Backup Solutions Roundup
With so much of our lives in the cloud these days, backups have become a low priority for many people, but not for us privacy/security minded folks. We know the risks of the cloud, and we value having control of our data. But this can come back to bite us when the unforeseen happens: a stolen, bricked, or otherwise inoperable device. For this reason, it’s important to make sure you have good backup habits in addition to your good privacy and security habits so your life doesn’t get turned upside down.
This post will focus specifically on examining the various services I suggest on my website, so be sure to check out the Backups page for more specific tips on how to develop good backup habits. (Side note, we have added a .org TLD, so you can find the exact same content on TheNewOil.org now!) This list will go in alphabetical order.
Cryptomator is a popular choice in the privacy community because it gives you the same large amounts of free storage provided by mainstream cloud providers like Google Drive and Dropbox but with the benefit of zero-knowledge encryption. On the website, I talk about how to set up a Veracrypt container inside a mainstream cloud provider. Cryptomator is basically the same principle, but it handles the whole process for you. You set a password, and then it essentially creates an encrypted folder inside your cloud account. The advantage is that it takes all the heavy lifting out of your hands, though it does mean that you have to download an additional app onto each device where you want to use that account. As I say on the site, I discourage the use of mainstream cloud providers for many reasons, but if you have no choice this is a powerful option.
The classic, tried-and-true solution, I think an external drive is a great solution for everyone. I strictly use offline, external backups, but here’s my personal strategy to comply with the 3-2-1 rule: I have two external harddrives. My main one at home is 4TB and full disk encrypted. It contains every backup I’ve ever made. The second is a large thumb drive that is full disk encrypted and contains only the most recent backup (including copies of my passwords and scans of important documents like IDs and birth certificates). I keep this offsite, but since it’s encrypted I’m not really worried about it getting lost or stolen. I’ll simply buy another drive and keep doing it. I think for most people the ideal backup solution is probably an external drive and one of the other cloud solutions listed here.
Filen is, honestly, probably going to be the sweet spot for many people. Open source and zero-knowledge, Filen works like Dropbox or Google Drive: create an account, download the app, then it puts a folder on your device that you simply work out of. You can save files directly to that folder and work out of them in real-time. The interface is, admittedly, not the prettiest, but it works smoothly and offers 10 GB of storage for a free account, maxing out at 5 TB.
Nextcloud is the golden standard for the privacy community. It’s the complete package: calendar, contacts, file storage, photo backup, countless community apps for every purpose you can imagine (my partner and I just downloaded the cookbook today), and even an E2EE messenger, meaning that not only your data but your actual metadata is controlled entirely on your server. Of course, there is one major drawback to Nextcloud: it’s entirely self-hosted. Either you have to invest the time and money into hosting it yourself, or you have to use a server you trust. As far as self-hosted services go, Nextcloud is definitely among the easiest I’ve used, but that doesn’t make it easy or feasibly for the average non-techy person. If you have experience with software, I encourage you to give Nextcloud a try. Otherwise, you may want to settle for one of the others on this list. Also keep in mind that if you self-host a Nextcloud server in your home, using that with an external harddrive does not satisfy the 3-2-1 requirements.
ProtonDrive is the latest up-and-comer in the encrypted cloud storage game. Honestly, they’re probably the weakest solution here in some ways: no free tier, no mobile app, web only, not open source, and only 5 GB of storage to start. However, what they lack in features currently they make up for in other ways. For starters, ProtonDrive is still in beta, which means there are likely more apps and features to come. They also have explicitly stated that the app will be open sourced once they move out of beta (I don’t understand why not now, but whatever). Not to mention that you’re getting a trusted, reputable behemoth like Proton on your side with this service, and with the paid ProtonDrive service you also get access to the suite that the company is building: contacts, email, VPN, and calendar. They are clearly striving to compete with Google for a user-friendly, managed cloud suite that handles all your needs. This is still in progress, but there is something to be said for having a well funded company handling all the nitty-gritty, leaving you free to not stress the technical details and simply enjoy the product. But until the product develops a bit more, this solution is probably honestly only best for those who wish to pay for the other features anyways. (On that note, if you’re considering using Proton products, consider signing up via my affiliate links: email and VPN.)
Thankfully, we live in a day and age where encrypted cloud storage solutions are becoming more and more plentiful. This list actually leaves off some other services I’ve heard of or used like Sync and Tresorit. There’s a wide variety of good choices out there, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. I encourage you to closely examine all of them and pick the one that best suits your needs. We live in a world of increasing digital reliance: we live online, with family and friends spread across the map, and that often requires us to share files or collaborate digitally. It’s important that we value this model and protect the information we share online with encrypted cloud services. I hope this list can help give you some starting points to investigate which of these tools and services is right for you and your situation.
You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org, and you can find our other content across the web here or support our work in a variety of ways here.