Who keeps local copies of files anymore? Online file sharing, that's where it's at! But if you don't protect your sensitive files with heavy-duty encryption, you could be in big trouble. If you put your company's files online without protection, you could be in really big trouble. CertainSafe Digital Safety Deposit Box is designed from top to bottom with the security of your data in mind. It totally does the job, and can be used by individuals, small businesses, and even enterprises. It's an Editors' Choice for secure cloud storage and syncing.
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There are two pricing tiers. For $12 per user per month, you get 100GB of encrypted online storage and the ability to offer access to 100 free guest users. $15 per user per month gets you 250GB of storage and 200 guests. Beyond that, you'll have to ask for a custom quote. You can take the service for a 30-day free trial, with no credit card required. Note that the company also offers a business-specific version titled CertainSafe Digital Vault. There's even an API that lets in-house coders incorporate CertainSafe's technology directly into their proprietary apps.
Bank Vault Versus Storage Shed
Other file sharing services offer a lot more storage for the buck. Dropbox gives you a terabyte of storage for $99 per year, for example. IDrive charges just $59.50 per year for that amount of storage. And if you spend $6.99 per month for a terabyte of storage with Microsoft OneDrive, you get Microsoft Office 365 Home as a bonus.
On the other hand, Dropbox had to fix a security hole recently, and got breached a few years ago. Cyber crooks use man-in-the-cloud attacks to breach your Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox accounts. What you get with CertainSafe is security.
The company's literature explains the difference. It likens the typical run of online storage services to the self-storage businesses you find along the freeway. You can dump all of your stuff in there, and it will probably be safe. CertainSafe, by contrast, is like a safe deposit box in your bank. When you put your most important data (or your company's) in the safe deposit box, inside the bank's vault, it's safe, period. CertainSafe backs up that promise with a laundry list of government and third-party certifications.
It is worth noting that some of the competing services have beefed up security to the point where they now promise compliance with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) and other government standards. Dropbox's business edition now supports HIPAA, FERPA, and COPPA, but its standards page notes that it's "not meant to process or store credit card transactions." All editions of Box (Personal) are HIPAA / HITECH compliant. OneDrive for Business promises compliance with HIPAA, FERPA, and several other standards.
How CertainSafe Works
The essential aim of CertainSafe is to make a generalized data breach impossible. Files are encrypted using a two-part key, one part that's yours and one part held on the CertainSafe side, with a different key for every file. It's what they call a zero knowledge system; the folks at CertainSafe have no way to decrypt your data without your part of the key.
But that's just the start. The real standout feature is what they call MicroEncryption. Your encrypted data gets split up into chunks that are stored on different hard drives and servers. Even without MicroEncryption, a hacker who simply gets access to encrypted data on a server has a tough time getting that data decoded. A hacker who weaseled into one of CertainSafe's servers wouldn't have a chance of decrypting data, since each server only contains bits and pieces, not whole encrypted files.
This emphasis on security shows up again in the login process. With most secure sites, you enter your username and password and boom! You get full access. Of course, if what you logged into was a fraud, a phishing site, you've just given away your credentials. CertainSafe's login process authenticates you to the site, and authenticates the site to you.
First, you enter your email address. Once that address is validated as belonging to an existing account, the site displays an image that you selected during registration, along with an identifying phrase that you supplied; a fraudulent site wouldn't know what to display. Assuming the image and phrase are correct, you enter your password; you must do so within 60 seconds. On the next screen, you have 60 seconds to answer one of your three security questions. This multi-step handshake is decidedly more secure than just relying on username and password.
After you sign up for an account, you log in from any browser to complete your registration. CertainSafe doesn't install anything, no app, no local agent, so you can use it on any platform.
Once the site has validated the email address you entered, you have some first-time chores to do. You pick an anti-phishing image from a huge collection, and enter a recognition phrase to further foil fraudsters. This phrase can be anything at all, as long as you know you'll recognize it. I used a Monty Python quote. Enter your password and click Continue to lock in those choices.
After that, you create three security questions and answers. I was pleased to see that CertainSafe doesn't offer the absurd default choices that many sites do, like your mother's maiden name, or the city where you were born. Any security question whose answer can be found online is a bad question. Take a moment to think up three questions that only you could answer, and make sure that there's no doubt in your mind as to how you'd answer them. With that, you're ready to start using CertainSafe.
