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SpiderOak: Encrypted Zero-Knowledge Cloud Storage With Drawbacks

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By William Peacock, Esq. on June 27, 2013 12:55 PM

Companies get hacked. Or receive data requests from the NSA. Or scan your data for purposes of displaying relative advertising. It's all bad.

These scenarios are all even more problematic for lawyers with sensitive client information. The solution, it seems, is a heavily encrypted, zero-knowledge cloud storage system, such as SpiderOak.

Encryption scrambles the data so that only a computer or mobile device with a key can access it. Zero-knowledge means that the cloud storage provider cannot access your data. All they see is scrambled gibberish. It also means that should they be hacked, subpoenaed, or otherwise probed, your data is as safe as technologically possible.

Love It

Encryption. DropBox, the most popular free cloud storage provider, lacks zero-knowledge and encryption features, though third-party tools are available that can add that layer of security. SpiderOak, on the other hand, provides industry-leading security at a free price (for 2GB of space).

Backup and Sync. Let’s say you want to back up files from your laptop, but don’t want them to auto-sync to all of your devices. This can do that. It can also backup folder-by-folder. Conversely, most other services require everything to be stored in one specific place. While SpiderOak does have such a folder (called the Hive), that folder is for auto-syncing files.

In practice, that means your frequently accessed files, such as spreadsheets or case notes, can be auto-synced via the hive, while archived files, such as former clients’ folders, can be backed up online without having them clog storage space on all of your devices.

Loathe It

It’s dreadfully slow. The tradeoff for security is that the files have to be encrypted and transferred via secure connections. Instead of instantly opening files, it takes a few minutes to upload and download.

Speaking of download times, it’s been twenty minutes and the Android app still can’t download a small, one megabyte PDF document file. It tries for a long time, then gives up. The app also had sign-in errors. So far, in limited testing, the app has basically been unusable.

Finally, in an effort to make the app more robust, with more features than their competitors, SpiderOak has made it a bit too complex. As a geek, it took a few minutes to figure out. For your average lawyer-user, it’s going to take a lot longer.

Verdict

Pass, for now. It’s a great concept, and a much needed niche, but its complexity and unreliable app would make it more of a frustration than a usable tool for most people. We’ll keep an eye on it in the future, as it holds great promise.

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