Small Business Data Protection in the Cloud

Posted March 11, 2016

By Jeff Erramouspe

Cloud computing offers organizations an opportunity to improve their productivity and to automate their business processes while lowering their overall IT costs. Small business owners find those benefits especially alluring. Instead of spending money on more in-house IT staffers, expensive hardware, and on-premises software, they're moving workloads to the cloud at a breakneck pace.

Experts predict that more than three-quarters of small businesses will fully adopted the cloud in just four years, according to Louis Columbus at Forbes.

Cloud-based applications (also called Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS) like Google Apps, Salesforce, and Office 365, give small businesses the same powerful capabilities as big companies that have rooms and even buildings full of servers and large onsite teams of IT pros to grow their businesses.

However that greater power demands greater responsibility, and it's important that small business owners understand how cloud providers protect their SaaS data and the inherent risks and potential effects of SaaS data loss.

Cloud security tips for small business

Cloud Data Protection: Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

Before discussing organizational responsibility, it's critical to outline the cloud provider's role in data protection.

Applications like Google Apps and Office 365 eliminate the need for on-premises technology, and they let small businesses flexibly store and manage business-critical data in the cloud. Even better, businesses pay only for what they use, instead of paying for features and capabilities they don't need. In addition, SMBs can take full advantage of the collaborative capabilities of the cloud.

Sounds great, right? Yes, but there's a catch: Cloud providers are not directly responsible for data issues caused by a user or even a hacker. In fact, they can only recover data in the event of a data loss caused by problems in their infrastructure, but not if someone deletes critical information—either accidentally or if a departing employee maliciously removes a key set of customer data.

It's not that these providers don't want to; it's just that they don't have the ability to restore data that someone in the end user's organization removes. If a cloud provider receives a "delete" request, they have to delete the data.

How can small businesses avoid a data disaster in the cloud? They must adopt a strategic approach to SaaS data protection that puts control over their critical data back into their own hands—and they must choose the right partners and tools that empower them to do so.

Examining the Damage of Small Business Data Loss

Data loss can originate from many sources. However, the primary causes that small businesses should worry about include user error, malicious attacks, or a synchronization malfunction.

One of the biggest benefits of collaborative cloud computing is ubiquitous access to documents, spreadsheets or presentations. It also drives the greatest risk for data loss. Cloud-based apps can't discern when a document edit or a deletion may be accidental, and they will simply carry out the action, which may cause the data to be lost forever. And this is why human error is one of the leading causes of data loss in the cloud.

And what if the action is nefarious? Massive data breaches and malicious ransomware hacks dominate headlines, but many small business owners would be surprised to learn that their own employees could quite easily be the culprits behind a data loss incident.

Finally, another common cause for data loss is a synchronization error. Today, the average employee relies on myriad devices, accounts, and applications to keep connected while on the move. The problem is that many of these tools, while helpful, are fairly new—and not necessarily equipped with enterprise-syncing capabilities. In short, an organization's most important data can be wiped out since there isn't one consistent version of the data across all devices. Bad sync operations can wipe out data at computer speed.

When operating in the cloud, expect the unexpected. Data loss can happen at any time and incidents affect everything from an organization's reputation to its financial results. The bottom line: despite the benefits of the cloud, small businesses simply cannot afford to lose their data or spend time trying to recover it.

A Confident Embrace of the Cloud

Despite the risks, small business owners can successfully take advantage of cloud computing to make their businesses operate more efficiently. There are countless benefits to moving data to collaborative cloud environments, and small businesses are agile enough to take the leap as long as they are mindful about what their selected apps can and can't protect against.

A major component of any cloud strategy is educating small business executives and their employees about these limitations. It's important to review the common causes of end user-driven data loss and to detail the steps they should take in order to report and resolve an incident before permanent damage occurs.

In addition to education, adhering to few basic best practices— like strengthening passwords, encrypting files, and being mindful about randomly "cleaning out" inboxes—make good business sense.

Third-party online data backup services can help support small business strategic data protection efforts. Daily, automated backups of all the data in the cloud application let you go back to any point-in-time and restore lost data from just before a loss event occurred.

Also, real-time monitoring helps address potential backup issues before they grow into larger problems. Further, cloud-to-cloud backup offers an extra layer of protection by allowing non-technical end users to easily find and restore data back to its original state in the event of loss, lessening the burden on an already overloaded IT team.

By adopting a holistic approach to data protection, small businesses can confidently take advantage of all the cloud has to offer without worrying about how, or if, they'll survive a data disaster.

Jeff Erramouspe, vice president and general manager at Spanning by EMC—a cloud storage and data recovery provider—has more than 20 years of experience in both entrepreneurial and Fortune 500 technology companies.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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