Zero-Knowledge cloud storage is an online storage service where the cloud provider doesn’t own or manage the encryption key to access your data. Most mainstream Cloud Storage providers like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Apple iCloud don’t give you any assurance that they won’t access or read your data should the need arise. These companies can access your data without needing your permission.
Zero-Knowledge encryption means that even the company that stores the data cannot read it, adding an extra layer of security and privacy. Zero-knowledge services are growing in popularity because they offer more privacy than traditional cloud storage providers, and users slowly realize this is essential.
The privacy problem with Cloud Storage
Platforms like Google Drive will give you 15GB of free space on their Google Drive storage platform. Some users don’t eat up this kind of space, meaning they don’t have to pay for premium storage as they can just use the free space forever, and that’s all. But in Google’s world, there is nothing for free.
When Google allows you to use many of their services for free, let’s say Google Drive in this context, they’re benefiting from you in another way that average users don’t particularly feel concerned about. Google’s ability to fetch data from wherever it enables them to make a lot of money through ads.
Now, once they give you this massive 15GB of free storage on Google Drive, there is also a possibility that their AI engine will crawl through your stored files, read through them, and make its analysis based on the metrics predefined by Google’s engineers.
What does this tell you? It’s about the need to have your privacy respected. Even if you have nothing to hide, you don’t want other people accessing your critical data anytime they want. This is where Zero-knowledge Cloud storage comes in, as users enjoy absolute autonomy over managing data privacy and security as they see fit.
What is Data Encryption in Cloud Storage?
One of the most important aspects of data security is encryption. But what is encryption, anyway? In layman’s understanding, encryption means the art or practice or an effort to conceal data into an unreadable format so unauthorized parties don’t have the power to read or access it. So, to keep your data safe in the cloud, encryption is used.
Now, Storage cloud Providers not using Zero-knowledge approaches on their platforms are usually in charge of encrypting your data. And this means that they can always read your files or even trick you into thinking that your data is safe, yet in reality, they’re always eavesdropping to know what you dump in your storage account.
This kind of behavior is totally unacceptable as a right to privacy is a human right under the UN’s Universal Declarations of Human Rights article 12, which states that; “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,”
Zero-knowledge storage cloud services stand an assurance that users’ data can’t be eavesdropped on. They will let you generate your own encryption and take your own data security into your hands without the interference of the other parties.
Pros of Zero-Knowledge Cloud Storage
There are so many benefits that come with using zero-knowledge cloud storage, and these include the following.
Guaranteed Data Security
Data security and privacy are an essential part of today’s evolving world. Your critical data has to be kept safe and private from unauthorized access. Users don’t want other people snooping around by trying to read their files in their storage accounts. Honestly, it will make you uncomfortable the moment you learn that your storage service provider is ever reading whatever you post in your account.
Of course, sometimes there is really nothing to hide, but this doesn’t give anybody any right or justification to violate and abuse your data privacy online. So, Zero-Knowledge cloud service providers don’t snoop around to see what their users store in their accounts. And It’s because they give you the power to control the encryption over your data, and they will be helpless at this point.
Once you’ve configured security on your end, nobody else will be able to penetrate through and read your files. This kind of arrangement is the direct opposite of Cloud storage providers like Google, Dropbox, and so forth, as they’re fond of wanting to snoop around so they can see what is stored in your account.
Zero-knowledge cloud storage service providers will give you the power to determine how to manage your data without dictating anything. Your cloud storage provider will manage the core infrastructure, but they won’t interfere with how you manage your data. They won’t decide which type of password to use and what you need to do according to their understanding of things.
This autonomy is essential for users as they want to feel in charge of the data they store in their cloud storage accounts.
Good for highly sensitive data
When you need to store or backup confidential or highly sensitive data, zero-knowledge cloud storage offers the anonymity and confidentiality you need over your data. You’re assured that the big guys won’t snoop around to try to break in and read your critical data. Sensitive data deserves top-layer security and confidentiality, and you don’t want to use popular platforms with known records of massive data breaches.
Guarantees Privacy & freedom
As we’ve seen earlier in this article, the right to privacy is a universal human right. Let’s try to understand it from this perspective. When you rent an apartment, your landlord or landlady will give you the keys to the door. Within the lease period, your privacy in that apartment must be respected. It will make you uncomfortable or even infuriate you when your landlord or landlady drops in anytime they want.
The bottom line is that just because your landlord owns the building you’re renting, it doesn’t give them a right to keep snooping around by wanting to know whatever you do inside your apartment. Unfortunately, many cloud storage providers out there are fond of this behavior as they take users’ privacy like some kind of a privilege. They choose to drop in whenever they feel like it and read whatever you’ve stored in your account.
Furthermore, Zero-knowledge cloud storage is crucial when freedom of information is limited. Let’s say you’re a political activist or whistleblower with sensitive data to protect; you don’t want government actors or hostile players trying to eavesdrop on your account to know what is being stored there.
Now, with the power of encryption in your hand, no government actors or hostile players will be able to penetrate into your cloud storage account and read whatever you stored there.
Cons of Zero-Knowledge Cloud Storage
While Zero-knowledge cloud storage offers many benefits, we can’t deny that it is also associated with undeniable detriments. Let’s try to understand them here.
You’re responsible for data breaches
If the data in your storage account has been breached, you will not blame anybody for this mess. You will take responsibility; in most cases, your zero-knowledge cloud storage provider won’t be responsible when data breaches occur. So it’s up to them to safely keep the encryption key and ensure everything is configured properly to protect their assets or files in the cloud.