CertainSafe's main window is effectively a responsive-design webpage. Depending on the amount of space you give it, the display elements move and resize to fit. When there's plenty of room, the display has three parts. At far left is a menu of four icons: File Manager, Secure Chat, Manage Contacts, and Manage Shares. Selecting one of these displays relevant submenu choices. At right, a panel displays information about the current user, along with some icons for account-related configuration. The middle panel is initially blank, filling with data as you make selections from the menu.
The central function of CertainSafe is secure storage for your most important files, so naturally File Manager is the default menu choice. The top two (and most important) submenu choices are My Files and Their Files.
To start using My Files, you must first create at least one folder. You can create as many folders as you like, nesting them inside each other if you find it useful. Bear in mind that if you choose to share your sensitive data, you share at the folder level, not file-by-file.
Now select any folder and click the Upload button to add files. CertainSafe displays a handy area for you to drag and drop your selections. When you're ready, one click sends the files securely to CertainSafe.
You can now access your files securely from any browser and view most common file types in CertainSafe's built-in viewer. You can move or rename files, add comments, or download a local copy. There's also an option to copy the file to a shared space called a Cabinet, but this feature is really aimed at teams using the product in a business setting. An audit log showing all actions taken on the file is also available. And if you have uploaded multiple versions of a file, the Manage Versions button lets you view or revert to an earlier version.
You can also move or rename any folder, or move it to the trash. More importantly, you can share the folder with any of your contacts, or view all active shares. I'll cover sharing shortly.
Just below My Files is Their Files. As you might expect, these are files in folders that have been shared with you by other users. Here your options are more limited. You can view the file, download a local copy, or add comments. Depending on your permissions, you may also be able to upload files, including modified copies of files that you downloaded. If you do choose to download, modify, and re-upload a file, you should use a secure deletion utility to wipe out the unsecured local copy.
The fact that previous versions remain means you can use CertainSafe as a kind of slow-motion file collaboration tool, but it's nothing like the real-time interaction offered by collaboration-specific services. Security is the emphasis here, not easy, breezy collaboration.
Sharing a Folder
When you point the mouse at a folder, a small gear icon appears; clicking it brings up the list of folder actions. Sharing a folder is a four-part process that starts with selecting any additional folders you may want to include. Note that subfolders aren't included unless you actively check them off.
Next, you choose the contacts with whom you want to share the folder. This process involves double-clicking items in the My Contacts list to move them into the Selected Contacts list.
By default, your recipients can access shared folder for just one day. In most cases you should change that very short expiry time. You can choose from preset intervals up to a year, or set the specific beginning and ending date/time for the share.
Finally, you define permissions for the share. This is where you give or withhold permission for the recipient to download and upload files. That's it. Once you click Submit, the recipient receives a notification, and the shared folder appears in the recipient's Their Files list.
For each folder you can view all outstanding shares. The list shows share details like the start and end times, and the permissions for each contact you've shared with. With one click you can delete any contact's access to the share.
The separate Manage Shares tool gives a different view. You can see a list of all the folders you've shared and drill down to see who you shared them with. Or you can request a list of all of your contacts and drill down to see what you shared with each. From either view, you can edit or revoke any share.
Manage Users and Contacts
If you've signed up for more than one user account, a Manage Users icon appears in the administrator panel at right. You start the process of adding a new user by entering the full name, email address, and time zone. Next you define the user's initial password.
The last step is to determine the roles this user can take. If you enable the Account Administrator role, the user gets all the same permissions that you have. Those with just Administrator access can manage other users, but not the account itself. The User role allows the individual to create and share files and folders, and to receive shares. If you turn all three roles off, the individual can only work with files shared by others. I'm not sure why you would do that, though.
If you just want to share files with someone, invite that person as a guest user. Just click Manage Contacts, click Invite New Contact, and enter the first name, last name, and email address of the person.
CertainSafe sends an email with a link for the recipient to create a free guest account. Your recipient goes through the same process of setting up an antiphishing image and phrase, entering the password, and creating three security questions. Now your guest can access any files you choose to share, and can also engage in secure chat.
