Guide to Protecting your Data against Loss and Theft

Dr Pepper - What's the worst that could happen
Could you imagine what it would be like if you lost either your personal laptop or even your company’s laptop? Like our mobile phones, they contain pretty much everything about us and help us to go about our daily lives in a carefree way.

We’re told we need to make up ever more creative passwords to protect our information online, but who can remember those overly complex passwords anyway? Evidently, as passwords become more and more complicated, there becomes an ever greater need to rely on the web browser to remember them for us.

There are even software applications such as keepass and lastpass which enable you to store all of your passwords. The issue is, that although this will help you to use ever more complicated passwords across devices, it doesn’t help when somebody gets access to your computer directly and not through the Internet.

You know what! What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Laptop theft is a big issue with a number of surveys reported in the linked Wikipedia article which no longer exist, which suggested that the average theft of a laptop cost a company between $31,975 and $49,256 and that around 7.1% of employee laptops were lost or stolen before the end of their usefulness lifespan.

My own personal laptop was stolen at the beginning of September 2014 which in part is why they blog post came about. In all honesty, I have no idea what monetary value I have lost beyond the cost of replacing a laptop of course. There was around 3 years’ worth of data stored on the laptop with old backups of websites and SEO and link building related data I had built up over that period of time. Stupidly I had never thought to save any of this to Dropbox or even to back things up in any other way.

It was like being in a Dr Pepper advert – “What’s the worst that could happen” (Don’t remember the adverts? Here are some videos I found on YouTube – video 1, video 2, video 3). Inadvertently the worst that could happen was to have my laptop stolen along with everything I’d ever worked on during the lifetime of the laptop…

So anyway, there are a number of things which you should be looking at doing moving forwards to help not only safeguard the information on your laptop, but also to potentially help track down where your laptop may be. I should add with regards to this last point, “Track down your laptop”. I have read stories where by even with this data, the Police are unlikely to go looking for it, for you. It would seem that the law is very much on the side of the criminals. So beyond knocking on doors and confronting people about the where abouts of your laptop. It is still highly unlikely you would be reunited with your property.

Of course I could be wrong, the Police may be more willing than I give them credit for, but until it happens again (of course hopefully it wont) and I need to use my chosen software. I’ll find out just how willing they are to lend a hand tracking down the lovely people who have taken my laptop in as their own…

Reuniting yourself with your Stolen or Lost Laptop

With the data above suggesting that around 7% of company laptops are lost or stolen, the chances of these being found again are likely slim. One of the questions asked by the Police was “Do you have CCTV and are there any finger prints”. Now the first one was an easy and unfortunate one to answer – No. The second question was a little stranger, because short of going round with a bag of flour and my “My First Detective Kit” to dust down the house for clues and finger prints. I’d pretty much lost faith in their willingness to give a damn…

There is software available which claims to help reunite you with your stolen laptop, by way of sending signals such as emails and SMS text messages to you. But the main issue comes down to the willingness of the police to go on the hunt for your device. I suspect that even if you could narrow it down to a street or even a house. They would be unlikely or unwilling to get a search warrant to search the property.

So ignoring the fact that you’re highly unlikely to be reunited with your laptop, of course unless you’re willing to take your chances confronting people at their doorstep. The following software will at least give you some sense of security knowing that should the worst happen, you can press the “Nuke” button and have it attempt to delete all of your files preventing the thief or whoever now has your laptop from being able to access all of your files.

However there is of course an issue with the anti-theft software itself being used maliciously to delete all of your files. So beware of the solution you use and of course, ensure you’re backing up all of your important files.

Laptop Tracking Software Solutions

Prey

  • Free Version
  • From $5 a month (10% annual discount)
  • Available for; Windows, Mac Linux, Ubuntu, Android and iOS

Prey offers a free version of the software in which you get the same functionality as the paid accounts. The only difference being the number of reports you’re able to receive about your device. However, I guess the most important element of this will be the peace of mind knowing that you’re able to delete all of your files on the computer.

Although Prey along with some of the others in this list have listed instances where they have helped to recover stolen laptops. I hold out little hope of this happening and consider the action of being able to safely and securely delete all files as being the main reason for using such software. Everything else is a bonus…

You can find out more about Prey here

Absolute LoJack

  • From $39.99 a year
  • Available for; Windows, Mac and Android

The above price is for the standard software which will enable you to track and trace your laptop (should it connect to the Internet, as well as lock or even delete all of your files. Interestingly, they also offer an additional guarantee whereby they will help with the price of the replacement of your laptop for a small additional fee. This alone suggests that they’re pretty confident that should the laptop ever be used and find its way online. They will be able to locate the laptop for you and help with its recovery.

