Why should I backup to the cloud?
More and more, our lives are moving into the digital world. Many of our photos, documents, and other important things exist only in a digital form. On one hand this is pretty amazing: It is much easier to share and preserve our information than ever before. We can easily click a button and share our cherished memories with others, and we don’t have to worry about how much space it takes up.
At the same time this is also a little bit scary: all it takes is one fire, flood, or robbery and all of your memories will be gone. Like many of you, I backup using external drives and DVDs, and that gives me some protection against stuff like the computer getting fried or the hard drive going to bit heaven. However, what happens if we have a big fire at home? Those backups won’t do me much good then.
To increase our data redundancy, we need to look at two things:
- Backup to multiple storage devices
- Keep these storage devices in separate physical locations.
I’m going to talk about how you can back up your data to the cloud and remove some of that physical risk.
Backing up to the cloud
There are many products out there that can upload and backup your data to the company’s servers. These companies usually have multiple levels of redundancy so it’s going to be hard for them to lose your data, at least accidentally. Here are the three big products that come to mind:
Dropbox made the cloud popular; at least, that’s how I remember it. Dropbox is really great for collaborating with others, and you can also use it to backup your personal data.
The software is very easy to use, and it also supports incremental updates so even large files are quickly and efficiently backed up.
You have to move your files into a special folder before they’re backed up. Employees can also potentially read your data at any time.
Wuala is what I currently use. The interface isn’t as nice as in Dropbox, but I can backup any file, anywhere. I’ve used it for more than a year now and I’m pretty happy with it.
Data is encrypted locally before being uploaded to Wuala’s servers, and files can be backed up from anywhere. Incremental file support has also finally arrived!
The software is a little bit clunky. There used to be a really cool trading feature that let you get storage for “free” by trading unused disk space with others, but it’s been removed in the latest version! 🙁
I haven’t personally used Spideroak so I can’t comment on the pros & cons, but I have heard good things, and they claim to operate on a zero-knowledge basis which means that your data may as well be a opaque blob as far as they’re concerned. I would recommend reading up on the reviews to see what other people say; I may have to give them a shot myself and see!
But what about security? Can’t they read my files?
This is a valid point, and one that we need to look into. As far as I know, the people at Dropbox are able to read your files anytime and are only restricted from doing so by company policy.
The situation at Wuala and Spideroak is a bit different — they encrypt before it is sent from your computer, so the company cannot read your data directly (though they can probably still read file names and meta data). However, each file has a unique “signature” at least in Wuala’s case, the company uses this information to save space. How? Well, even if it can’t read your files directly, it can still tell if your upload is identical to someone else’s upload by comparing the unique signatures. This allows them to save space on their servers by only storing the actual data once (plus backups).
This is not such a big problem because you can protect your sensitive data by using your own encryption, before adding it to the cloud.
Encrypt before uploading
For your music files, you might not care too much if the company can read the data. For your photos, you might not even care if the company can tell if you and someone else have uploaded the same file, so that they can save space on their servers by storing it only once. However, for legal documents, work projects and things like that, you’d probably rather not take the chance. In this case, you can pre-encrypt the files using an archiver such as 7-Zip or an encrypted volume manager, like Truecrypt.
How does that work? If you use an archiver, what you do is create a compressed archive containing your more sensitive data, add a password to that archive, and then you back up only the archive to the cloud. That way, you can be reasonably confident that there is no way anyone else will be able to read the data even if they could somehow obtain your archive, so long as you also use a strong password!
Truecrypt works pretty much the same way. The difference between Truecrypt and an archiver is that a Truecrypt volume also works like a removable drive. You can open it in Truecrypt, and it will then appear in your computer as another drive that you can copy files to and from, or work directly out of. This is convenient because there is no longer an intermediate step of “zipping up” all the files with a password and copying them to another place.
How to Vanish also has more information on how to use Truecrypt with Dropbox.
A physical copy is still important!
Use “backup” mode instead of “sync” mode
Backing up to the cloud will protect you against accidental data loss, but it may not protect you against intentional data loss. For that reason, I recommend you use all cloud software to backup using the backup feature and NOT the sync feature. Why? Well, let’s say your account gets hacked and your files deleted. If you used backup, then they only get flushed from your cloud account. If you used sync, then the next time your PC syncs they’ll also be deleted from your local hard drive! So, use backup instead of sync.
Having a disconnected physical copy (such as a removable hard drive or USB) is still important since the hackers cannot hack what is not connected to the Internet.
Guidelines for a strong password
Good passwords should be long and complex, contain both upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols as well. I don’t think you can remember 100 different such passwords for every online login, and using the same password everywhere is a security risk. Personally I use KeePass Password Safe, use that to generate really strong passwords, then I protect the password safe with a reasonably strong password that I can remember without having to write it down anywhere.
Here are some examples.
03ilpamgniM121975 (derived from: “I love pizza and my girlfriend’s name is Merissa”)
QÄJà¹4zÒ¸¤dfA:§¡4ZWCE}¬¶ÑÊóR (this sort of password won’t work everywhere)
There’s no way you’ll remember 100 strong passwords, so this is why I recommend using a password safe and protecting that with a reasonably strong password that you can remember. IMO That’s better than using the same password everywhere, though I’d love to hear your feedback as well.
Dear reader, what tips do you have for better protecting your data? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any reviews you’d like to share!