Cloud computing has great advantages, but its vulnerabilities can affect even the biggest tech names. When a network of internet of things (IoT) gadgets like routers, DVR machines and closed-circuit TVs can take down hardened, well-provisioned internet giants like Twitter, Spotify and Amazon—as happened October 2016—you’ve got to think twice before moving your data to the cloud.

A move to the cloud can yield big payoffs in terms of cost savings, increased efficiency, greater flexibility, collaboration, disaster recovery and business continuity, and more. Just make sure you know the risks as well.

So Exactly What Is “The Cloud”?

In cloud computing, date is stored, managed and processed on remote servers rather than your own hardware. This allows you to pay for just what you need instead of constantly buying new equipment and software. Just as with a utility company, you get the software and storage you need and pay for it on a monthly basis, with no long-term contracts. Chances are most of the software you now use is cloud-based software. You simply access it on a pay-as-you-go basis.

You can also store data in the cloud, where it can be easily accessed when you need it. This reduces the need to buy and manage your own storage and backup gear and software, thus reducing overhead.

Yet, as with any major decision, it’s critical to be aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of putting your company’s data in the cloud.

The Pros

There are three major advantages offered by cloud computing:

  1. Flexibility and availability. Scaling up or down can be done without major investment or leaving excess capacity idle. It also enables your entire workforce to get more done, where and when they need to do it. It may even provide you access to technology that you otherwise couldn’t use due to budget or technological constraints.
  2. Collaboration. With data and software in a shared cloud computing environment, staff can collaborate from anywhere. Everything from human resources to accounting, and from operations to sales and customer relations, can be managed from diverse and mobile environments—giving your team greater power to collaborate effectively and in real time.
  3. Disaster Recovery. Typically, data stored in the cloud can be easily retrieved in the event of a disaster. It also augments local backup and recovery systems, adding protective redundancy. In some situations you may be able to run your business functions directly from the cloud, meaning you no longer have to rely on your traditional brick-and-mortar office space.

The Cons

While the cloud computing offers obvious benefits, there are also a few concerns.

  1. It increases your company’s potential “attack surface” for cybercriminals. By spreading your communications and access to data beyond a safe firewall, your network is far more exposed to a whole bevy of security concerns. Most can be addressed with these best practices:a) Employee Awareness. Whether you go cloud or local, the weakest link in your network is not in your equipment or software; it’s in the people who use them. Cybercriminals are aware of this fact, and you can count on them to come up with an endless variety of ways to exploit it. One day it’s a phone call ostensibly from your IT department requesting sensitive data, the next it’s an email that looks official but contains malicious links. Make sure your employees are aware of, and trained to deal with, these vulnerabilities.
    b) Password Security and Activity Monitoring. Maintaining login security is absolutely critical any time you’re in a cloud environment. Train your staff to create secure passwords and implement two-factor authentication whenever possible. Take advantage of monitoring tools that can alert you to suspicious logins, unauthorized file transfers and other potentially damaging activity.
    c) Anti-Malware/Antivirus Solutions. Malicious software allows criminals to obtain user data, security credentials and sensitive information without the knowledge of the user. Not only that, some purported anti-malware software on the market is actually malware in disguise. Keep verifiable anti-malware software in place throughout your network at all times, and train your employees to work with it.
    d) Designing security with the solution, not after it. When considering a move to cloud computing, ensure you are building both technology and practices that promote a strong security posture from the beginning. If you wait until you are in the cloud to integrate security, it may be too late and will certainly be costly.
  1. If your internet performance is slow or unreliable, your cloud experience will not be a good one. Having quality, high speed internet service becomes paramount. Additionally, regardless of how good your internet might be, it is best to have a backup internet connection from a separate provider so that you can keep working in the event of an outage.
  2. You lose direct control of your technology and are therefore at the mercy of your cloud solutions provider. If you use one of the big players in this field (Microsoft for example), you can be assured someone will always be available to help. But when there is a major problem, all you can do is wait to be told the issue is resolved.

Cloud computing has its benefits and challenges. If you prepare in advance you will often find that you can leverage the benefits while mitigating the risks, which leads to a beneficial experience for your staff and organization.