How to protect your digital legacy
By Jamie Wilson, Founder and Managing Director of Cryptoloc
From your birth certificate to your will, much of your life is lived on paper – and now, that paper is moving to the cloud. But while there are clear advantages to digitising our most important documents, there’s also an art to doing it properly. Here’s how you can move your records online safely and securely, and ensure you’re able to pass your digital legacy on when the time comes.
Why should you digitise your documents?
Over the course of our lives, we accrue a lot of documents that need to be stored safely – everything from contracts, wills, trust deeds, share portfolios, property and vehicle leases, insurance policies, tax returns, power of attorney documents and funeral plans to hard-earned degree certificates, precious family photos and spicy love letters.
But if you’re relying on paper documents, then you could be setting yourself up for disaster – quite literally, in the case of a fire, flood or even a tornado. Even if you avoid that worst-case scenario, information stored in physical formats will deteriorate a little further every time it’s handled, so it’s essential to preserve paper documents by scanning and converting them into digital files.
If you’re running a business, then the number of documents and records that you need to keep track of grows exponentially. And the more you’re relying on paper-based processes, the less efficient your business will be on a day-to-day basis – especially if your business is geographically dispersed across multiple locations, or, like so many businesses today, you have employees working remotely.
Ditching those bulky filing cabinets and replacing them with digital files that are quickly and easily searchable and accessible will enable you to save time, improve productivity and reduce operating costs now, while also putting you in good stead for the future.
Of course, it’s one thing to have digital records of all your documents. But the real question is how you can store and share these files securely, because if you can’t do that, you may as well have just set all that paper on fire yourself.
And perhaps most importantly, you need to ensure that the right people – and only the right people – are able to access those files when you’re not around to share them anymore. Because ultimately, that’s what your digital legacy is all about.
Clouding the issue: Securing your digital legacy
To get value out of going digital, you need to store your files in a system that’s both easy to manage and truly secure. This is something I found out the hard way.
I was working as an accountant when my father passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2010, leaving me with the task of rounding up and managing his will, superannuation details and other legal documents and files for my mother.
Losing a loved one is extremely hard – in some cases, it might be the hardest thing you ever go through. And, though it’s never been easier to digitise our documents, it can be overwhelming for our next of kin to track down and gain access to these documents at a time when they’re already distressed.
It’s not something we tend to think about – or, for that matter, something we want to think about – but it’s important that we can easily pass on this information when we pass away.
Knowing that data storage devices like hard drives and thumb drives were no safer in the event of a natural disaster than paper documents (and much easier to lose), I went looking for a secure cloud-based solution – and ended up having to create my own.
I didn’t want other people to have the same challenges that I did in such a difficult time. I was also thinking about my accounting clients at the time. What if something happened to me? I had ownership of all their business strategy and financial documents, which they likely wouldn’t have gotten back. That could have crippled their businesses.
I thought there had to be a solution on the market that enabled businesses and individuals to own their data; to create digital documents that would stand up in court as well as the paper-based originals; and to nominate a party or parties to be able to access the documents in the event of a loss. But I found that this technology and this level of security simply did not exist, so I set off on my journey to create both.
I worked with cybersecurity experts, mathematicians and encryption specialists to develop Cryptoloc’s patented three-key encryption technology, which combines three different encryption algorithms into one unique multilayer process, and deployed it across several products.
One of those products is Cryptoloc Cloud, a secure cloud storage service, which enables users to safely store, edit, share and sign documents with complete confidence; files can only be accessed by the people the user authorises; and every change is tracked.
These fully encrypted documents can then be sent to clients, customers, lawyers, government departments and anyone else who needs them, directly from Microsoft Outlook.
But what I’m proudest of is that Cryptoloc Cloud enables users to create a true data legacy – their files are preserved, but not just anyone can access them. Instead, files can only be accessed by users nominated by the deceased before their passing. This is a feature that any cloud storage service that’s serious about preserving a person’s digital legacy needs to offer.
In our case, the system enables users to nominate a person – such as a loved one or executor – to access their data in the event of their death, incapacitation, or another trigger event of their choosing. Users can nominate the person to be able to access as many, or as few, of their files as they like – if they don’t want to hand over their entire digital legacy to one person, they can specify which of their drives they’d like them to receive, and/or nominate multiple people.
Cryptoloc isn’t the only cloud storage service to consider a user’s digital legacy. Google’s Inactive Account Manager, for instance, enables users who have data saved on Google services to assign their data to a digital executor when their account become inactive, and Apple have just introduced a Digital Legacy feature that enables users to set a person as their Legacy Contact, giving that person access to their Apple ID account and data after they die.
I’m pleased to see more services realising the importance of a Digital Legacy feature, but many cloud storage providers still don’t offer one. Instead, users are required to include an e-register of digital assets with their will, despite the fact that digital estate planning legislation is largely uncharted territory, and the legal rights that apply to our physical possessions or financial assets don’t yet apply to our digital assets in most jurisdictions.
Some services actively prohibit the sharing of usernames and passwords, and the transferring of data between accounts – so leaving it to the courts to enforce your wishes is a legal minefield.
The benefits of being able to simply nominate someone to inherit files you’ve stored in the cloud, directly through the service itself, are obvious. For instance, if you’re an estate lawyer, you can assist your clients to set up their own data legacy, and nominate you – or a loved one of their choosing – to receive their will and their other legal documents upon their passing.
Conversely, you can ensure that the documents you’re holding onto yourself can be safely passed on to another lawyer, or to your clients themselves, when the time comes.
This is, after all, the whole reason I set out to create Cryptoloc in the first place. It’s personally very satisfying to know that users can store all their important documents securely in one place, and establish a digital legacy that they can easily pass on to the people that they choose.
Nobody should have to go through the hassle of putting a loved one’s affairs in order while they’re grieving for them – and now, nobody does.