Cloud backup is a third-party service that allows you to store and backup your important data securely online. The difference between cloud backup and cloud storage is that there is an emphasis on backing up a particular drive, computer, or device, to ensure that it can be recovered back to its original state should anything happen (theft, loss, malfunction, etc).
In this guide, we'll explain what cloud backup is, and what to look for in a cloud backup service.
There are dozens of cloud backup services available on the market. These online storage providers usually have custom apps for all popular platforms. This allows their users to back up a range of different drives and devices.
Cloud Backup services usually also allow you to access your backed-up data via a web portal. This ensures that you can always gain access to your backed-up data from anywhere and at any time. In addition, some cloud backup services allow you to recover your data on a hard disk that is delivered rather than via download. Some even provide physical backups to tape (which some individuals or businesses may desire because of their longevity).
What about the cost?
The cost for cloud backup can vary greatly, with some companies offering limited storage space for free. Generally speaking, however, anybody who requires a larger amount of storage will need to pay either a monthly or yearly fee.
It is worth noting that some backup services – such as Apple iCloud – exist exclusively for use on a single platform (in the case of iCloud it is for iOS devices only). However, the vast majority of cloud storage services are cross-compatible and will allow their users to backup and recover data across a variety of devices.
Ultimately, cloud backup services are an integral part of ensuring that data is safe against potential loss due to device malfunction, corrupted disks, cyberattacks, malware, device loss, and theft. Nowadays, they work automatically to back up the data from your device at regular intervals, so that your content is always recoverable – no matter when disaster happens to strike.
Who uses cloud backup services?
Both individuals and businesses use cloud backup services. Consumers usually backup personal information such as app data, messages, photos, videos, important text documents such as PDFs – and anything else that they do not wish to lose long-term.
Some consumers opt to use a backup service that allows them to take a snapshot of their device at a certain point in time. This allows them to recover their device back to that point if they become infected with malware, or fall victim to ransomware.
You can even set up a new device to be exactly the same as your old one – if you lose or break it.
Businesses often choose to pay for cloud storage to protect their employees' work – as well as stored company data, sensitive consumer information, R&D and Intellectual Property, and any data stored on company devices such as computers, NAS drives, servers, etc.
By creating backups, both individuals and businesses ensure that their data is protected against accidental loss or theft. However, depending on the kind of data that is being backed up, businesses or individuals may have different security and privacy requirements, more on this below.
How does cloud backup security differ?
One of the primary differences between the various online cloud backup services available on the market is whether they do or don't provide a zero-knowledge framework.
Most cloud backup services encrypt your data in transit and while at rest on their servers. This ensures that your data is safe against eavesdroppers when it travels over the internet and is secure while stored on the backup servers.
The vast majority of cloud backup services also keep your data in at least two locations, to ensure that your data is safe against server errors or cyberattacks that could cause your data to be lost in one of the storage locations.
However, depending on the type of data that is being backed up, you may want to ensure that you opt for a service that provides a zero-knowledge framework. Check out our guide on cloud back security issues for more information about potential problems with using a cloud backup.
Many cloud backup services opt to retain control over the master key to their customers' encrypted files and folders themselves. This is done to ensure that the customer can recover their data even if they happen to forget their password and want to reset it.
The problem with this kind of server-side encryption is that it theoretically allows the company and its employees to access your data. It also means that the master key for your password must be stored somewhere on company servers, which puts the encryption key at risk of theft by cybercriminals.
Even without hackers to worry about, server-side encryption results in the opportunity for government agencies to serve the storage provider with a warrant that forces them to provide access to your data.
In countries like the US, where the government can also enforce gag orders on companies, this can potentially result in your data being accessed by government snoops without you ever being informed.
This kind of storage is generally fine for non-sensitive data and information. However, it is not suitable for businesses that are backing up sensitive corporate data, or for businesses that control and process consumer data, for example.
Client-side end-to-end encryption
Security and privacy-conscious cloud backup providers allow their users to store their data online within a zero-knowledge framework. This means that all backup data is securely encrypted on the client's computer using a key exclusively controlled by them. This results in the data being stored in an encrypted format that only the end-user can ever gain access to. This type of data security is called end-to-end encryption (E2EE).
Both the advantage and drawback of E2EE are that the user retains complete control over the encryption key to their data.
This means that if they lose or forget their master password, they will not be able to recover their data under any circumstances. This puts a lot more responsibility on the end-user.
The advantage of this kind of encryption is that the backup company can never access the data that is stored on its servers, and it can never provide access to that data to any government agency.
It also means that there are no encryption keys lying around on company servers that could potentially be leaked, accessed by malicious employees, or breached by cybercriminals.
Check out our best-encrypted cloud backup article for more information and a list of the most secure cloud services.
What features must a cloud backup have?
In order for a cloud backup service to be worth its salt, it must be able to back up and sync your data effectively. It must also allow you to access and recover your data at any time of day. However, we have included a list of advanced features below that we consider a staple for any reliable cloud storage provider.
- Apps for all popular platforms with outstanding cross-compatibility
- Automatic, backups and scheduling
- Syncing across devices
- Robust transport layer security
- Encryption for data in transit and at rest (preferably E2EE)
- High availability of data for recovering when you need to
- Scalable storage to meet your backup demands
- File versioning and temporary backups of deleted files
- File preview (and potentially playback for videos and music from the cloud)
- Secure physical data centers (and preferably vendor disaster recovery)
- Data compliance standards (HIPAA, GDPR, etc)
- Technical support
Cloud backup or local backups?
There are several ways to backup your data, the two most commonly used are local and cloud backups. If you are considering which service you should use, check out our cloud backup vs local backup guide if you are still deciding between the two methods.
What are the best cloud backup services?
At ProPrivacy, we favor cloud backup services that provide robust storage and end-to-end encryption. We also prefer completely open source platforms. However, we understand that everybody has different needs. For that reason, we have curated a number of different recommendation lists that you can refer to depending on your needs.
- Sync.com - Our recommended cloud backup service. Offers strong end-to-end encryption, 2 factor authentication, and a 100% online storage option.
- NordLocker - A beginner-friendly cloud backup service. Comes with an easy drag-and-drop file function, superb encryption, and 24/7 live chat support.
- IDrive - The best cheap cloud backup service. It's super user-friendly and jam-packed with features.
- Livedrive - The best value-for-money cloud back up service. It's easy to use on all devices, offers unlimited backup storage, plus a 14-day free trial!
- Tresorit - A very popular cloud backup service. It has a zero-knowledge client, 2 factor authentication, and cross-platform support.
Check out our best cloud backup page for more information about any of the services above.