Stump the Geeks

Extra security for life in the cloud

October 14, 2012 

I’m certainly not the first to say it, but I love Dropbox.

The free file storage application isn’t new, but in the last few months it’s become an integral part of my life as I swap between desktops and laptops at work and home.

One of my favorite parts of Dropbox is how it’s able to integrate directly into my workflow. To upload a file to the site, I just drag and drop to a synced folder on my desktop. There’s a point-and-click plugin that allows me to automatically backup my blog at a set schedule. I’ve even taken advantage of an option that allows me to back up a collection of ebooks as soon as I buy them.

The application has created a seamless way for me to store my digital life in the cloud. But this creates a bit of a problem, one inherent in any cloud-based solution: What happens if someone is able to access those files or delete them?

A few months ago, I wrote about how we should all do more to expect failure from our technology and plan for it. Yet at least in this respect, I haven’t been following my own advice.

Dropbox has some pretty good security measures in place. It uses proven technologies for redundant backups and encrypts your data. But the company also holds the keys to that encryption.

‘Zero-knowledge’

That’s why I started giving SpiderOak a try. Like Dropbox, it’s free for the basic level of storage (2GB). But the big selling point is its “zero-knowledge environment”: The servers and the staffers that maintain them literally can’t know what they’re looking at when you upload your files.

The encryption SpiderOak employs is used to scramble your password before it ever gets to the company’s servers, meaning only you hold the keys to your digital storage locker.

Putting the user in charge in this way makes it next to impossible for bad actors to access your information. There are no massive collections of passwords to leak, for one. Another common exploit – using password reset loopholes to intercept account information – is off the table as well.

Share and sync

Of course, that last part is important to note. Because your password isn’t stored in the company’s system, there’s no way to get it back if you forget. So if you use SpiderOak and are as forgetful as I am, make sure you have a good system for keeping track of your passwords.

Beyond its souped-up security features, the application shares a lot of functionality with Dropbox and other file storage competitors. Just install and run the app to select which types of files or specific folders you want backed up, and it will run the backup either on a schedule or when the files are changed. You can share files with others and sync with multiple devices (SpiderOak is available for Android and iOS, in addition to PC and Mac). And like Dropbox, extra backup is available starting at $10 a month for 100GB.

I don’t know whether I’m quite ready to give up Dropbox. But my sense is that if I want to start following my own advice – and the advice of some of our resident expert geeks – it might be wise to adopt a more robust storage solution.

Send technology questions to stumpthegeeks@newsobserver.com. Please include your name, city and daytime phone number. Sorry, we can’t answer every question.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service