How to sync files without ever storing your stuff in the Cloud

Most cloud service providers have a homogeneous feature deck about as banal as unflavored shaved iced.

Everyone from the ubiquitous Dropbox to the obscure Shared.com claim to offer secure access and fast setup; however, each cloud provider has one fault:

Your data is stored on a remote server in some data center that you have virtually zero control over.

Yes, you could bolster security by using something such as Cryptsync to scramble your cloud data, but you know I’m not using hyperbole when I say that nothing is safe online.

The NSA spying fiasco unveiled by Edward Snowden demonstrates that the government can use the internet as an ad-hoc surveillance platform to amass whatever data it wants.  Bush galvanized the domestic spying program to monitor suspected terrorists allegedly connected with Al Qaeda; however, millions of innocent American’s were also targeted.

The government was complicit with the telecommunication companies to record the minutia of specific domestic calls.  In addition, according to the Washington Post, the NSA had carte blanche access to at least 1.7 billion emails every single day.

Having your data purloined by the NSA is certainly enough to perk up your ears – but what does this have to do with the cloud?

In the latter half of 2012, Snowden anonymously reached out to an American lawyer and journalist named Glenn Greenwald and said he had sensitive documents that he wanted to share.

Fast forward to May 2014.

About a week ago Greenwald published a book on the Snowden surveillance disclosures.  In his book, titled “No Place to Hide”, Greenwald explicates how data collection from Microsoft’s Skydrive (now OneDrive) was initiated by the NSA.  He goes on to insinuate that Microsoft abetted the government to get the Skydrive data they wanted.

Greenwald says the following:

This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established

This should cause your hair to bristle…

but it doesn’t end here.

The incendiary antics of the NSA actually apply to Google and Yahoo too.

Ultimately, if you want to keep your data safe you need to keep it.

In other words, don’t store your stuff on someone’s cloud server, instead, a judicious move is to use a secure peer-to-peer network to sync your files directly.  Embracing a cloudless sync model obviates the possibility of a cloud host relinquishing your files to the government.  It places control back in your hands and empowers you to protect your assets from prying eyes.

Introducing BitTorrent Sync

There are other cloudless syncing apps out there such as SyncBackPro from 2BrightSparks, Sparkleshare and AeroFS; however, BitTorrent Sync is ascendant; therefore, we’ll use this one.

You may recognize the name as the titular peer-to-peer file sharing app beloved by software pirates worldwide.  Most people don’t realize that BitTorrent is actually a San Francisco based technology firm with a noble mission to build a better internet.  And although millions of people use BitTorrent for illicit purposes; the software itself isn’t illegal.

Sync is just one product amid BitTorrent’s variegated portfolio.

Today I want to show you how easy it is to setup BitTorrent Sync so you can safely circumscribe data to your own system while still synchronizing changes across multiple devices.  Instead of uploading files to a central server such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive and others, BitTorrent Sync provides direct file transfers between sync’d nodes so you completely forego the cloud.

One disadvantage is that all syncs depend on the mercurial internet’s ability to get data to your devices.   So technically an attacker (or NSA employee) could sniff the public internet and intercept your data; however, the encryption is relatively strong so even if someone captured the traffic it would be unintelligible.

In other words, BitTorrent sync uses the BitTorrent protocol to convey traffic; however, since it’s encrypted using your private key it can only be viewed by you (or anyone else who you share your private key).

Another thing I should point out is that your storage capacity is only limited by your devices capacity; therefore, scaling up storage is a simple as purchasing a larger capacity drive.

Closed Source

The other disadvantage with BitTorrent sync is that the program is closed source.

This reminds me of an information security principle known as Security through Obscurity where the security of a system is contingent on the premise that no one can reverse engineer that system.

But to keep BitTorrent sync closed source is pure folly.

People don’t realize that open source code is innately more secure than a close source system.  Why?  Because in the former scenario, you have constellations of developers concurrently identifying and resolving problems from all over the world.  Each programmer brings his or her own expertise to the project and collaborates with other engineers in a transparent fashion.  The concomitant result are less bugs and faster fixes.

I say faster fixes because the open nature of the source code makes it easier to review your peers code.

The bottom line here is that candid collaborate is a catalyst for innovation and companies that embrace the open source methodology thrive.

If BitTorrent wants to garner the trust of the community and burgeon it’ll need to make the code base transparent.

Always on

Finally one other disadvantage is that all your devices need to stay powered on and connected to the internet for this to work.

That being said, I’ve rambled on long enough and I thank you for sticking with my sometimes… er – desultory – comments.

Let me show you how to get started with BitTorrent Sync.

Getting Started

Snatch the Desktop Sync client from the BitTorrent site and and install it on your PC.

Keep the defaults and click Install.

BitTorrent Sync Setup

The installer window may suddenly disappear but should return in a few seconds.

BitTorrent Sync Standard Setup

Agree to the terms, click Standard Setup and move along.

BitTorrent Sync Choose Sync Folder

Go ahead and keep the default Sync folder

BitTorrent Sync Connect Sync Folders

Now we need to copy the secret code (blurred above) to a temporary place because we’ll need to enter it in the BitTorrent Sync client on your other gadgets.

BitTorrent Sync Setup Finished

That’s it!

Syncing stuff with BitTorrent Sync

Now all you have to do is start feeding your Sync folder with the stuff you want to Sync then install the BitTorrent Sync client on your other devices such as your Droid, iPhone, Windows Phone or Kindle.

After getting it on your phone, click the Connect mobile button back on the Desktop client and scan the QR code with your phone.

If the scan fails (it failed for me because my stupid Galaxy S4 couldn’t focus the camera) just manually enter that secret code you generated earlier into the BitTorrent Sync app on your smartphone.

If you forgot the code or lost it on the clipboard just right click the folder you want to share in the Desktop Client and choose Copy Secret.  You can now paste that interminable code into Notepad so you can tap it into your mobile device.

I created a new folder on my mobile device that I reserved for BitTorrent Syncing so I don’t have my digital accouterments sprawled out all over the file system.

BitTorrent Sync on Galaxy S4

After you pick your syncing folder your stuff transfers from your computer to your phone and you’re good to go.

All without the cloud.

Secure and proud you are. (picture me saying that in Yoda’s throaty voice)

BitTorrent Sync on my Galaxy S4

The Bottom Line

Data privacy will become a bigger issue in 2014; in fact, based on my sources I’ve deduced that 2014 will be a monumental year for data privacy.

Wearables, Big Data and Cloud will be pervasive trends; however, data privacy will be a constant concern for us.  That’s why I’m so excited to see companies such as BitTorrent creating free products that give average, ordinary users control of their data.  As you can see, you don’t have to be a geek to get going with BitTorrent Sync.

It’s so easy that I almost didn’t even need to write this little guide but I did… because well I like writing and I want you to have everything you need to stay safe online.

Do you use another cloudless solution to sync your files? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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Posted in Windows, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 Tagged with: , , ,