Thursday, September 4, 2014

Easy steps for better Google Drive security

If you've followed the news lately, you know iCloud was hacked and a number of celebrity photos were leaked from accounts. The unfortunate reality is that there will always be someone (or groups) attempting to gain access to that which they should not. Because of this, it's important that you keep your Google Drive account as secure as possible. Since you most likely connect to your Drive account via your Android smartphone and/or tablet, I thought it would be a good idea to offer some tips on how to best keep that account safe.
Pay close attention to this list of tips, as it could be the thing that prevents someone from hacking into your Google Drive account and gaining access to sensitive data.

1. Two-step verification

I thought I'd lead off with the best tip possible. If you haven't set up two-step verification yet, shame on you. Yes, many might consider it a hassle, but it's well worth the extra effort. Two-step verification is well supported on the Android ecosystem and should be considered a must-have for anyone who uses Google Drive. Although it isn't difficult to set up, it does take a bit of time and effort. However, that effort will be reworded with an added layer of security that goes a long way to thwart hackers and other ne'er-do-wells. Find out just how to set up two-step authentication, in conjunction with your Android device, in my article "Secure your Google account with a little two-step shuffle."

2. Employ encryption

There are plenty of apps available that work in conjunction with cloud accounts (like Google Drive) to encrypt your data transmissions. One such app is Boxcryptor. This Android app (also available as a Chrome extension, a Windows desktop client, and an iOS app) allows you to encrypt files and folders within your Google Drive account such that only you can view them. You can also encrypt files/folders directly from your Android device, before they're synchronized with your Google Drive account. Files/folders are encrypted using the AES-256 and RSA-4096 standard, so you can count on the security offered by this service. You can sign up for the free version, which limits the number of accounts and features. There are also unlimited personal and business accounts that can be purchased (check out the feature matrix and pricing).

3. Wireless security

This one should go without saying... but I'll say it anyway. Never use your Google Drive account when you're on an unsecured wireless network. If you find yourself on an unsecured network, turn Wi-Fi off on the device and use your carrier's 4G network. You're better off entrusting the security of your data to that network than a Wi-Fi network sans password.Note: This is also true when shopping online, doing online banking, or using any account/service where sensitive data would be transmitted.

4. Check app permissions

As you go about your existence with your Android device, you tend to hand off permissions to apps and services. In some instances, you give permission to those apps and services to view/read data on your Google Drive account. Always keep this in check and do not leave hanging permissions for apps and devices no longer in use. To view (and change) what has access permissions to your account, go to, click the Security tab, click View All (under Account permissions), and then go through the list. You can click on a service/app/device, and then click Revoke access. Leaving this permissions dangling can lead to less-than-optimal Google Drive security.

5. Share with care

Google Drive makes it very easy to share files and folders. So easy, in fact, that it can lead to an insecure account. There are a few things you must keep in mind while sharing on Google Drive.
  • Only share with people you completely trust. Never blindly share out files or folders.
  • Share as view-only, unless a specific user needs write access. You can also share from within the Android Google Drive client. With this client, you have just as much granularity with the sharing as you do in the web-based client (Figure A).
Figure A
Figure A
Sharing a folder from the Android Google Drive app on a Verizon-branded HTC M8.
  • Don't share root (or parent) folders. The last thing you want to do is share out a parent folder that contains numerous sub-folders (some of which need to be private). It may be a bit more time consuming, but share out individual folders. The only time you should share out root folders is if the person you are sharing with needs full access to all child folders within the parent.
  • Revoke sharing rights when they are no longer needed. You may, later on, dump a bunch of sensitive files/folders into that shared folder. If everyone still has access to that folder, they'll see everything. When the sharing period is over, revoke access.