Cloud security concerns? Try these alternatives
The Cloud, it sounds mysterious and magical, but basically when you put your data into the cloud, all you are doing is storing it on someone else’s computer. Usually that someone else is Google, Microsoft, Dropbox or another online company. As we’re always reporting in our newsletters, anything you put online is vulnerable to hackers and security breaches. The cloud is no different and several high profile attacks on services like Apple’s iCloud have seen intimate and embarrassing photographs of celebrities leaked onto the public internet.
The end of the tax year is upon us and it’s time to get your tax affairs in order, If you need to work with more sensitive data, such as tax records, financial details or other data that could be used by fraudsters, you should avoid storing it in the cloud. That said, there’s simply no denying that services like OneDrive, that let you access your files from anywhere and automatically back them up, are very convenient. If security ultimately trumps convenience, here are a few other ways you can store and back up your files, without trusting them to the cloud.
Shared folders and file sync programs – Have two or more Windows PCs in your home? If so and if they’re both connected to the internet, you can share files between them. Browse to any folder on your PC and right click on it, then choose the “Sharing” tab and click the “Share” button. A file sharing permissions window will appear.
If you log in with the same username and password on all your PCs, just click “Share” again. Enter your password and/or click “Yes” if Windows User Account Control prompts you to do so. Windows will then say that your folder is shared. To access it from any other PC in your home, just enter the link that’s provided into File Explorer. Usually the link consists of two backward slashes (\\) followed by the computer name then a single slash and the folder name. For example “\\W10-Games\Games” would be the link to the “Games” folder on the “W10-Games” PC. Alternatively, just use the Network icon in the navigation (left hand) pane in File Explorer to browse all available PCs and shared folders. If it sounds complicated, just give it some practise, try sharing a spare folder and see how you get on.
So now you can access one folder from two or more PCs, hardly a substitute for a cloud based service on it’s own, but wait, there’s more. Tools like Goodsync or Syncback SE can help you keep two folders synchronised. This means you can use one folder as your working folder and another as a backup, or perhaps, work on your files while you’re out on the road then synchronise them when you get back home. Not quite as flexible as actually having your files in the cloud, and of course if you lose your laptop while on the road, you lose all your file changes too, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
Network attached storage – The next step up from simply sharing folders on your PCs. At one time these boxes, like the one shown on the left here (if you’re reading the HTML version of the newsletter) were only seen in businesses, but as technology has become more affordable, they can now be found in many homes too. A Network Attached Storage box is basically a mini PC designed simply for storing your files. They usually attach to a spare network port on your router, or perhaps via Wi-Fi, and have space for at least one, usually two or more hard drives. They’re normally easy to set up and once configured, you can access your files from any computer or device in your home. Many NAS boxes have technology that automatically backs up data stored on them, so that it’s recoverable even if one of the hard drives in the device suffers a failure. This makes them a great place for storing your backups.
If you travel outside of your home, you will need to take any files you’re working on with you on your computers hard drive. Once you’re back however, you can send them to the NAS for backup. Not quite as convenient as the instant backup that something like OneDrive offers, but not a bad alternative.
OwnCloud – So you don’t trust the people at Microsoft, Google or other cloud providers, but you still want access to your files anywhere?, in that case, why not roll your own cloud solution with OwnCloud? OwnCloud runs on a PC on your home network, or perhaps one you rented on the internet. Once set up, you can use the OwnCloud app to automatically sync files on your PC to your OwnCloud server. You can also use the apps on iPhone and Android (though sadly not Windows Phone at this time) to access your files from your Smartphone.
If you’re going to go down this route, be prepared for some complicated set up. OwnCloud does not have a Windows server app (though you can synchronise files to your server from your Windows PC using the OwnCloud desktop app) so that means you will need a Linux PC or a compatible Network Attached Storage box. Optimally configuring OwnCloud requires some IT skills, so if you want to go down this route, it might be time to call in a few favours with the family IT geek.
Once you have OwnCloud running, however, it offers quite a bit of flexibility. You can shut it off entirely from the public internet and only synchronise your files when you are at home, or you can (again, possibly with a little help from your favourite IT expert) open your server to the internet allowing you to access your files from anywhere (which of course brings with it a trade off in security).
We’ve been trying out OwnCloud as a means of backing up and synchronising files here at TWT HQ and so far we’ve been quite impressed with the program. It keeps files in-sync nicely between our PCs and is a great place to store files that we either don’t need or dont want to be able to access from the public internet.
That concludes our little tour of cloud storage alternatives. It’s an unfortunate truth that many things in computing come down to a trade off between security and convenience. For instance, having no password on your PC is convenient, but not very secure. Storing files in the cloud can be extremely convenient, more so than any of these alternative solutions. It’s up to you to decide what trade offs to make with your data and of course there’s nothing stopping you storing some files in the cloud and also using the above techniques with other files that you don’t want exposed to the internet.
Windows 10 Creators Update lands this month!
We’ve talked extensively about the new Windows 10 Creators update in our past newsletters. In case you missed it, check out Newsletter issue 42 where we went in-depth with some of the promised features.
Now, the update is finally ready and will start rolling out to users on the 11th April. With so many PCs to update, it may be a while before you’re offered the update, so if you want to jump the gun, Windows Central has a useful article here on how you can make sure to snag the update as soon as it goes public.
We’ll be getting hands on with the update this month and of course publishing updated tutorials where necessary over the course of the next few months.
That concludes our newsletter for April. On behalf of the team here at TWT, I’d like to say thank you to all our readers, new and old for your continued support. If you celebrate Easter, we hope you have a fun time and don’t eat too much chocolate! The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th May 2017 for more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10. We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!