I was asked a question today: What is a good on line backup service or program?

Let me ask you, do you backup your computers, all your data or, selectively just what you believe is important, like your images?

I have multiple terabytes of data, mainly images that I can not afford to lose. I continue to generate many gigabytes each month.  Just a day’s shoot can be 32 to 64 GB of images.  For me a backup system is an absolute must.  At the present, I backup all my data (currently resident on raid arrays) to networked drives and secondarily, to a duplicate set of local drives.  The data is scheduled to backup nightly on the local drives and weekly on the networked drives.  Key client data is also retained on BluRay disks.

So what about the cloud? Online backup services are becoming increasingly popular. The number of online back up companies that have been established in the last few years is amazing and difficult to list. However, some of these companies like Mozy, Carbonite, Crashplan, Dropbox, and SpiderOak have been around for a while.  They all have their pros and cons. They all provide on line backup services and offer programs for a very reasonable fee (small Backups can even be free) based on the amount of data all the way to unlimited storage. These services require you to download and install programs on your computer that will monitor your system and backup to their remote servers, as long as your computer is connected to the Internet.  All of this is fairly simple, and once set up, the entire backup is done in the background requiring no intervention on your part.

I decided to check out two of these services, Carbonite and Crashplan. Carbonite was no good for me as I am an Apple Mac user.  For Mac users Carbonite’s backup is limited to your main system and will not accommodate connected devices.  So after a brief test, I dropped them.  Also worthy of note is that Carbonite will throttle your data speed after you reach a certain data transfer threshold.  I next tested Crashplan, another free trial.  They offer all that I would need, backup the main system, connected drives, selected folders etc.  I installed the software on my MacBook Pro and started the backup.  I should point out that I have Verizon FIOS with 50 up and 25 down speeds.  More than fast enough.  Well the test started and a month later, when the trial expired, it had not completed the backup, a mere 400 GB of data.  At this rate it would take more than a year to back 6 terabytes and up to 2 years for my main system that houses all my images. So much for the free trial, I did not subscribe.

During this trial period I have given the online/cloud backup services some thought and here are some of my concerns.

A service provider’s disgruntled employee, could take control of your information. This can be achieved using the very software that you install to manage the backup of data on your computer to the service provider’s data storage bank.  This is just one concern and so many what if’s – hackers, information mining, etc., etc.  Yes these service providers say the data is transferred via SSL (Secure Sockets Layer, the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between systems) and is stored encrypted. But all the encryption would be useless if your login identity could be compromised.  It is worth reading a blog by an industry expert at http://dereknewton.com/2011/04/dropbox-authentication-static-host-ids/

The other significant concern it the time it takes to backup, so how can you possibly check a full restore.  In my case it would be two years to back up and I would know that it succeeded or failed two years later.

Privacy and your personal data security concerns:


  1. All files you backup to an online/cloud service company can be viewed for review purposes by the service company.  Though your data is encrypted the service company may decrypt it on an as needed basis.
  2. The government and law enforcement may request access to your files, and they will be granted access.  Note:  the hosting company has no obligation to notify you of any such request.  As an example, here are the terms and conditions from Dropbox that is one such service.
    Compliance with Laws and Law Enforcement Requests; Protection of Dropbox’s Rights. We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) comply with a law, regulation or compulsory legal request; (b) protect the safety of any person from death or serious bodily injury; (c) prevent fraud or abuse of Dropbox or its users; or (d) to protect Dropbox’s property rights. If we provide your Dropbox files to a law enforcement agency as set forth above, we will remove Dropbox’s encryption from the files before providing them to law enforcement. However, Dropbox will not be able to decrypt any files that you encrypted prior to storing them on Dropbox.
  3. Be cautioned that these services can be just as easily hacked as American Express, Master Card, TJX Companies to name just a few. So many banks have been compromised.

I am not implying that you should not use these services or not back up.  You should be aware of what can happen and what access is permitted by law.  If you must back up to an online service, be selective with what you send to the cloud.  If you must backup sensitive data, consider using a local encrypted vault. A product like TrueCrypt will perform this service. Then you backup the vault to the cloud.  In the unfortunate event that the backup service or your backup gets hacked, your files will not be accessible as they are contained within the “vault”.

Disclaimer:  This article and blog post is based solely on what I am aware of and is my opinion only.  I will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.

All copyright and trademarks are owned by the respective companies mentioned, their owners, or their licensors.



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