Tools: CrashPlan – offsite backup for everyone made simple

Probably the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from the loss of a computer is to back up your data, but many (if not most) people still don’t have an adequate plan of action for when their system gives up the ghost. In this article, I’ll describe the use of Code42’s CrashPlan for the management of personal backups.

Why CrashPlan?

I use CrashPlan because it’s versatile. The options of local backup, offsite backup to a trusted computer, and offsite backup to the cloud are more than redundant enough for most home users’ needs, and offers a good mix of choices between speed, security, and accessibility.

It’s certainly possible, using a little bit of Task Scheduler or Automator or cron knowledge and one of any number of available cloud services, to maintain an active backup system on an external USB drive that is also synchronized as all or part of your Dropbox or Box or Tresorit structure, and for users that have the required knowledge to maintain such a system I completely endorse it. However, most day-to-day users lack either the skills or the confidence or both to have that be a viable solution; troubleshooting a broken task or crontab file is beyond most users’ abilities and frankly beyond their desire to learn. CrashPlan addresses this as well, with installers for Windows, OS X, and Linux that require only simple configuration; an end-user managing their own computer should be able to handle the installation themselves and shouldn’t need to worry about a scheduled task breaking (or that they’re accidentally set their backup to run once until completion, then never again).

The other reason I use CrashPlan is because it’s inexpensive. The cloud option has a cost, but offers unlimited encrypted storage (as compared to most cloud services, which have relatively small free limits and relatively expensive per-gigabyte paid plans), and the CrashPlan client software also provides for free local and offsite backups using either USB drives or trusted computers that also run the client. You still have to have a CrashPlan account, but you don’t have to have an active subscription.

Why Not CrashPlan?

As good as the service is, if you’re a security-conscious individual you may want to avoid CrashPlan’s offering. While they do use a secure encryption method, they also escrow the decryption keys on their servers – meaning that administrators could reset your password and decrypt your files if requested. This structure is intended to help with their web and mobile application restore options, and can be supplemented with an additional user-generated password, but that mitigation is only available to paid accounts.

Summary

The CrashPlan tool is really good, and there’s a lot more information about it available on their site. Recommended for all but the most security-conscious home users.

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