A guide to cloud computing, the multibillion-dollar industry that powers your favorite apps

man using phone and several computer screen desktop laptop
Cloud computing transmits data to your computer via the internet, rather than letting you download it permanently.

  • Cloud computing is the delivery of on-demand computing services over the internet.
  • Cloud computing can include online data storage, writing apps, media streaming, and more.
  • Popular apps like Spotify, Netflix, and DropBox all run using cloud computing.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

You may have heard of “the cloud” countless times, but only have a general idea what it means. Cloud computing is the delivery of “on-demand” computing services – whether it’s storage, software, processing power, or other resources – over the internet. You typically pay as you go, billed only for the resources you use or the storage amount you’re subscribed to.

Though cloud computing isn’t an especially new innovation (it’s been around for decades), it’s become increasingly important to the most popular apps around today.

What to know about cloud computing

Types of cloud computing

The term “cloud computing” masks a lot of complexity. Where is the server? “In the cloud” – most users generally don’t need to know more than that.

The name obscures the fact that there are several different kinds of cloud computing architectures.

  • Public cloud: Perhaps the most common kind of cloud computing architecture, a public cloud is owned and operated by a third party and makes its resources available to customers, generally on a subscription basis. Every common commercial cloud service you know, from Dropbox to Microsoft Azure, is on a public cloud.
    Dropbox app
    Dropbox uses the cloud to store your data and back up your files.

  • Private cloud: The only difference between a public and private cloud is who owns and operates it. A private cloud is generally owned by a single business or organization and is used exclusively by that entity. It’s a private network that reserves all of its resources for the business, but is still accessed remotely rather than in data centers on site.
  • Hybrid cloud: A hybrid cloud combines public and private clouds in a way that data, software, and other resources can flow seamlessly between them. It allows for more flexibility, generally by letting public clouds meet shortfalls in computing requirements when the private cloud is fully saturated.

Types of cloud applications

Not only are there distinctions between the architecture of cloud services, but there are some key differences in the kind of applications that cloud computing is used for.

Cloud computing services tend to fall into one of three main categories, and you can read more about this in our guide to cloud applications.

  • Software as a service (SaaS): This is often the simplest kind of cloud computing platform to understand; with SaaS, the cloud computing operator offers software (running on the SaaS operator’s computing hardware) you can access remotely. Microsoft 365 is a common example of SaaS.
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The Microsoft 365 subscription service is a cloud-based SaaS platform.

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): In this case, a third party provides the computing hardware to run your software. For example, a software developer might rent space on an Amazon Web Services (AWS) server instead of owning and maintaining a large server locally.
  • Platform as a service (PaaS): Slightly different from IaaS, PaaS includes the hardware, operating system, and middleware needed to host the software you want to run in the cloud. Google’s App Engine is an example of PaaS.

Common uses for cloud computing

While cloud computing was a novelty in years past, the proliferation of online services, web apps, broadband, massive commercial data centers, and other technologies have made cloud computing a core part of today’s technological landscape. Here are some of the most common applications for cloud computing today.

  • Data storage: It’s common today to rely on cloud storage for data storage, backup, and recovery solutions. Not only is data backed up to the cloud, but the cloud is commonly an extension of local storage as well.
  • Software-on-demand: Many businesses and individuals now rent software using SaaS rather than purchasing it outright – like Microsoft 365 and Google Docs.
  • Streaming audio and video: Services from Spotify to Netflix to HBO Max are all examples of streaming services that operate from the cloud. They’ve essentially replaced local media playback, making the cloud an integral part of most people’s daily life.
Netflix
When you watch something on Netflix, you’re accessing content from the cloud.

  • Analyzing business data: Many businesses now store their critical business data in the cloud. They then use cloud services to analyze that data for business intelligence solutions.

The advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing

While cloud computing has become a critical part of the modern computing landscape, it’s not without its disadvantages.

For example, despite the appeal of “renting” rather than “buying,” cloud computing isn’t necessarily cheaper. Long-term, it can be more cost-effective to own and operate your own computing resources, especially if you need those resources indefinitely. If the company hosting your cloud computing service of choice shuts down, you could lose all your data.

Additionally, there are security concerns. If a third party is hosting your data, it’s a potential risk vector for hackers and corporate espionage.

Companies may also want to own their own computing resources as a way to differentiate their capabilities. If you are using the same third-party services as the competition, for example, it’s difficult to offer capabilities that are better than, or even different than what they offer.