There's one more possible relationship; you can invite a contact who also has a paid CertainSafe account. This lets the two of you share files with each other, have secure chats, comment on each other's files, and so on.
Every time you comment on a file, the file's owner gets a notification. You could almost carry on an online conversation using comments. But Secure Chat is easier.
Click the Secure Chat icon at far left, and click the desired contact in the list that appears. That's it. You can now start chatting, in posts up to 500 characters. Your chat history with each contact remains for reference, and you get a notification when there's a new response.
What's secure about Secure Chat? Steven Russo, Executive VP of CertainSafe, explained that even the secure chat messages are MicroEncrypted, and each post is secured independently. "This is absolutely fantastic for organizations that need to share [sensitive] information all day long while collaborating," said Russo. "Our chat is hosted in a PCI DSS Level 1 Environment, and it's HIPAA compliant and instant."
New since I last looked at this product, CertainSafe includes add-ons for Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Word. In both cases, you need the 2013 version or later.
Once you've downloaded and installed the Outlook add-on, you'll find a CertainSafe section in the Home ribbon. There are just three icons, Login, Logoff, and Settings. Naturally you must log into CertainSafe before you can make use of this feature. The login process is a bit different. You start by submitting your username and password. After that you'll have one minute to answer one of your security questions. The antiphishing image and phrase don't appear.
Now when you create a new message, you'll find a big green paperclip icon labeled Attach Files in the CertainSafe panel of the ribbon. Clicking it brings up a dialog that lets you choose from the files you have stored in CertainSafe, add a secure message, and set the expiry time for the share—a day, a week, a month, a year, or no expiry.
The attachment appears as a large box in the body of the email message, with a View Attachments button. Clicking that button gets the recipient an invitation to log in and view the file. Those not already using CertainSafe can click the Need Account link to set up 30-day trial. If you have the time, it's probably smarter to invite the contact as a guest before sending an attachment.
You can manage the attachments you've sent by clicking My Attachments in the File Manager. You'll find them organized in folders by year and month. And naturally Their Attachments lists files you've received by this method.
The Word add-on for CertainSafe makes working on sensitive Word documents a snap. The add-on puts a new CertainSafe pane in the Home ribbon. As with the Outlook add-in, there are buttons to log into and out of your account. When you're logged in, you get the option to import a document into Word directly from CertainSafe, and to export your work back to CertainSafe.
You can choose whether to have CertainSafe delete the original after exporting. And if you dig into the settings, you'll find that there's an option for secure deletion, though CertainSafe doesn't perform that function itself. You need to install a third-party secure deletion utility, one that can accept command-line options, and you need to supply the add-on to use this third-party utility.
There are a ton of third-party add-ons to encrypt your cloud storage, but most of them are designed for use in a business setting. I've reviewed a few encryption and sharing products aimed at the consumer. The free HP Trust Circles transparently encrypts and decrypts files you share with up to five groups (circles) of up to five people each. It doesn't handle file sharing, but encrypts the file you share via Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, or whatever cloud service you prefer, as well as sharing via email or USB drive. One drawback; it's only secured by your Windows account password.
DataLocker SkyCrypt (now called SafeCrypt) handles encryption and decryption of your cloud-stored files. All encryption and decryption of files happens locally, which is good. All you do is copy files to or from a virtual drive letter. It works with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and several others.
There are also plenty of local file encryption tools that you could use to manually encrypt files before storing them in the cloud. But none of these local or cloud-based solutions approach the CertainSafe's combination of extreme security and ease of use.
A Powerful, Flexible Solution
The average user may balk at spending $12 per month to store files securely in CertainSafe Digital Safety Deposit Box, but for those who need to protect truly sensitive data, be it personal or business related, CertainSafe is an excellent choice. Your files are accessible from any browser, on any platform, but the multi-step handshake ensures that only you can access them, unless you choose to share them securely. And MicroEncryption technology means that even if malefactors physically stole a server, they'd only get bits and pieces, not whole files. CertainSafe is an Editors' Choice for secure cloud storage and sharing. If collaboration is your main need, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive can be a goood cohice. Box (Personal) shines at compatibilty with other services, while iDrive focuses on the central task of backup. These four are also Editors Choice products for cloud storage and file syncing.