You can find out more about Absolute LoJack here

Front Door Software

  • Free – No geo-location tracking
  • $29.95 (for 3 years) – Geo-location feature using Google Maps
  • Available for; Windows, Mac, Android and iOS

This has similar features to LoJack, except for the software makes the case for a less subtle approach to getting your laptop recovered. Rather than covertly recording details, they take the approach of making it “in your face”. Evidently, I’m not sure if this would help or not, but it does provide another option.

Gadget Trak

  • $19.95 a year
  • Available for; Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and BlackBerry

This offers similar functionality to LoJack, but for half the price! Of course I haven’t tested either of these solutions, so I have no idea which would be the better one should the worse happen.
Everything that happens on the computer after you have reported it stolen is collected together, from your laptops webcam taking photos, to copies of images and network information being sent to you to aid the Police if they do evidently decide to help you with the evidence you’re able to collect together.

You can find out more about GadgetTrak here

My Device Tracker

  • $29.95 a year
  • Available for; Windows, Mac, iPhone and USB storage devices

Similar to LoJack once again, accept for the addition of ‘remote data retrieval’. So rather than simply regret never backing anything up. You can actually recover the data from the stolen laptop. Of course this would mean that they have access to this whilst you recovered it, so you would need to weigh up how important this information was to you, against somebody else having access to it.

You can find out more about My Device Tracker here

Lock It Tight

  • Free Version
  • From $1.99 a month (remove tray icon + additional features)
  • Available for; Windows and Android

The website could possibly do with some improvement, but overall what they say they have to offer looks very much like LoJack and similar products shown here already. Similar to Prey, they offer a free version which omits some of the necessary features, such as the ability to hide the software, whereas this actually shows it up in the system tray which isn’t a great start.

Anybody with any sense would see this and ensure it stays offline until the software was able to be removed. So this is an unfortunate feature which is quite obviously there to give people the chance to install and test the software, with the knowledge that they will likely upgrade. Of course no issue with this, but I think it would have been better if they didn’t make it so obvious the device was protected.

You can find out more about Lock It Tight here

Conclusion

There are many more solutions out there beyond what I have suggested here. Evidently just like car insurance, you never really know what you’re paying for (unless you take the free options), until you try and make use of them. So evidently it comes down to peace of mind more than anything. Knowing you have something in place should the worst happen is probably something for which you either want for free, or would be happy paying out for.

Once you make your choice about whether to go free or paid, it’s simply a case of seeing which solution looks most promising to you. There is no reason why you couldn’t use both a free option such as Prey alongside one of the paid options. Or even pay for Prey Pro so you have the reassurance of being able to access more reports, which could be important if you device was being moved around a lot. Such as a thief attempting to sell it to various people, moving from location to location.

As discussed, these are some interesting ways of attempting to find and locate your laptop, or even cause a thief some grief. But what this doesn’t do is replace what is most valuable to us. It’s crazy to think that we’re often most concerned with backing up our websites, than we are our laptops. I’m probably just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to this. As so, you’re going to need to ensure that you’re keep backups of your most important information, so here comes part two of this blog post…

Backing Up Your Hard Drive

Even in the not too distant past, doing this would either involve using dozens of CDRs, DVDRs or USB drives. Now from personal experience over the years, this usually meant spending vast amounts of time burning CDs and storing them somewhere safe. Larger capacity hard drives became more affordable meaning that you could now potentially backup your entire hard drive. However, who has the time to sit and sync dozens, maybe even hundreds and potentially thousands of files through USB?

For the past few years now, the buzzword on the Internet has been about the “cloud”, your files saved from anywhere, accessible anywhere. At least that’s what they say anyway. Dropbox is one of the main and possibly most well-known of the cloud backup services but there are many more, some of which offer far more generous amounts of storage space than Dropbox. You may already use Dropbox and have heard about their troubles.

Below is a list of different providers of cloud storage services available to both PC and Mac users. I haven’t included Apples iCloud since I do not use a Mac at home or at work, so I have only included software and solutions which would be useful to me and other PC users, as well as Mac users.

Self-Hosted Cloud Storage

Previously, the idea of self-storage would have been to boot up your trusty FTP client such as filezilla and physically begin the process of uploading files to your own web server to keep them backed up for use later on. However with the expectation and simplicity of remote backups being synced automatically, simply by dragging files into a folder on your computer. It wasn’t going to be too long before the open source crowd would get involved with this and help to create a suitable solution.

If you consider that Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and Apple all have complete control of your data once it’s synced into the cloud. You are of course then reliant on their goodwill to ensure that things are kept safe and secure, as well as ensuring that there won’t be any hefty price hikes or removal of free services like what happened with Google Apps for Business.

There are many reasons for going it alone and creating your own cloud storage, such as being more in control of the costs of the storage solution, having better control of your own data and not being restricted by certain conditions of the cloud hosting solution.

