Dropbox brought cloud-based file synchronization and storage to the masses, but it’s been hindered by high-profile security problems. While Dropbox once claimed that its employees were unable to access your files, they now claim only that employees aren’t allowed to view your files. In June 2011, Dropbox left the door wide open and anyone could log into any account without knowing its password for nearly four hours.
Sure, if you only use Dropbox to share the latest lolcat pictures with your friends, security doesn’t matter. But you’re taking a risk by storing sensitive data in Dropbox. Fortunately, you have another option — an alternative service that secures your files with local encryption and decryption. The encryption keeps your files private, outwitting hackers and preventing rogue employees from snooping around.
Most services, including Dropbox, claim to offer some form of encryption. These services transfer your files over an encrypted connection and store them in an encrypted form. Some services even advertise this as “military-grade encryption.” The problem is that the service itself can decrypt your files without your help. Alternatives like SpiderOak, Wuala and TeamDrive encrypt your files on your own computer before sending them over the Internet; the service only gets a blob of unreadable, encrypted data.
SpiderOak brands itself as a secure online backup service. It generates encryption keys from the password you provide; your SpiderOak password never even leaves your computer. Even SpiderOak’s employees can’t access your files.
Unlike Dropbox, SpiderOak doesn’t have its own sync folder — instead, you can customize the folders SpiderOak uses. SpiderOak offers to back up common categories of files by default, but you can also click the “Advanced” button and select specific folders. SpiderOak watches the selected folders and automatically updates your SpiderOak account with any new or changed files.
Somewhat confusingly, backups and synchronization are separate functions in SpiderOak. After backing up files on the Back Up tab, you have to click the Sync tab and create a new sync. If you create a backup without creating a sync, SpiderOak just backs up your files online and doesn’t synchronize them to your other computers.
Like Dropbox, SpiderOak offers 2 GB of free space. You can get an additional gigabyte for each friend you refer, up to a total of 50 GB.
Wuala, a service from data storage manufacturing company LaCie, has similar security. Wuala also encrypts your files locally and never sends your password over the network.
Wuala appears as a network drive after you install it. The drive works just like your Dropbox folder — any files added to it are automatically backed up to your Wuala account and synchronized to your other computers.
Wuala also includes a desktop application for managing your files. It only synchronizes files on the Wuala drive by default, but you can synchronize another folder by clicking the New menu button on the toolbar and selecting Sync.
Wuala includes 2 GB of free space, but you can get up to 5 GB total. Just click the File menu in Wuala and select Invite People You Know; each friend you invite scores you another 250 MB.
TeamDrive is focused on secure collaboration, but you can also use it to synchronize files between your own devices. TeamDrive uses “spaces,” folders that it backs up online and synchronizes between devices. You can click the Create button on the TeamDrive window’s toolbar to create a new space.
TeamDrive automatically “invites” your other devices when you create a new space, giving the devices permission to access the space. Just sign in to TeamDrive on other computers to access your files. You can also invite other people to a space, which gives them access to the space’s files. Each space is stored in an encrypted form online; only devices you invite can decrypt and access the space’s files.
TeamDrive also includes 2 GB of free storage space. Unlike SpiderOak and Wuala, it doesn’t have a referral program, so that’s all you get unless you’re willing to shell out for more.
As with all software, there’s an element of trust involved. You’re still typing your password into the app, so you’re trusting the service to behave as promised. If you’re worried about this, you can encrypt sensitive files yourself instead of relying on your sync program.
You can also continue using Dropbox if you prefer it; just encrypt your sensitive files before adding them to your Dropbox folder. Many programs can encrypt files, but you’ll have to decrypt them before reading them. Encrypting and decrypting your own files can be a hassle, so this solution works best for backups you don’t access very often.