On the other hand, cloud computing is popular today because it still offers significant advantages over local computing. It’s less costly, at least in the short term, compared to owning your own servers.

It also allows for greater mobility and portability of your data – it’s already in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere. And it moves responsibility for factors like security and disaster recovery to a third party that theoretically has that expertise.

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Can an iPhone be hacked? A breakdown of common hacks and cyber hygiene best practices

person looking at phone kitchen counter
To avoid being hacked, make sure you stay away from suspicious links and spam messages.

  • Your iPhone can be hacked in various ways, although iPhones are safer than Androids.
  • Experts say the best way to stay safe from hacks is to be vigilant of strange links or sketchy apps and to only give out information when necessary.
  • Poor battery life and sluggish performance can be indicators of an iPhone hack.
  • You might need to restore your iPhone to factory settings or get a replacement if it’s been seriously hacked.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

iPhone hacks aren’t incredibly common, but they can still occur if you aren’t careful.

From malware and trickster apps downloaded from the App Store to targeted attacks on a specific device, your information can be stolen in myriad ways.

Here we’ll break down the common types of hacks, how to tell if you’ve been hacked, and what to do about it.

How an iPhone can be hacked

Hacking occurs when someone else gains access to private information on your device or controls it without your consent. It’s a broad term, and lies on a gradient of bad to very serious. Some hackers want to make a quick buck selling advertising. Others want to hurt you.

Experts said there are a few main types of iPhone hacks:

Suspicious websites or links

Just like on your computer, your iPhone can be hacked by clicking on a suspicious website or link. If a website looks or feels “off” check the logos, the spelling, or the URL.

Try to avoid connecting to a password-free public Wi-Fi network, which opens the possibility of a hacker accessing unencrypted traffic on your device or redirecting you to a fraudulent site to access login credentials.

Messages from numbers you don’t recognize are also suspect.

Fortunately, modern smartphones are good at resisting malware and ransomware.

Suspicious apps on the App Store

Apple devices exist in a much more closed and monitored digital ecosystem when compared to Android devices.

The company has a vetting process for apps on its store, but it’s not bulletproof.

Ning Zhang, who leads the Computer Security and Privacy Laboratory at Washington University in Saint Louis, said to watch out for apps that ask for more information than they’ll need to function.

For example, if you’ve downloaded a wallpaper or flashlight app and it’s asking for your location or contact list, camera, or microphone, that’s a red flag. Likely, the developers are tricking you into giving out this information so it can be sold.

“I’d be a little bit skeptical about it and consider if I really want that wallpaper app,” he said. “Being vigilant, even with official apps, is helpful. If we are able to do that, I think for the average person, you should be fairly safe.”

app
It’s important to keep track of even the official apps on your phone and to check for any suspiciously downloaded apps, as well.

Intimate partner hacks

Abusive partners can grab your phone and download spyware (or stalkerware) when you’re not looking. This malicious software can be used to track your location, or make private information like texts, your call history, and emails accessible to them.

All they need is your password and physical access to your phone. Experts we spoke to said that this is unfortunately common. This abuse can be psychologically traumatizing and devastating to someone’s personal and public life. If you notice apps that you don’t remember downloading, this could be a sign – although many times the spyware app is invisible on the home screen.

Sadly, this problem isn’t easy to fix. Victims can risk their safety by deleting the apps or checking for malware if and when abusers notice these actions.

Targeted attacks

The average person probably won’t be singled out and remotely targeted by hackers because it’s expensive, sometimes costing millions for hacks of newer phones, said Matthew Green, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Internet Security Institute.

Journalists and activists are most at risk for this kind of hack.

One form of a targetted hack works like this: Hackers exploit unknown flaws in the iOS programming that even its developers don’t yet know about. With this knowledge, hackers can install malware to get data from targetted sources.

“This is a very sophisticated set of hacks and oftentimes you won’t even know this happened to you,” Green said. “If it’s someone who is really sophisticated, they’ll send you an invisible text message and then your phone is going to be compromised for awhile.”

The bugs are known as “zero-day” exploits, corresponding with the fact that Apple will find out about a possible security issue in their software on the same day it’ll work to patch it. The minute the world knows, it’s only a matter of time before the hack is obsolete. That’s why these pricey hacks are often kept under wraps by the people, or governments, who purchase them, Green said.

Ways to protect yourself from an iPhone hack

iPhones can absolutely be hacked, but they’re safer than most Android phones.

