Where to Store Your Document

Somewhat frequently, I’m asked about the security of storing documents using services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and SkyDrive (among others).  Instead of jumping immediately into the technical specifics, I’ve found it useful to first ensure that the asker understands the essence of the services he/she is asking about.  More specifically, I’ve found it helpful to present comparisons of the basic philosophies for document storage:

Consider these carefully, and decide which best suits your document needs.

Risk Assessment

The next step in choosing where to store your document is weighing the risks.  It’s a common fallacy to assume that risk increases with more technical solutions.  Let’s explore risks for all three categories:

Okay, great.  All three categories have risks.  Which one should I choose?

Recommendation

Choose a physical document if…

  • you don’t need to access the document remotely
  • you don’t need to collaborate with other people
  • you don’t need to maintain revision history
  • you don’t need to store the document encrypted

The biggest risks using a physical document are loss and theft.

Choose a digital document if…

  • you don’t need to access the document remotely
  • you don’t need to collaborate with other people
  • you wish to manage your own document encryption

The biggest risks using a digital document are theft of computer and having your computer hacked.  If you’re emailing copies of the document around for collaboration, you should go ahead and assume that somebody’s changes will get lost.  For most documents, this is the wrong solution.

Choose cloud-based document if…

  • you need to access the document remotely
  • you need to collaborate with other people
  • you need to maintain revision history

There are minimal risks for using a cloud-based document.  The biggest downside, however, is trusting someone other than yourself to store your data.  (Believe it or not, Google isn’t very interested in stealing your term paper.)  Provided that you’re using good technology hygiene, this is often the best solution for most documents.

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2 thoughts on “Where to Store Your Document

  1. Great post! Of the three cloud hosting providers listed, which do you think is best in terms of security?

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