In my article, Secure, Free Online Backup, I described how to automatically encrypt your files before they are uploaded to an online storage facility. In review, it’s quite easy:
- Subscribe to an online storage site. The market leader for consumer storage is Dropbox, and its name is almost generic for online storage. Dropbox is a fine service, but I eventually went with SugarSync because of a greater range of features and 5GB of free storage as opposed to the common 2GB. And with the referral link I just gave you, you’ll get .5GB more for free (it will say 5GB but it’s actually 5.5, and it’s permanent).
- Install SecretSync. Installing SecretSync is pretty simple. You just point it to the folder you want to encrypt.
- Point your online backup/sync service to your SecretSync folder.
I’ve been running this for many months now, and once set up the whole thing is seamless and carefree. I’ve also noticed no slow-downs due to the encryption algorithms.
But I’ve come across another encryption program that is definitely worth a mention. BoxCryptor works essentially the same way as SecretSync, but in some ways it might be further advanced:
- There is an active user forum on the site where you can get answers from users and the company. SecretSync has a helpful blog and wiki set up, and has plans for a forum, and responded quickly to my support request via email. But their site is a little behind as of yet.
- Boxcryptor allows for syncing multiple folders. It’s not yet straightforward to do so, but it’s manually possible, and a built-in solution should be soon coming. This will be a major step forward. I am unaware of this feature in SecretSync, but maybe it’s possible.
- Boxcryptor allows for encrypting filenames as well as contents, for those who really want to be private.
- Both programs are multi-platform: Windows, Mac and Linux. But Boxcryptor also supports Android.
- Lastly, for storage over the nominal free 2GB, Boxcryptor has a pricing structure you might like better than SecretSync’s. SecretSync is free for the first 2GB, as is Boxcryptor, but then the price jumps to $40 per year for 20 GB of storage. Boxcryptor, however, only charges a one-time fee of $40 for unlimited storage. By any reckoning, that is a good deal. That is for personal use only, though, but even unlimited commercial use is a very reasonable $100 one-time fee.
Considering that how much you store is no sweat to Boxcryptor, since its servers are not involved in the transfer process, this is a reasonable rate plan. SecretSync tells me that they are in the process of considering making their price structure more flexible.
So in a side-by-side comparison, on paper I like the Boxcryptor scheme better. But I have to add that I haven’t actually used Boxcryptor yet. I can only assume there are no hangups. For Windows users, Boxcryptor requires .NET 2.0, while SS requires Java. Neither of these requirements will be any problem for any modern machine.
But now, let me get creative. If you have a 5GB SugarSync account, and need more than 2GB of encrypted storage, why not set up both SS and BC, for a total of 4GB of free encrypted online storage? It should be easy to do. One free SugarSync account will cover both encrypted folders, and that’s quite a bit of secure storage for most users, and then it will afford an extra GB of unencrypted storage.
Now, some more advanced readers may wonder, why not simply use a free encryption program such as TrueCrypt with SugarSync, for unlimited capabilities? With TrueCrypt you mount whatever size folder you want as a virtual drive. That sounds good, but there are two problems with this approach. First, TrueCrypt requires that you spec the virtual folder size up-front. So if you might need 3GB of space at some point, you must tie up that whole amount of your SugarSync account immediately, even if there’s absolutely nothing in the folder. The second problem is that SugarSync sees file changes by file timestamps. And timestamps of the TrueCrypt container don’t change until the virtual drive is unmounted. So you can kiss real-time syncing goodbye under this scheme, which I see as a major compromise to security, and you can say hello to uploading a huge file after you’re done working and may want to turn the computer off, which is inconvenient and uses electricity. The two solutions I propose – SecretSync and BoxCryptor – have neither of these limitations, which is why they are so great at what they’re designed for.
But let’s cut to the chase. I’ve seen one horror story after another of computer crashes and data loss. There really is no reason this has to be so. With free online services like SugarSync you can upload your data safely, and now with free local encryption available, you can know it is secure within the limits of AES-256 encryption. And that’s pretty secure, as long as you choose a decent key.
And, if you run multiple sites and machines – say, work, home and on the road – the ability that services like SugarSync and DropBox give you to sync files across machines and share with other machines is superb. If you’re not doing this yet, I suggest you click on some of those links above and get started making your data both more protected and more useful.
Be blessed. SecretSync vs. Boxcryptor