Conscious about my online privacy, I have been slowly reducing my reliance on huge tech companies like Google. I have realised that I don’t have to rely on products and companies who use my data for their benefits, even if they benefit me.
While a few years ago there weren’t many decent alternatives to products like Google’s search, cloud, map etc. products, there are many options now. There’s no reason for us to continue being a product in order to get free or inexpensive services. There are companies — big and small — offering different competitive products that respect our digital privacy.
In previous articles, I have talked about privacy-focused VPNs, building your own cloud storage with NextCloud, and some ways to help you protect your online privacy. In this article, I want to list some cloud storage services that offer zero-knowledge end-to-end encryption. These cloud services will help you ditch other popular services like Google Drive, DropBox, and OneDrive that are not particularly famous for protecting user privacy.
Note that the scope of this article is not to explain what zero-knowledge end-to-end encryption means. But if you have to know in short, ‘zero-knowledge’ means the cloud company has no access to your encryption key or data, meaning they can’t see your data. End-to-end encryption means your data is encrypted ‘before’ it leaves your device (client-side encryption) as well as on the server-side. You may want to refer to this article on Lifewire to learn more about end-to-end encryption.
Also note that the goal of this article is not to list ‘free’ cloud storage. I believe data privacy is worth paying for and if free storage is your goal, this article won’t help you much with that.
Cloud Storages with Zero-knowledge End-to-end Encryption
When I think of a trustable company that offers zero-knowledge encrypted cloud storage, Switzerland-based Tresorit comes on top. Although there are plenty of services that promise this type of secure cloud storage, Tresorit leads the pact.
Tresorit is mainly aimed at businesses that are looking for secure cloud storage for multiple users but the service is available for individuals, too. The company provides synchronisation, sharing, and collaboration features on top of a cloud storage with in-house encryption. Same business-class cloud storage and other features are available for individual users, too.
The cloud storage offered by Tresorit is GDPR and HIPAA compliant and is governed by Swiss laws. Business and enterprise users can choose data residency in Switzerland, some locations in the EU, Canada or the US. Tresorit lets users keep their folder structure as it is and offers selective sync instead of syncing all folders and files to a device. Other files are still accessible without them to be stored locally.
Tresorit can be used on up to 10 devices (limited to 5 for ‘personal’ plan) and it offers native apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux in addition to the web interface. The cloud service has a clean interface on all platforms which is easy to get used to. Files and folders can be quickly shared with custom permissions and password protection. Unlimited file versioning and restoring makes it easy to recover a file if needed.
Tresorit’s individual plans start at 8.33 Euros per month for 200GB or 20 Euros per month for 2TB storage, if paid annually. Users can try any Tresorit plan free for 14 days or user their free storage and sharing for up to 5GB. Unless you are logged onto more than one device, there’s no way to recover a forgotten Tresorit password. You can still ‘recover’ your account but will lose all data stored on cloud. Two-factor authentication is supported.
At its price, Tresorit is indeed more expensive than other cloud storages with zero-knowledge end-to-end encryption. But if you put the privacy of your data on top of your priority, Tresorit is worth paying for.
With data privacy at its core, Tresorit is extremely fast and reliable cloud storage for business and personal users. Tresorit has everything it takes to become a replacement for services like Google Drive, Google Photos, Dropbox, iCloud, and OneDrive.
I would like Tresorit to offer a lifetime plan and remove the 10GB per file limit. It will also be great to see Tresorit’s prices become more affordable for individuals.
Based in Canada, Sync is a less expensive option to Tresorit that offers storage, synchronization, sharing, and collaboration with zero-knowledge e2e encryption.
Sync is GDPR, PIPEDA, and HIPAA compliant, although their free and Mini plans are not HIPAA compliant. Unlike Tresorit, users of Sync (and all other services mentioned below) do not have an option to choose data residency. Sync stores all data in Canada.
Sync does not limit the file size or impose transfer limits. This is a relief for users who work with very large files. To avoid reupload of files, Sync supports file-level de-duplication which works even when files are renamed.
Sync’s Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android apps are fast and easy to use. Linux users will have to stick to the web interface as there’s no native app yet, although it’s on their ‘long-term’ roadmap. Up to 5 devices can be connected to a single Sync account.
In addition to a free plan that offers 5GB storage with restricted feature-set, there are different plans for individuals, teams, and enterprises. Sync’s Personal Mini plan is the least expensive plan that offers 200GB storage for $60 if paid annually. By paying $36 extra, you can get their Pro Solo Basic plan with huge 2TB storage. These plan go all the way up to 4TB for individuals and 10TB for teams.
$96 for 2TB storage with zero-knowledge encryption is a great value for money, especially when compared to Tresorit. Sync users can opt for email-based password recovery or password hints. The password can also be recovered by using Sync’s desktop app. Accounts can be setup with two-factor authentication.
Individuals and professionals would love Sync’s huge storage and fast transfer speeds on top of end-to-end encryption. Its speed, ease of use, and affordable plans make Sync a good alternative to all other established cloud services.
I would like to see a lifetime plan and auto backup improvements in Sync’s apps.
