The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

30Jul/154

Making the Best of Amazon Cloud Drive – Mapped Drive – Encryption – Speed

Amazon Cloud Drive recently relaunched with an enticing offer: unlimited storage in the cloud for $59/year.  Imagine a world in which you never run out of disk space to store photos, video, backups, etc.!  And where you never have to worry about drive failures, or backups, because they back everything up for you!

Sounds great, right?  Certainly a much better deal than you'd get with Amazon's S3 or DropBox or most of the other major players.  But, the devil is in the details...  and Amazon has made sure to this offering of theirs isn't going to break them financially.

The Amazon Cloud Drive software they provide is effectively useless.  They removed the previously available sync feature, presumably in an effort to discourage users from actually using their service.  And it is woefully weak in terms of basic capabilities.  You can drag and drop to upload (but no ability to choose a remote folder) and if you want to view or navigate your files you click a link in the app and it opens up a browser window and you have to use a very crude web interface.  There's just something so sad about software engineered purposely to discourage user's receiving maximum benefit of a service.

Fortunately there is a way around this pain point.  Amazon has made available an API that software vendors have used to allow you to map a network/local drive to an Amazon Cloud Drive.  The best products for these that I have tested are NetDrive2 (PC) and ExpanDrive (PC/Mac).  Using these products makes your Amazon Cloud Drive just like a locally attached hard drive, only much, much slower.  Amazon throttles your upload and download speed to the service, so uploads work at about 1 MB/s and downloads are at about 10 MB/s.  This limitation pretty much guarantees that they don't have to worry about you over-using their service.  To upload 1 TB it'll take you at least 12 days, assuming no errors, hiccups, problems; I've had enough trouble (timeouts, errors, etc.) transferring mere gigabytes that my primary hope of the service, freeing up local external drives by transferring the long term backups they contain to my Amazon Cloud Drive is probably not going to happen.  I can't really blame them for crippling the service in an effort to be profitable, but it does annoy me a little bit.

Beyond their crippled software and their transfer throttling, a much more serious issue exists...  Data security.  Now there are two main concerns here: integrity and privacy.  Personally, within this context, I am not worried about integrity as I would never transfer to a cloud drive like this anything which I do not also have on at least one local drive (with the exception of older system backups or files which I would not really mind losing).  Amazon Cloud Drive claims (vaguely) that they backup your data, but they provide no real details, so I cannot trust it.  But what does worry me quite a bit is privacy.  We are never more than a few weeks away from major news stories disclosing that yet another big company has had its users' data stolen.  Given that only a username and password is needed to access your Amazon Cloud Drive files, and that you do not keep encryption keys locally on your computer, I would never consider Amazon Cloud Drive a secure solution.  That said, it can still be useful as long as you never upload any files containing personal data without first separately encrypting them (using some other encryption solution).  Intriguingly I found a genius solution to this general problem.  Cryptomator sits atop your cloud drive (as its own mapped drive) and adds encryption to both the files and the file names/directory structure you create within it.  Sadly, for Amazon Cloud Drive users, it was designed with syncing cloud solutions in mind, such as Google Drive, and not Amazon Cloud Drive.  Because it expects to operate on local files which are later synced to the cloud it performs file operations directly on the files where they sit (for encryption/decryption) which seem to involve i/o commands not supported by the mapped cloud drives (I tested this in both NetDrive2 and ExpanDrive).  I have talked to the developer and may try to patch their code to see if merely making the file operations take place on a true local drive might not fix the issue.  You could use Cryptomator as you would a syncing drive service, but that means that you would need at least one extra local copy of all the content you wish to ultimately send to your Amazon Cloud Drive, and then you'd also need to sync that content in an automated way (using something like Good Sync, which I use for other things) , and that's not a viable or acceptable solution for me.  For now at least the only option is to use other products to encrypt your personal files before uploading.

So, my ultimate conclusion is that for $59/year Amazon Cloud Drive when used with NetDrive and acknowledging its serious limitations, is worth it, but only a little more than just.  I would be much happier paying $199/year for a non-crippled, effectively unlimited, and truly secure solution.

^Q