Some budget Android smartphones may never receive an update, whereas Apple supports older iPhone models with software updates for years, maintaining their security. That’s why it’s important to update your iPhone.

Apps on the App Store are also vetted for malware (though there are questionable apps that go unnoticed).

However, if you’re considering “jailbreaking” your iPhone – removing the software restrictions imposed on iOS – you’re opening yourself up to potential vulnerabilities in the software because you’ve eliminated some of Apple’s existing security measures. It is possible to download incompatible spyware or malware apps on a jailbroken phone, and this is also how remote takeovers can occur with iPhones. A jailbroken phone should be avoided as it can dangerously allow malicious apps to go undetected.

If you backup your phone in iCloud, make sure to have a strong password. If someone gets ahold of your password, they don’t even need to hack your phone because they can download a backup from the cloud.

Cloud Storage
Hackers can access your information by downloading a backup from the cloud, which eliminates the need to jailbreak or get access to your phone.

Turning on Apple’s two factor authentication is another good way to stay safe and can prevent your iCloud account (Apple ID) from being hacked by requiring another step of verification.

Vyas Sekar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said staying safe is all about “good digital hygiene.”

“Install apps from trustworthy sources and unless you know what you’re doing, you probably don’t want to jailbreak your phone,” Sekar said. “Be careful. Don’t click on attachments you don’t want to open and keep your phone up to date.”

How to tell if your iPhone has been hacked

You can’t always tell if your iPhone has been hacked, Sekar said. But you may notice a few things.

  • Your phone is unusually hot, or frequently dying.
  • Your phone is sluggish when trying to load websites.
  • The battery is draining even when you’re not touching your phone.

These symptoms indicate the phone is running all the time, even when you’re not using it. Sometimes, the best indicators come from the outside, such as when friends say they’re getting odd messages from you. However, the most sophisticated hacks can be somewhat invisible.

There’s no definite way to check for every type of hack. Experts told us that one reliable way to investigate is to download a mobile security app called iVerify, which scans your phone’s operating system for suspicious behavior and can also detect if your phone has been jailbroken.

What to do when your iPhone has been hacked

If you know your phone has been hacked, you have a few options depending on what happened.

For minor problems, like an app stealing your information, delete the app and update your software.

In serious cases, you’ll want to wipe your iPhone and restore it to factory settings. But even if you do that, it may note be completely clear if you’ve gotten rid of the malware installed on your phone – especially if it has been jailbroken.

Man iphone
If you suspect your phone has been hacked, sometimes the safest bet is to get a new phone, depending on the severity of the breach.

Finding an expert for inspection may be the best solution. Green from Johns Hopkins said your phone can’t always be cured.

“I hate to say this, but if you really, really need to be safe, get a new phone,” Green said. “If somebody actually gets on your phone, and it’s a really high barrier for iPhones, they can install stuff like keyloggers, which means every key press, every letter you type in is being sent to somebody. Until you’re sure that’s gone, you can’t be sure you have any privacy.”

If you can’t get a new phone right away, a hacked iPhone is likely not safe to use, so you’re best to leave it turned off.

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How to factory reset your iPhone and wipe its data, whether you’re selling it or troubleshooting issues

hands holding phone and typing on laptop
It’s easy to reset your iPhone to its factory defaults, but before you do, make sure to back up all your data.

  • You can reset your iPhone to its factory settings and erase all the information stored on the device.
  • You may want to factory reset your iPhone if you’re getting rid of it or troubleshooting issues.
  • Before you reset your iPhone, be sure to first back up your data so you can restore it later.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

If you’re experiencing issues with your iPhone, like if it’s freezing or glitching, resetting the device to its factory settings may solve the problem. Or, if you’re selling or giving away your iPhone, you’ll want to reset it so all your personal information is wiped from the device.

Resetting your iPhone to its factory settings will take it back to the basics it came with: no contacts, playlists, pictures, password memory, or anything else you’ve added since the day you bought it.

But before you begin the process of resetting your iPhone, it’s important to back up all your data so you don’t lose your important information. After your iPhone has been reset, you can then restore it with your backup.

Here’s how to factory reset your iPhone and make sure your data is backed up.

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How to backup an iPhone to iCloud, to a computer through iTunes, or to an external hard drive

  • You’ll likely want to backup your iPhone’s data with iCloud storage, but there are ways to backup an iPhone without using iCloud. 
  •  You can also delete previous backups and find storage space for new ones. 
  • Here’s how to backup an iPhone to iCloud, to a computer through iTunes, and to an external hard drive.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

How well do you know your iPhone‘s various backup options?

