Boxcryptor Encrypts Your Cloud

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I know, I know. Don’t tell me. I have been a bit AWOL for a while. Day job and miscellaneous other excitement.

But I’m back, and have something to talk about, which certainly helps when trying to write. The common complaint raised by cloud opponents is the lack of security when you move your valuable data out of your direct control and into the ambiguous grasp of a server in Mozambique.  For those of you out there using the cloud and enjoying all that mobility and freedom, you may be interested in a little tool called Boxcryptor. Boxcryptor is an encryption application for common cloud services like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and SkyDrive, all of which I happen to use, as well as any cloud using a WebDAV standard. It is also platform independent, so you can use it on your Mac or PC, Chromebook or Android or iOS device.

Boxcryptor creates a crytopgraphic virtual drive on your computer.  Files are encrypted locally before uploading them to your cloud of choice. Files are encrypted on an individual, rather than grouped, basis for added security. Any file dropped into an encrypted folder within the Boxcryptor drive will get automatically encrypted before it is synced to the cloud. To protect your files, Boxcryptor uses the AES-256 and RSA encryption algorithms. I love that it basically encrypts files on the fly, as part of your normal process of creating and saving data – just drop your files in the special secure drive rather than your usual cloud folder. You will know that your files are encrypted when you look in the cloud and see the .bc extension following the file name. It looks really simple to use, which is always nice.

Of course, to be really useful, the cloud has to allow for multi-party file sharing. It’s one of the main reasons to use it! Boxcryptor supports this, and accomplishes it in a secure way.

You won’t be able to see your encrypted files without Boxcryptor installed. So, you will need to have it on any computers on which you intend to view your sensitive material. However, once installed, just enter your Boxcryptor password to get into your materials. A word of caution here: that password information is not stored either locally or with Boxcryptor and you won’t be able to retrieve it if you forget it, once it is set. So choose carefully and store it somewhere safe. Since everything is locally encrypted, Boxcryptor has no access to your data either, so no worries there.

Boxcryptor is free for personal use and it does  offer AES-256 and RSA encryption, secure file sharing and mobile apps. The limitation is that you can only use one cloud service at a time with the free. Unlimited personal for $48 per year allows unlimited providers on unlimited devices. Company subscriptions offer multiple cloud services at once as well, along with groups, with multi-user pricing that goes down as you add more users. Company plans start at $96 per year for unlimited business use. The company plan also offers a master key and password reset function, enforce policies and centralized management and invoicing.

Because Boxcryptor believes its product is of particular interest to legal professionals, they sent me along a coupon code for Studio readers of 20% discount on their regular prices (discount code: boxcryptorlaw20, valid until December 31, 2013). So, if your resolution for 2014 includes greater cloud security, hop on that train and grab yourself some Boxcryptor.

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Have You SEEN The New Outlook.com?

Wow. Really. This is not your father’s Microsoft Hotmail. At the end of July, Microsoft announced its new Metro-styled Outlook.com Preview, which you can upgrade to from your Live or Hotmail accounts. The look is fantastic. Even the animations are top-notch. Clean and easy to read and navigate, this new, free, web-based email client can really look Google and its venerable Gmail right in the eye.

 

The UI is impressive, while the layout is familiar – three columns containing your left navigation / folders and such, the main center panel with your message lists and open messages and a far right column with the new Command Bar that dynamically changes depending on the email you are looking at. When you connect your social accounts, that bar will show key information from those social sites pertaining to the message sender / recipients in the right column. That column also holds messaging activity, as well as Microsoft-served ads.

 

 

The top bar contains the key functions  – hover over “Outlook” in the far left corner and click the drop down arrow to see nav buttons to People, Calendar and SkyDrive.

 

 

“New” opens the email editor, which contains simple but effective formating tools, again in that clean interface. Because I created a new name for my Outlook account, I can select in this dialog whether I want to send the email from my new Outlook account or my old Windows Live account. You can send, save as draft, spell check, change from rich format to plain text to HTML, select high, normal or low priority, attach files or cancel the process entirely. Much is hidden in this interface but these tools are very intuitive and easy to figure out. Click on the dialog bubble to the right along the top bar and open a message box for instant messaging via Skype (coming soon), Facebook Chat or Windows Live Messenger. Click the gear to access the various options available to modify your mail settings and other details. Click on your name and picture at the far right to edit your account settings and availability for chat.

