You’ve been hearing about it for a while now: The Cloud. Probably you’ve heard about it enough by now that you might be afraid to ask this simple question: uh… what is The Cloud?

The Cloud is essentially the Internet. When people talk about storing data on The Cloud, think of it as files that live somewhere other than on your own computer. Cloud Apps (or Web Apps, or simply just Apps—you’ll hear those terms used interchangeably) are pieces of software tools that you use by going to a web browser, logging into a specific website and then accessing that tool online.

That might sound complicated. But essentially if you’ve ever used Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, you’ve already used a Web App. To use those tools you have to log in with your username and password, then you access your mail online. If you’re on your computer but don’t have internet access, you can’t check your email. This is the same concept for any Web App or Cloud App. In order to do anything with the App, you must be connected to the internet and you must have a username and password for security.

All Cloud-based programs or Apps come with pros and cons. The pros: it’s easy to access your stuff from anywhere in the world, from any computer. There’s also no installation or IT support necessary. Those are all great things.

The cons are that your information is, by definition, hosted someplace else. Someone else’s server is keeping all of your emails or all of your data. That is necessarily less secure than hosting something on your own computer. There is always the possibility your data could be at risk due to someone hacking into the company’s system or an unscrupulous employee digs into your data.

A couple of things to make you feel a little better: Most of the services out there use strong encryption for your data—bank-level or government-level security in some cases. So getting into one of these services from a hacker’s perspective would be pretty challenging. And as far as companies or employees actually reading your data, most actually don’t have access to your data because it’s encrypted with your password which only you know. So the data is secure.

It really behooves you if you’re considering any web based or cloud services to look at the security and privacy policies that are posted on each company’s website before you sign up. Make sure you’re comfortable and confident with how they secure your data; what are their policies around keeping it private; who in the company has access to your stuff. And if you’re not sure of what these answers are you can usually email the company or call them so that you can get the reassurance that you need to decide whether to move forward or not.

Author's Bio: 

Joshua Zerkel, CPO® is the founder of Custom Living Solutions, a San Francisco-based productivity and organizing consulting firm. Joshua specializes in helping busy entrepreneurs save time, be more productive and make more money by getting organized at home and at work. for your FREE copy of “The Top 12 Mistakes to Avoid when Getting Organized”.