How safe is it to share files and photos in the cloud?

 Q: How safe is it to share files and photos in the cloud? A primary reason I save selected photos and other documents to Microsoft OneDrive is to keep them safe in the event of a computer crash or home catastrophe. Recently, I’ve begun sharing a link to some of the photos with family and friends. The more that I share the link, the more I wonder if someone could use that link to gain access to my other (non “shared”) files on OneDrive.

Optional second question: I am getting up in age. When I’m gone, will anyone have access to the files I’ve placed on OneDrive? Will they remain stored there if storage payment lapses? If I can provide my password to a designated heir and if they reinstate payment, can the files be accessed even if payment had lapsed for a period of time?

— Darrel Weiss, Bellingham

A: “How safe” data is in the cloud depends on a lot of different factors. But I’ll start by saying that the underlying cloud infrastructure run by companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon is considered by most experts to be very secure and has not to my knowledge been implicated in any hacks.

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Read more from Patrick Marshall here >>

The greatest vulnerability of cloud data is weak security practices of end users.

Microsoft rightly recommends five steps you can take to secure your data:


First, create a strong password for your account.

Second, use two-factor verification. That way if a hacker obtains or guesses your password that alone will not allow them access to your account. With two-factor authentication, for example, users may have to retrieve a code sent to their phone and enter it.

Third, enable encryption on your mobile devices, just in case your device is lost or stolen.

Fourth, if you subscribe to Microsoft 365 you’ll be able to implement more advanced security tools. You can find out more here:

As for sharing links to your OneDrive data, having shared one folder stored in OneDrive does not provide a hacker an avenue to access your other folders.

Yes, your shared data is vulnerable if you send a link to an unsecure recipient, but the link in the email is time-limited.

As for what happens to your data if you stop paying for your subscription, you won’t immediately and irrevocably lose access to it. In fact, you’ll have easy access to the data for 30 days. Administrators — and if you are an individual subscriber, you are an administrator — can access the data for 90 days. After that, the account is “deprovisioned,” which means you won’t be able to retrieve the data even if you resubscribe.


Q: On April 22, April 27, April 30 and May 1, I received virtually the same email telling me to send $2,000 in bitcoin to some random unrecognizable address.

The body of each email is virtually the same, stating the person has my password and my “fb contact list”  and will send some porn to all my “fb” contacts.

At one time, I did have an account at Facebook. The password they say they have is an old FB password; I did change it from the one mentioned in the letter to another password a while ago, way before these emails started.

I reported the first two emails to both the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center via the IC3 Complaint Form and to the Federal Trade Commission via the Consumer Report to the FTC.

I have deleted all the emails and emptied the “deleted” folder.

I do use the free versions of both CCleaner and Malwarebytes.


What else can I/should I do?

— Robert Wainger

A: You have really covered nearly all the bases.

It seems the scammers apparently somehow got hold of one of your old Facebook passwords and they’re trying to convince you that you need to pay them if you don’t want them to use your account. But you had already changed the password. Good job!

This stresses the importance of using strong passwords AND changing them periodically. I recommend using a good password manager. These allow you to generate really strong passwords. And since the password manager remembers the passwords, you don’t have to and you’re not tempted to use “easy” passwords.

Reporting the scam emails is a good thing, too, though it is often futile since scammers are likely to be using hijacked accounts.

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