Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Illusion of Security -- Online Cloud Storage

If you use the Cloud for storage is your information secure? This story should give you something to think about. I just had the experience of losing significant online storage. If I had not had a copy of the data on my computer, I would have lost it altogether.

The Loss

I have been using Dropbox for some time and decided to compare some other methods of online backup. I have used several different programs. I had about 18 GBs of photos in Microsoft's SkyDrive. I had been using SkyDrive for some time. Editing the photos on different computers and then backing them up to hard drives. Today, I got an error message when I started up my laptop that SkyDrive could not find the drive on my computer. I had to resign into Windows Live and prove that I was an authorized user. When I looked at my SkyDrive, all of my photos were gone. Vanished.

The Investigation

Let me make sure you understand. I am totally skeptical of any kind of storage. I have backups of backups and give copies of my data to my children. I use online storage as a convenience and maintain local copies of the documents on different computers. I use hard drives primarily and have multiple backups of everything on my computer. That said, I began to investigate Microsoft's SkyDrive. There is a standard "free" amount of storage and then you have to pay for additional space. The same thing is true with almost every other type of online storage. I found Google Drive to be particularly worrisome. They have changed the rules about their storage this year (2012) and made it more than ten times as expensive as previously. There are so many loopholes in their storage plans that you could lose your data at any time. See Old storage plans vs. new storage plans.  Dropbox just added some storage to its "premium" plans but there are no guarantees that any of these companies wouldn't change the rules, pricing structure or anything else about their online storage for any reason especially if it is in their interest to do so.

By the way, did you know that Google includes every photo you upload to your blog as part of your online storage? Did you know that your Picasa Web Album is part of the storage included in your Google Drive? 

The Conclusion

I reconfigured SkyDrive and reloaded my photos online. By the way, to upload 18 GBs takes many hours. I am going to be even more conservative in my backup practices. I am going to make sure that I have local copies of all of my documents stored online and make sure that I use the online storage as a convenience not as "permanent" storage of my data. This is not just a problem with "free" online storage. In the case of Google, I pay for additional storage.

Now, what if you say to me, I use Carbonite or Mozy or whatever? Are you really sure you are any more secure?


  1. I do not think any of them are really "secure." Things out there can disappear in the flash of light. I also would not put anything out there that I would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper, especially financial information. I have genealogy things stored on Dropbox. What I like about that is I can retrieve it on my smartphone. This saves a lot of paperwork being dragged about when I research. I still have the paperwork in files.

    I have back ups on an external hard drive, but I suppose that can disappear in another instant.

    My third back up is on a DVD.

  2. It's multiple hard drives for me. I use cloud storage as a convenience facility.

  3. While reading your experience, James, I was thinking of Joshua Taylor's RootsTech talk about the trustworthiness of cloud storage. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. I have not trusted the Cloud at all, not only because of the possibility of loss of data but also because I just do not think my information is secure in the sense of safe from theft. As an undergraduate student doing advanced individual research, I wanted my analyses, arguments, and conclusions to be mine until I published them. Maybe I am a bit paranoid, but I think that at times a little paranoia is a healthy thing!

    The university where I did my undergraduate work uses Skydrive. I have used it minimally, such as when I had a presentation for a class. It was just too easy to upload the presentation file to the Skydrive, then access it through my e-mail on the classroom computer. I deleted anything I put in the Skydrive as soon as I did not need it anymore.

    The university where I will be doing my graduate work uses Google for e-mail and other functions, including data storage. I trust that even less. I may just revert back to carrying my presentations on a thumb drive. Or, since I have e-mail (and the Skydrive) for life from the university where I did my undergraduate work, I might just use that!

    But at bottom, I do not use the cloud except in very limited and brief ways. I have all my data files on a portable hard drive that was designed to Department of Defense specifications -- I could run over it with my car and it would still function. And I back up to DVDs periodically.

    For library and archival research, whether for my academic research or personal genealogy, I do not mind in the least carrying my laptop computer. It works best for me.

  5. “I am going to be even more conservative in my backup practices. “ -- It is advisable to have backup lest anything goes wrong. And being paranoid, sometimes, is a good thing. What happened should be a lesson. Though cloud storage has been and is continually providing support in the aspect of data storage for personal and business purposes, some failure in technicalities can still occur.

    Lakisha Rubert

  6. I'm using cloud storage service as convenience facility and another way of creating backups for my files. Actually, I still don't believe on the security features of online data storage services since I know there will be worst case scenario that you can experience with them.

  7. Hello,

    Nice post. The cloud storage utilizes internet services as a means of saving data to an off-site storage system that is maintained by a third party provider. It is important to ensure that the storage solution you use will automatically backup files and data you store. Thanks a lot...

  8. Picasa users are limited to 250 MB of space while Flickr lets free users upload upto 20 MB per month. So the storage limit is roughly the same for both services. Also, there is no bandwidth limit in either of the servies.

  9. I'm sorry that such a terrible thing has happened to you, James. Backing up your files online has never been more convenient with our technology today. The security of your files should undoubtedly be a top priority for these programs. Have you considered signing up with another file management expert?

    Williams Data Management

  10. This is my first time using a storage service and I'd definitely recommend them if you need a place! There were several others in the area, but when I saw the reviews online and made several calls to different companies, I decided to go with them.