store your files online, opt for a reputable and secure cloud storage provider like Proton Drive. Built by the same makers of Proton Mail and Proton VPN(new window), Proton Drive secures your files with end-to-end encryption. We also offer other advanced security features, such as two-factor authentication and cryptographic signatures, to prevent third parties from accessing your files.

Which is more secure: Google Drive or Dropbox?

Both Google Drive and Dropbox use industry-standard (TLS and AES-256) to encrypt your files in transit and at rest. Both methods are pretty robust when it comes to protecting your files from hackers, but they don’t prevent the cloud providers themselves from accessing your files (such as in the event of a security incident or legal request).

If privacy and security are top priorities for you, you may consider choosing a trusted cloud storage provider, such as Proton Drive.

Can online storage be hacked?

Yes, online storage can be hacked. While cloud storage providers go to great lengths to prevent hacks, no system is completely immune to data breaches. It’s also important to remember that the risk of online storage being hacked is relatively low compared to other security risks, especially if you use a reputable and established cloud storage provider. Keep an eye out for cloud storage services that use end-to-end encryption since that’s a good indicator of a secure cloud storage provider.

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Lisa Whelan

Lisa is an activist, writer, and internet privacy advocate. A defender of the right to privacy for people everywhere, Lisa joined Proton to spread awareness and further enable freedom online.

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