CrashPlan unable to connect, check your network?

An annoying message at best, particularly when it’s obvious there’s nothing wrong with “your network”. I had this symptom on a Windows XP machine I installed CrashPlan 3.4.1 on last night.

The solution was to uninstall CrashPlan, turn on “Show hidden files and folders” in Folder Options of Windows Explorer (what if this doesn’t work?*) and hunt and delete all “CrashPlan” folders in the “C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data” and “C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings” (hidden) folders.

I then restarted the computer, installed CrashPlan once more, and all was working.

*Bootnote: Turns out some malware had been messing with the registry of that computer and disabled the GUI for “Show hidden files and folders”, rendering it ineffective. I would just tick the box, hit “Apply” and I would still not see the hidden files and folder. A quick scan with Malwarebytes fixed that.

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Store files on Dropbox with privacy

Dropbox is a great and simple tool for storing a little bit of data “in the cloud” for free.

But you should have no expectation of privacy when doing this – we know that government and law enforcement authorities can read your files and are actively doing so. You may choose to make the personal choice that you have nothing to hide, therefore you don’t mind others snooping around your stuff. But if you handle other people’s information in any way (e.g. you work with client data, pupil data, patient data, research data etc), exposing this data to (foreign) government authorities is not really an option you’re authorised to use. You have a duty to protect other people’s data you handle, particularly when you have been trusted to be a safe keeper of their data.

Therefore, if you want to use something like Dropbox while protecting your data, you should:

  1. Install the free TrueCrypt encryption software on your computer
  2. Create a TrueCrypt file container. This will be the file that will contain all sensitive files you need to protect. Let’s call it “private.tc”.
  3. When you open (“mount”) “private.tc” in TrueCrypt it will appear similar to a USB drive on your computer. Anything you save there, will be protected by the TrueCrypt container and will not be readable to others.
  4. Save & close (an operation called “unmount”) your new “private.tc” container.
  5. Now move “private.tc” in your Dropbox folder and wait for it to be uploaded to dropbox.
  6. Congratulations! Now your private data is “in the cloud”, but readable only by you, with the passphrase you setup for your private file container.

How do I backup my family’s data?

Depending on the hassle you’re willing to put up with, you have at least two alternatives:

  • Pay someone to give you space to backup your data to. This is usually referred to as “cloud backup” and the most secure service I’m aware of is SpiderOak. The most commercially attractive (cheap, good deals etc) is CrashPlan Central.
  • An alternative that’s much more labour-intensive (DIY) is to buy a few 1TB external hard drives (they go for £60 a pop nowadays) and give them to your friends/family. Then use CrashPlan to backup to their computers (really, the hard drives you gave them), without paying any usage charges to CrashPlan.