updated 04:35 pm EDT, Mon June 2, 2008
SpiderOak, online storage
Everyone knows that you need to back up your data in case your hard disk fails, but despite this, too many people fail to do it regularly. Even worse, most people don't realize that backing up your data won't do you any good if you store your backups right next to your computer, and a fire or flood wipes out your entire house or office. A more reliable answer may be online backup, through a service such as SpiderOak.
SpiderOak is just one of many services that let you upload your files to remote servers, often with a certain amount of free storage -- in this case, 2GB. For $10 a month, you can store up to 20GB; this can be further increased with another $5 per 10GB increment. The prices are comparable to rivals, but what sets SpiderOak apart is its emphasis on security.
With most online storage sites, you choose a password that keeps other Internet users out. Unfortunately, the password only blocks anyone trying to access your files over the Internet; your files are still completely accessible to anyone who can gain physical access to the site's servers, such as employees of the company. As a result, most sites leave your files in plain sight for physical intruders to peek at, copy, modify, or delete without your knowledge or authorization.
While it's unlikely that employees will browse through your files, the possibility is always there, which means you lack true privacy. That's why the site uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), a US government algorithm, for encrypting your data on its servers. In theory this not only halts local access, but means that if the password is lost or forgotten, even you will never be able to retrieve your files ever again.
For further protection, the service also offers versioning. Suppose you stored an important business report on SpiderOak, then changed the original file on your computer and made a second backup. Most sites would simply wipe out the previous version of the report, and replace it with a new one. If you suddenly realized that you needed the previous copy, you'd be out of luck. Through versioning, SpiderOak doesn't just overwrite old files, it keeps them along with just the changes of future revisions.
Another feature that separates the service from its competitors is the availability of the SpiderOak software for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, where some osites are restricted to Windows users. Such cross-platform abilities can be especially handy if you regularly use different operating systems, such as a Windows computer at work and Mac OS X at home.
Perhaps one of the more useful features of SpiderOak is its sharing capabilities. You can designate specific files to share, assign a password to them, and then anyone with the right password can access your files over the Internet. This can be especially handy for sharing digital photos, business documents, or archives of old e-mail messages.
The program makes uploading, viewing, and deleting your backups simple. During the initial backup process, the program isn't the speediest one around, but copying future backups tends to go much faster since you won't need to backup as many files each time.
If you're searching for online storage to protect your files, SpiderOak is worth a look primarily for its security. Its prices are merely comparable to other options, and its free storage is adequate but not exceptional, especially when rivals may offer 10GB or more. If security is your primary concern, however, then SpiderOak may really be your only choice.