 

The default is for threaded conversations, again much like Gmail, which is new to Microsoft mail products. But much of the underlying Hotmail remains – simply right click on elements and you will get context menus that reveal those features. Another cool feature – web versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint are built in, and can be edited on the site. Currently no offline support, but hopefully this is something Microsoft will add down the road.

 

When you connect your social sites, Outlook will attempt to merge contact information for individuals from the various sites into one contact card. With the new look over at SkyDrive, switching between Mail, Contacts and SkyDrive will offer a seamless experience. Unfortunately, the Calendar app is still pure Hotmail, which looks a bit bizarre next to its shinier cousins. Mobile looks great – the simple interface works beautifully on phones and tablets. SkyDrive has just moved out of preview – along with the similar UI, you get a new desktop and tablet browser with instant search, contextual toolbar, thumbnail multi-select, drag-and-drop organization, and HTML5 sorting, desktop & OS X apps for faster uploads, SkyDrive for Android which allows access, uploading and sharing from Android phones. Together, Outlook.com and SkyDrive are building a credible competitor to Gmail, Docs and Google Drive. I will offer more detail on the new SkyDrive UI in a separate post, but take a look below at how great it looks:

 

 

The image above to the left in the docs pane looks blurry because I snapped the screenshot while the slideshow was rolling through the images – a really great feature.

 

I am very impressed with Microsoft’s direction here. Along with rumors about a $199 Surface Tablet, the press on Windows 8 and the great Metro interface and the new look and feel of Microsoft’s web applications, I believe they get the importance of modernizing the Office experience. I am excited to delve into Outlook.com and Skydrive and give these apps a run for their money. And, maybe, my next tablet may be a Windows-based slate. One never knows.

Windows Live SkyDrive Offers 25GB On Your iPhone

Want to expand your virtual real estate on your mobile phone? If you haven’t already gotten your free Windows Live account, now is the time to do it. Sneaking under my radar during the holiday crazies was this announcement from the fine folks at Windows Live – you can now access SkyDrive’s 25GB of storage via apps on your iPhone or Windows Phone. Pretty darn cool. Dropbox is nice, but it can’t hold a candle to the size of SkyDrive.

Of course, Microsoft has baked SkyDrive fairly deeply into Windows Phone 7.5. With the Windows Phone app, you can store documents, notes, photos, videos and access them from your phone. Share photos stored on SkyDrive by email, text, or IM, use Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint with SkyDrive files, and keep your phone’s camera roll up-to-date on SkyDrive automatically. SkyDrive is integrated directly into the apps as well as core phone functions. Of particular use on mobile, you can browse your entire SkyDrive. share files and manage your storage.

The “extra extra” though is an iPhone app! In addition to their OneNote notebooks, iPhone users can access their files in SkyDrive, create folders, delete files, and share links to folders and files directly using the Mail app. Much of the functionality is the same between the Windows Phone and iPhone apps – tailored to the particular phone’s user experience. This is very very cool indeed – kudos to Microsoft for not leaving us iPhone users hanging!

Read more about these apps and SkyDrive and check out some vids over at the Windows Live site. And get an extra 25GB of useful storage on your mobile device. Thanks Microsoft.

 

Microsoft Office Web Apps – Now Live & Free

Have you been waiting for Microsoft to finally put its Office applications into the cloud? Have you been waiting for Microsoft to put a “free” tag on those apps? Well, your time has come. Office Web Apps, MS’ free online version of its Office suite, is now live on SkyDrive and available for U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada-based users.

With the simple creation of a Windows Live account, you can start playing with the new tools. You will find browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even OneNote that mimic much of the look and function of their desktop sibilings. Silverlight improves some of the experience (such as uploading multiple docs at the same time), but is unnecessary. All modern browsers will work with the tools. It’s not the desktop experience, for sure. But it meets Google Docs head on. You can upload (drag and drop!), collaborate with others, create within the web environment, print right from the browser and read docs on your smart phone. And, if you have Office 2010 installed locally (releasing next week), the web counterparts really sparkle with a seamless desktop / web experience. With 25GB of free storage on SkyDrive, this combination of features is nothing to sneeze at.

The Windows team is also promising lots of Office features will be integrated into Hotmail, so stay tuned to that.

Check out The Window Blog (link here) for more information and screenshots. All Hail the Cloud!