So what are your options?

I haven’t tested these out yet, but in the coming weeks I plan to have a play with them all when I have some more free time to see what works best. Likewise, if this is something you plan to steer towards rather than the commercial solutions. Then I guess you would be well advised to install and test them for yourself as everyone’s needs and expectations will be different.

ownCloud

Available for; Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS

This was the first of all the open source cloud solutions I came across. Previously I hadn’t given it much thought and was happy to use Dropbox (limitedly) for file syncing. But this is definitely something which I intend to have a play with. This appears on the face of it to offer similar functionality as Dropbox with file syncing and sharing, team collaboration and mobile access.

You can find out more about ownCloud here

Seafile

Available for; Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS,

Seafile appears to offer the same sort of functionality as ownCloud with file syncing and sharing, team collaboration and mobile access amongst other things. I think Dropbox has pretty much set the bar in what is expected of cloud storage solutions, so it’s to be expected that the open source solutions are attempting to offer the same sort of functionality.

You can find out more about Seafile here

Pydio (formally known as AjaXplorer)

Available for; Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. Linux not yet supported

Once again we have the same sort of thing going on here as ownCloud and Seafile. So you get the file syncing and the ability to access your files on any computer and mobile device. They claim to have had 550’000 downloads of their previous software, AjaXplorer (Sept. 2013), so there must have been something worthwhile going on here for that number of people to have tried the software.

You can find out more about Pydio here

SparkleShare

Available for; Windows, Mac and Linux

SparkleShare is a little different to the first two in that it opening admits on their homepage that they’re great for files and images, especially where a team of people may be working on the same group of files, so there is the potential to keep copies of file revisions to be able to revert back to any given point. However where this may not be so useful is in that they do admit that this isn’t a solution for those (like me) who would want to do large scale backups. So I probably won’t be trying this myself but it could possibly be something that ticks your own boxes.

You can find out more about SparkleShare here

What if you want to share without the cloud?

Now there are also times when you may want to be able to share directly between devices, be it backing up files from an old laptop to your new laptop. Maybe you have a desktop PC for work and a more portable solution for going to client meetings for example. This would either involve backing up files on to USB or similar and then copying them to the laptop and vice versa, or having to sync everything to the cloud, then to download these files again. This can evidently be quite time consuming.

In fact using Dropbox for this exact reason is potentially one of its most annoying features when you want to quickly share large files such as website backups or website files, because you have to wait for all the files to sync online before being able to share them with somebody else. This is especially annoying if you want to do this quickly, so by cutting out the middle man (or cloud service in this case), you could potentially sync files much quicker.

BitTorrent Sync

Available for; Windows, Mac, Linux, Free BSD, Android, iOS, Windows Mobile and Kindle Fire

Now I’m sure the mere mention of BitTorrent has you imagining the negative side of the word associated with illegal file sharing. But BitTorrent is and always was designed for making it easier to share files with no real emphasis on any illegal activity.
Their own website has the strapline “Share anything you want… Share directly from device to device. No cloud. No limits.” So that pretty much sums up what this is, a P2P client between two devices.

You can find out more about BitTorrent Sync here

Syncthing

Available for; Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD and Solaris

The easy way to describe this would be to copy and paste the above about being able to share between two devices. On the face of it, it appears to do the same job as BitTorrent Sync so once again, you’re not reliant on a cloud service, but that a commercial one like Dropbox or your own hosted solution like ownCloud.

You can find out more about Syncthing here

Commercial Cloud Hosting

I thought I would leave this until after exploring the various self-hosted and open source options. The reason being is that most people will never have heard of them unlike the commercial options and I think they need a little more exposure than their commercial cousins.
I’ve decided to orders these based on the amount of free hosting space they are providing rather than in any particular order of what you may have heard of previously. This does evidently mean that the most well-known of the cloud storage solutions, Dropbox, finds itself some way down the list.

Mega.co.nz

50GB Free

Those who remember the heady days of sites such as Megaupload, will know all too well how that played out. Kim Dotcom (real name, he changed it a few years back) has come back with an all new venture which is supposedly going to keep him on the right side of the law this time around.
With a quite remarkable 50GB of free storage, there are bound to be more than a few people willing to give this a go.

You can find out more about Mega.co.nz here

FireDrive

20GB Free

Strangely as soon as you land on the website, you’re presented with the control panel. There is even an option to “signup later” if you want to store files anonymously. This however does pose an issue as the login will be stored as a cookie on your computer meaning there is the potential to lose access to the account and files should you delete or lose that cookie information.

You can find out more about FireDrive here

Google Drive

15GB Free

Everyone should have heard of Google Drive by now, the same infrastructure as Google Docs. One thing that does need to be made clear is that your email and drive allocation are all in one. So if you have a busy inbox, this will eat into your available drive space. So you may well be well advised to create a new account for drive.

