NovaBACKUP Security Blog

What Do You Mean Dropbox / Onedrive / Google Drive isn’t Backup?


I am seeing more and more people embracing ‘The Cloud’ to store their files, be it Dropbox, Onedrive, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud, or any of the other file syncing services out there.  Notice I say file syncing services and not cloud backup services.  File syncing services have a lot of value and are very handy; I utilize a number of them for work and personal life for sharing files, collaborating with people, or syncing files across the numerous devices in my life.  That being said, file syncing services are not backup, and I run separate backup routines to back up my data so that I know it is safe.

There are a number of very smart people out there that believe these cloud storage file syncing services are actually backup services.  For instance, I was at a get-together this weekend and the topic of backup came up.  I know it sounds like I go to some really fun parties, but the subject came up because the host’s wife, who is a paralegal, mentioned that she was tasked with figuring out how to get some data off some older SDLT tapes.  When the discussion turned to occupations and I said I work for NovaStor and explained what I do, she perked up and instantly asked me about the tapes and how she could get the data off.  I helped her with that task, which was not a huge issue, but her next comment caught my attention. She remarked how she didn’t understand why people still use tapes and backup software and why everyone doesn’t just put everything on Dropbox.  The simplest explanation that I could come up with on the spot was reliability, flexibility, and security.

Cloud security.How confident are you with the security of your cloud storage solution provider?

Why Reliability is an Issue

In regards to my reliability comment, a quick search of your favorite file sync service will show you numerous accounts of lost files and the inability to recover past versions of files (Cryptolocker anyone?).  Yes every software is going to have some sort of shortfall, but these file sync services were never meant to be backup solutions; they were meant to sync and collaborate on files.  They typically sync on the write of a new file, which is great when you are talking about a few files at a time and not your entire machine.  Typically these syncing services do not give you an easy to read, comprehensible log of what was synced and what is available.  Unlike file syncing services, software that is specifically written for backup should be able to handle the back up of your entire machine, give you an easy to read report of what is restorable, and verify that each file was backed up successfully and if not, alert you to the issue.

Reliability also means access to your data when you need it. With a file sync service, you do not have any say on when the service you chose goes down for maintenance, has login issues, locks your account because of an accounting error, your internet goes down, or any other number of things.  If you have a local backup with a local backup software, you are in control of the entire process.

Let's Talk About Flexibility

When talking about flexibility, these file sync services were designed with a purpose, typically file syncing and some sort of collaboration.  These services were not meant to backup your entire machine and be able to restore your entire machines from the ground up, or be able to recover your entire machine from a disaster where your server hardware blew up or your laptop is stolen or destroyed.  Most of these file sync services have restrictions on the number of files, number of directories, path length, file names, type of files, and size of files that can be synced to them.

In contrast, a solution designed from the ground up to be backup-focused, will not have these type of limitations.  The only things you can typically sync to, are your services cloud storage and the devices you are syncing with.  With a good backup software you should be able to backup to multiple types of devices, USB, NAS, Tape, cloud services, and others.

Why Security Should be Top of Mind

The last quick point I had was security, which lately has become a very large concern in regards to data safety and exposure.  How sure are you that the file syncing service you are using isn’t collaborating with whatever government agency is in the news today, that some disgruntle employee doesn’t have access to your data, or that some hacker doesn’t have full access to all of the account information of everyone on that file syncing service?

Cryptolocker has opened a lot of people’s eyes as to how important true backups are, and how vulnerable simple file syncing services can be to virus's like Cryptolocker.  Though most file syncing services now have some sort of version controls in them, there are still a lot of holes. For example, your files could fall outside of the version window and inadvertently get changed by Cryptolocker and all the sudden all you are left with is garbage, encrypted data and the option to pay a ransom for your data.  Keeping your data backed up in a compressed, encrypted format that only you know the encryption key for, can alleviate a lot of the exposure from 3rd parties to your backed up data.  Doing multiple backups and keeping backups offsite along with onsite can help you to quickly recover from a Cryptolocker type of situation.

I am not trying to say that file syncing services are bad, quite the opposite. In fact, I use them all of the time and will continue to use them.  Just don't believe that you have a backup service, when in fact you have a file syncing service.  I would suggest that you backup your files that you are syncing with these file syncing services.  Your Dropbox, Onedrive, Google Drive, etc. folders can all typically be backed up using normal file and image level backup types in most backup software including NovaBACKUP.