Some features are more difficult to implement for the cloud storage provider
A potential issue with Zero-Knowledge cloud storage is that some features are more difficult to implement because the provider cannot access the content of files.
For instance, providing previews of your files (such as photos or videos) or searching within the content of files might be more complicated. But these features are still integrated by good Zero-Knowledge cloud storage providers. See below for some examples of good and secure cloud storage providers.
Why should you use Zero-knowledge cloud storage?
The reasons you should choose to use zero-knowledge cloud storage are associated with its many benefits. And once again, let’s break them down below;
- When you need to take control of your data security and privacy, Zero-knowledge cloud storage is right for you. This way, you will have an absolute guarantee that someone else won’t be snooping into your storage account to see what you’ve stored there. Zero-knowledge cloud storage allows users to configure their encryption security to secure their data. And so, even platform providers don’t have the power to know what is inside their users’ accounts.
- When you need to keep highly sensitive data safe from unauthorized actors, the Zero-knowledge cloud can give you security assurance and guarantee that the wrong actors won’t access it. Protecting highly sensitive and confidential data is a daunting task because you have to figure out the best way to store that data in an environment where any unauthorized actors won’t be able to access it. For example, if you’re a whistleblower, you could have seriously damaging information that could disrupt corrupt entities, and the best way to protect it is to store it in a zero-knowledge storage environment where you’re in charge of your data security. This means that unauthorized actors won’t try to collude with your platform provider to try and intrude into your account and delete the files you stored there.
- Freedom is an important aspect of Zero-knowledge cloud storage. Your platform providers don’t want to know what you keep in your account. They’re not interested in whatever you store in your account. Unlike big mainstream cloud storage providers that could sometimes implement restrictive policies on how you use their services, Zero-knowledge cloud storage providers are not concerned with what you do with your storage account. This means you can store any file or data you want without being limited by the platform providers.
What are the best Zero-Knowledge cloud storage providers?
Most of the cloud storage services provider by Big Tech companies like Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, Dropbox, Amazon Drive, have no Zero-Knowledge features. Your data on these services are therefore at risk of being consulted by thèse companies. This is very annoying, but happily, some other cloud storage or cloud backup providers are much more respectful of their clients privacy.
Here is a selection of the best Zero-Knowledge cloud storage and cloud backup services to keep your data safe and private.
Sync.com is a Canadian cloud storage service that has the security and privacy of your data as the centre of its design. All the data stored on their servers are client-side encrypted with a Zero-Knowledge mechanism. In addition, the prices are very reasonable and the service is very good.
NordLocker is a relatively recent cloud storage service, provided by the same creators than NordVPN and NordPass. It is naturally also centered on security and privacy, and is an entirely Zero-Knowledge service.
PCloud is the best overall cloud storage provider nowadays. It is very complete and secure. However, in terms of Zero-Knowledge features, it has a different view than Sync.com or NordLocker.
With pCloud, the files are not encrypted with a Zero-Knowledge system by default. However, there exists a pCloud option, pCloud Crypto, which gives the user a special folder where all files are encrypted with a Zero-Knowledge mechanism. This specific folder acts as a digital safe, all the files you put in there will stay completely confidential.
This digital safe allows to keep the strengths of Zero-Knowledge and non-Zero-Knowledge systems, since Zero-Knowledge encryption is only applied on the files you consider sensitive.
Another importing to notice is that pCloud is a European company (Swiss) and allows you to choose where you prefer to store your data: in the European Union (Luxembourg) or in the USA. This fact can be important to some users, in particular for individuals or businesses located in Europe.
Unfortunately, the pCloud Crypto option is a paid option. You will have to pay an extra for it, except for the pCloud Business plans that include it by default.
Choosing an entirely Zero-Knowledge service or a partial one like pCloud or Icedrive really depends on your own needs.
Icedrive is a an excellent cloud storage service that is very similar to pCloud (it was clearly inspired from it in its design). It also provides a digital safe under the form of a specific folder where data are encrypted with a Zero-Knowledge mechanism.
However, as opposed to pCloud, this digital safe folder is included with all the plans. No need to pay extra money for it, so the Icedrive can be cheaper than pCloud when using a Crypto folder.
Idrive is different than the other services mentioned above. It is not a cloud storage service, but a cloud backup service, which means that it is focusing on creating a continuous backup of your system in case of some disaster (data loss, local drive failure, theft, etc.). Please read our guide for more information about the differences between cloud storage and cloud backup.
With idrive, you can choose whether you prefer to keep your data privately encrypted with a Zero-Knowledge encryption, or if you prefer to keep the default, non-Zero-Knowledge, encryption mechanism.
In today’s world, data security is very critical. Wrong actors are ever crawling the web to find sensitive data to steal and then use it for the wrong reasons. But it’s not just the petty cyberthreat actors you’re used to. In fact, there is a big scheme of players, including governments and organizations that would want to know whatever you do online.
And so, they’re dying to have stealth mechanisms that could allow them to read every data you store in the cloud. This is why many government actors around the world are predominantly not in favor of rolling out end-to-end encryption on various online platforms to guarantee users’ privacy protection and data security.
Mainstream online platforms like Google and the alike have proven that a right to privacy is not actually a right but rather a privilege in their own understanding of things. When you choose to use their platforms, just know that they will use your data to make their billions, or they will probably collude with other players like governments to let them in so they can read whatever you keep on their platforms.
Therefore, if you’re interested in absolute security for your data, zero-knowledge cloud storage is one of the best choices you can get out there.