You can find out more about Google Drive here

OneDrive (Microsoft)

15GB Free

Microsoft has been offering cloud storage for some time now, but has at some pointed re-branded their SkyDrive to OneDrive. Similar type of service by the look of things, as you’ll still need to use your Hotmail / live email address to access the service.

You can find out more about OneDrive here

Copy.com

15GB Free

There’s going to be many people who are not happy with sharing their files with Google and Microsoft, so it’s good to see there is an alternative out there offering similar options in relation to the amount of free storage space. They’re owned by barracuda.com.

You can find out more about Copy.com here

Syncplicity.com

10GB Free

More of the same really, they’re offering a generous 10GB free, so not as much as the above solutions, but another option none the less.

You can find out more about Syncplicity.com here

Yandex Disk

10GB Free

Not really a great deal of information on their website about this. But they do appear to be selling this more at Mobile and Tablet users as a way of auto-backing up their photos. It is also available for Windows, Mac and Linux too, but they are clearly hoping to take a slice of the market from people who use Facebook and Instagram to store their photos.

You can find out more about Yandex Disk here

Box.com

10GB (with 250mb upload limit) Free

Although 10GB is a very useable amount of space, the upload limit may be of concern to some people. For most, 250mb files will be more of an exception than the norm unless of course you’re into video editing and so forth. So this may not be of too much of a concern.

You can find out more about Box.com here

Cubby

5GB Free

Cubby is a cloud solution by LogMeIn, so already a well-known brand. They also have a “handy” comparison chart on their website, but somebody should tell them that it’s somewhat out of date. “SkyDrive”, now called OneDrive offers 15GB free, not 7GB and Google Drive offers 15GB, not 5GB as suggested. They also claim to offer 25GB, but in actual fact much like with Dropbox, you need to spend time getting people signed up for their service to get anywhere near that 25GB storage offering.

You can find out more about Cubby here

Ge.tt

2GB Free

No real information on this beyond a suggestion to “Start by dropping some files on this page”. They do however suggest that by signing up, you get 2GB of storage space. There is also a “Ge.tt at a glance” counter showing the total number of files being shared which was slowly going up whilst I was on the page. Currently 41,602,098 and 3,229,064.

You can find out more about Ge.tt here

Dropbox

2GB Free

Nothing much needs to be said about Dropbox, they’re basically one of the first companies to come to mind when you’re thinking about cloud file hosting. So I guess if you haven’t heard of them, or know anything about them. You should follow the link below…

You can find out more about Dropbox here

Tonido

2GB Free

The free account is quite restricted in what you can do, so may not be the Dropbox alternative they had set out to try and be. They also offer a self-hosted software, but this isn’t open source and will work out quite costly. So definitely an Enterprise solution, rather than a personal or small business solution to replacing Dropbox.

You can find out more about Tonido here

TeamDrive

2GB Free

They’re billing themselves on being safe and secure which is fine because this is what we’re all looking for with these types of solutions. However the main issue with this is that they’re only as secure as the password used to access them. So evidently, you still need to ensure you’re using secure passwords.

You can find out more about TeamDrive here

OwnDrive

1GB

This is by far the lowest amount available for free, but it does have an added benefit of syncing with other cloud file hosting providers such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Web Services and Open Stack. I’m not fully sure about what exactly they offer here, whether it is meant to enable you to quickly share your old files with their hosting quickly and easily which sounds useful. But the 1GB free option isn’t a great deal compared to other, more well-known solutions.

You can find out more about OwnDrive here

Conclusion

Of course there are many more options out there and I haven’t tested any of these (except for Dropbox) so I cannot tell you which service will be best suited to you. But there are definitely plenty of services available for those who want something different to Dropbox, or possibly do not want their files hosted by Google and Microsoft for example.

If you’re happy for your files to be sat on Mega’s servers, then they offer an incredible amount of free storage. So this is bound to be welcomed by many people. Even if you’re unsure about the future of Mega, you could potentially use it as an overall backup solution to work in tandem with another service for weekly or monthly backups in case the worst should happen.

Then there are the services such as FireDrive and Ge.tt which offer the quick and easy file sharing service, much like a P2P service such as BitTorrent Sync, but without the necessity of having both computers available for syncing at the same time. If you’re not so bothered about hosting the files as you are about sharing, then these solutions could potentially be very beneficial to you.

Overall, it simply comes down to what you want from a cloud file hosting service, lots of space? A name you can trust? Or a cheap upgrade path should you choose to move onto a premium plan for the additional space in the future. So evidently, there is never going to be a right or wrong solution, just the one that works best for you!

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