August 30, 2010 by David K. Sutton
Dropbox and TrueCrypt: Sync your data securely
If you haven’t heard of Dropbox, it’s a cloud based file syncing service. You get 2GB of storage for free that you can use as you want. You simply install the Dropbox client on your computer and drop some files into the Dropbox folder, which by default is located under My Documents in Windows but you can specify a different location if you wish. In the background those files will sync up to your online Dropbox storage. It gets even better! Install the Dropbox client on multiple computers and now those same files will be in sync on all computers as well as your online Dropbox storage. Not only do you have easy and convenient access to your files from any computer (or mobile device like iPhone, Droid, etc.) but you also have multiple backup copies on each computer you installed the client on. Plus, if you make changes to files Dropbox has file versioning. Simple right-click a file and choose Dropbox | View Previous Versions. You will then be taken to your account via web browser where you can then select which version of the file you want restored. Want more space than the 2GB you get for free? You can add 250MB for each person you refer to Dropbox (assuming they sign up) for a maximum of 8GB. They offer pay options for more space as well. Dropbox isn’t likely going to be a total online (cloud) backup solution unless you don’t have a ton of data, but the sync convenience makes it easy to have universal access to your most commonly used files.
TrueCrypt is a free open-source disk encryption software that can work on Windows 7, Vista, XP and also on Mac OS X and Linux. You can encrypt an entire drive (internal, external, USB stick) or you can create an “encrypted file container” that is simply an encrypted file on an existing disk that can be mounted as a virtual drive. The configuration scenarios and options are really too numerous to go into detail here, so I suggest heading over to TrueCrypt’s website www.truecrypt.org to get a better understanding of all that you can do with TrueCrypt. What can say is that TrueCrypt is an excellent free option for securing sensitive data. You can choose to encrypt all drives on all computers or you could simply choose to encrypt your external storage drives that you might carry around with you in case you were to lose them. But the real focus of this blog post is using TrueCrypt together with Dropbox so that you can both secure your sensitive data and have access to it from any computer.
So, you have some sensitive data, it might be a password list program or file, it might be financial spreadsheets, or you might just be looking to protect your intellectual property. Whatever it is that you want to protect, TrueCrypt is a great option to keep it protected. But what if you want to be able to access this sensitive data from any computer? Of course you could carry a USB stick or small external hard drive with you and this drive could be encrypted with TrueCrypt. But what if you don’t want to carry a drive with you and instead you would like to access your data from the cloud? The first concern might be the security of your data. Dropbox is indeed a great option for cloud storage and in fact they do use encryption. But maybe you still aren’t comfortable with the security of your data with an online storage provider like Dropbox. That’s where TrueCrypt comes in. Simply create an encrypted file container with TrueCrypt. It could be 20MB or 200MB (or even larger). Drop that encrypted volume in your Dropbox folder and now it will sync with the Dropbox service and any other computers which have the Dropbox client. Run TrueCrypt, point it to the encrypted file container on the local Dropbox folder, choose a drive letter, click Mount and supply your password and now you have a virtual drive where you can store your sensitive data. When you are finished, Dismount the virtual drive and then Dropbox will sync the entire encrypted file container in the background to the Dropbox service and then any other computers that have the Dropbox client installed. TrueCrypt’s beginners tutorial is a great place to start to get a better understanding of how encrypted file containers work…
In addition to the tutorial, they offer very extensive documentation on all of TrueCrypt’s features. I currently have a 20MB encrypted file container in my Dropbox folder that I use to store a financial spreadsheet as well as some other sensitive files. It works perfectly every time and I really like the fact that I have numerous backup copies of this file because I have the Dropbox client installed on 5 different computers, each one containing it’s on local copy of the file. Even if there was a hiccup somewhere a long the way that required me to restore an older copy of my encrypted file container, I can simply right-click on that file in my Dropbox folder, choose Dropbox | View Previous Versions and then select a previous version and restore it. And if you do a backup of you computer(s) (as everybody should) then you have yet another copy there as well!
The combination of Dropbox and TrueCrypt will allow you to securely encrypt your data, make your data more redundant, and provide more convenient access to your data from any computer with an internet connection.