Another Switzerland-based cloud storage that offers storage, sync, sharing, and collaboration features. Unlike other cloud storages in this list, pCloud does not offer end-to-end encryption out-of-the-box. To take advantage of end-to-end encryption, users can optionally purchase pCloud Crypto. Without pCloud Crypto, your data is encrypted server-side as with the likes of Google Drive and DropBox.
pCloud allows users to easily share files with others. In addition to regular cloud folder, paid users can turn on a public folder which can be used to host files that you would like to share erm… publicly. You can also create branded links — something professionals would like to use to showcase their work.
While Tresorit limits individual file size to 10GB, pCloud does not have any limit on file size or download/upload speeds. Files versions and trash, however, are limited to 15 days for free and 30 days for paid users.
pCloud offers apps for all major desktop and mobile operating systems. It also has add-ons for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera web browsers as well as a Lightroom plug-in. The interface is easy to get used to and streaming media content is supported. Two-factor authentication is supported.
pCloud’s mobile apps need improvement in auto uploading and add basic features like an option to select all files within a folder instead having to select them individually.
pCloud has a free plan with restricted features and up to 10GB storage. Its paid cloud plans start from 47.88 Euros per year or 175 Euros for a lifetime subscription with 500GB storage. The 2TB plan will cost you 95.88 Euros per year or 350 Euros for lifetime subscription. The pCloud Crypto aka zero-knowledge end-to-end encryption will cost you additional 47.88 Euro per year or 125 Euros for a lifetime subscription. All pCloud storage plans can be purchased on monthly basis, too.
Premium pCloud account with 500GB storage can be tried free for one month.
pCloud is confident about its encryption being unbreakable and offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who could break it. According to the company, their encryption remains unhacked so far.
Launched in 2019, Icedrive is a cloud storage that offers end-to-end encryption at highly competitive rates. The company is based in Wales and uses Twofish encryption algorithm, which they say is stronger than AES.
Icedrive has a ‘virtual drive’ app for Windows that lets you quickly work on your files without downloading — just like you would use your physical drive. There’s no such app for macOS but their development roadmap suggests it should come out somewhere in early 2021. Mac and Linux users can use Icedrive’s portable apps instead.
For $19.99 per year, you can get 150GB storage. For 1TB storage, you pay $49.99 per year and $179.99 per year will get you 5TB storage. Icedrive’s lifetime plans offer better value for money with 150GB, 1TB, and 5TB storage costing $59, $149, and $499, respectively. There’s a also a free 10GB plan without client-side encryption.
Icedrive’s web and app interface is fast, responsive, and easy to use. Media files can be streamed/previewed within apps. There’s virtually no limit on file size.
On the downside, data transfers are limited and both uploads and downloads deduct the bandwidth. Encrypted files can not be shared currently, which is a big drawback unless you use cloud storage for backup only. Two-factor authentication is not supported yet. I would also like more plans to choose from — a 500GB or 2TB plan will be a better value in my opinion.
With privacy at its focus, Icedrive is aiming to attract users at exciting rates and is worth trying out.
New Zealand-based MEGA calls itself the ‘privacy company.’ It’s not a name that comes the first in mind when you mention ‘trust’ but MEGA offers zero-knowledge e2e encryption for all its free and paid users, albeit the free tier has limitations. MEGA’s paid plans start at 4.99 Euros per month for 400GB storage with 1TB transfer quota. More plans with up to 16TB storage are available.
For free users, MEGA provides up to 50GB storage which comes with limitations. The basic free storage is 15GB. More storage and transfer quota can be earned by finishing achievements like installing its app or referring users. This extra 35GB storage has validity of up to 1 year. I will feel free to assume MEGA offers 15GB free storage because the rest is temporary.
None of MEGA’s paid plan carry unlimited data transfer. As a paid user, I expect unlimited transfers instead of keeping an eye on how much quota I have used for the month. For free users, this quota is calculated based on IP address. If you are sharing an IP address with other users on the same network (which is mostly the case in both homes and offices) or if you use a VPN, you will have to deal with limited transfer quota.
After signing up, MEGA generates a passphrase which is used in case you forget your password. This passphrase can not be changed without losing all data and MEGA does a good job at reminding you to back it up.
Although MEGA’s web interface is clean and easy to navigate, the animation displayed upon clicking every link is an annoying and unnecessary. Beside the web interface, MEGA has apps for desktop and mobiles, extensions for web browsers, and command line interface. All its client-side apps are open-sourced.
Like other cloud storages, MEGA has its good and not-so-good sides. But overall, it’s an inexpensive and mostly fast cloud storage with end-to-end encryption.
Cloud Storage with Zero-knowledge Encryption: Summing Up
With different features, policies, and prices, these were five cloud storage services that offer zero-knowledge end-to-end encryption. All these services claim to care for the privacy of your data and there’s no way for me to verify these claims. But if I had to choose between companies like Google and the ones mentioned above, I would go with the latter. This is not to say that services like Google Drive or Dropbox are bad and be completely avoided. Unless you have a reason to move to other service, you are probably fine with your current cloud provider.
While using clouds with zero-knowledge encryption, you should know their limitations. Because the service is ‘zero-knowledge,’ it’s impossible to retrieve data if you forget your passphrase. Cloud storage should not be seen as an alternative to physical storage. It is also worth noting that just the use of end-to-end encryption does not make your data completely secure. If your device is infected with malware for instance, your data can still be stolen or spied upon.
When used for genuine purpose in compliance with legal guidelines, all five cloud services mentioned here are ideal alternatives to Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive etc. If you have trust issues with huge corporations like Google, these cloud storages will help you backup your data safely and conveniently.