Like many iPhone users, you might have set your phone to back up automatically and not given it another thought. That is, until you run out iCloud storage or hard-drive space.  

Or maybe you just like to handle your backups manually.

In this feature, we’ll show you how to backup your iPhone to iCloud, your computer through iTunes, or to a hard drive, as well as how to locate backups, delete old ones, and save backups to an external hard drive.

How to backup your iPhone with iCloud

Backing up with iCloud is convenient. It can be done over WiFi and in the background so you don’t have to think about it. But should you want to back up your phone via iCloud manually from your phone or adjust your settings, here’s how you do it.

1. Tap the Settings icon on your phone and select your username where it says “Apple ID, iCloud, iTunes & App Store.”

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Select your username in Settings.

2. Next, select “iCloud” from the menu.

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Select “iCloud.”

3. Now, select “iCloud Backup” and toggle it to “On,” if it’s in the “Off” position.

icloud5.0
Click “iCloud Backup” and choose to automatically backup your phone, or “Back Up Now.”

4. From here, you can select “Back Up Now” to back up your iPhone manually. If you leave iCloud backup on, your Mac will back up your files daily, as long as you’re on WiFi and connected to a battery source, according to Apple. So plug your phone in at night before bed and your files should back up regularly.

What to do if you run out of iCloud storage

Apple only gives you 5 GB of free space on iCloud. If you have multiple Apple devices backed up to iCloud – or even one reasonably full 10 GB iPhone – that space runs out quick.

At that point, you will be prompted to upgrade your storage space.

The good news is that iCloud storage is cheap. It’s just $0.99 per month for 50 GB, $2.99 per month for 200 GB, and $9.99 per month for a whopping 2 TB. The latter two plans you can also share with your family.

How to backup your iPhone to iTunes on a computer

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Backup your iPhone to iCloud or your computer through iTunes.

If, however, like this humble author, you’re a bit more frugal, you can eschew iCloud altogether and backup to your physical computer.

iTunes lets you select where you want to backup your devices, letting you choose between iCloud and your laptop hard drive. And, with a little finagling, you can find these backups and move and delete them as you see fit.

Note, however, that Apple is soon going to shut down iTunes on Mac computers. It will still be available on PCs for the foreseeable future, but Mac users will have to perform this step through their Finders instead.

Here’s how to do it on Windows and Mac for the time being. 

1. Open iTunes with your iPhone plugged in and wait for the device to finish syncing.

2. If the device prompts you for your Passcode or asks if you want to “Trust This Computer,” select yes.

3. Select your device in iTunes, which should bring you to the Summary panel. From here, you can see and manage your backups, choosing from either iCloud or your computer. Note that if you want to backup your Health and HomeKit data, you must select “Encrypt iPhone backup.” There’s not a real drawback to encrypting your data, anyway, so you might as well.

4. This screen will also show you when your most recent backup was and allow you to backup manually.

How to delete backups on iTunes

Relatively simple, right?

One thing the above screen doesn’t show you is how to delete previous backups, which could be a concern if you have limited hard drive space. But deleting old backups is still pretty straightforward.

1. Go to the iTunes Menu and select Preferences.

2. From the Preferences Menu select “Devices.”

3. This menu should show you all of your devices’ backups with the options to delete. 

How to backup your iPhone to an external hard drive, and how to move backups

For the majority of users, the steps above will more than suffice.

If, however, you’re interested in keeping device backups on an external hard drive or simply want the flexibility to store and restore old backups from multiple devices, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.

Find the backup files

On Mac:

Click the Spotlight search button or press Command – Shift – G together with a Finder window open and copy in the following text: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/

That will take you to the folder where your backups are stored.

On Windows 7 through 10:

Use a similar process for Windows. Open your Search bar and type in Users(username)AppDataRoamingApple ComputerMobileSyncBackup.

This will take you to the folder with your backups.

Copy and move backups

Now that you’ve found where your backups are hidden away, you can copy them to an external drive and delete the ones on your hard drive.

Apple advises users to copy the entire folder if you want to preserve the data without any chance of it becoming corrupted, so go ahead and make a copy of the folder and drag that over to your external hard drive or a different cloud service than iCloud.

Now, you can delete your copy and if you wish to remove your now-redundant iPhone backup from your primary machine’s hard drive, return to iTunes and follow the instructions on deleting backups above.

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