Acronis says True Image 2019 provides set and forget protection. Going by my experience with the 2018 version, I can verify this. The last time I checked the older edition of the software was in May. I know this date is correct because that’s when I swapped to a new iMac.

It has backed up my iMac to the cloud for four months without any attention.

Now I’m using the 2019 version. It’s installed and it’s working. Every evening it updates some 200 GB plus sending it to Acronis’ cloud for safe keeping.

The process is so unobtrusive and the upgrade from True Image 2018 was so seamless that it’s hard to see any difference between the two versions.

Acronis True Image 2019

True Image 2019 differences

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference. The main new feature in the Mac version is Active disc cloning. You can use it to move data from one computer to another, or to make a bootable image on an external hard drive.

The external drive needs to connect directly to the computer being cloned. I couldn’t clone my Mac drive to the home network drive. You can only copy the entire drive. There’s no way to select directories for cloning.

Acronis’ other new 2019 feature is call a Survival Kit. This is like Active disc cloning, you can use it to make a bootable back up of your start-up partition.

In truth these are both variations on Acronis True Image’s main theme, although they give you more back-up options.

Auto-start on connect

Another clever, helpful update is that you can set the software to start backing-up when a new external USB drive is plugged-in. It’s another step towards simplifying backing-up. Let’s face it, the easier it is to make back-ups, the more likely you are to keep everything up-to-date.

The last interesting update in True Image 2019 is that you can now make snapshots of Parallels Desktop virtual machines. It’s a niche feature for sure, but a welcome one.

My year with Acronis True Image 2018 passed without incident. During that time I switched computers twice and carried on backing up. I did a single restore from the Acronis Cloud to a computer, but it was a test, not a real panic recovery.

It’s a solid alternative offering both a secure cloud backup and the ability to make local backups at the same time.

Prices

Acronis may seem expensive when compared with other apps, but it costs are on a par with other cloud backup services. You can pay US$50 to buy the software for a single computer. It’s a one time payment and lasts forever, but it doesn’t include cloud storage.

A single year licence with 250GB of cloud storage is also US$50. This rises to US$100 if you want to connect five computers. A three computer option is US$80.

The full monty premium version comes with a terabyte of cloud storage. This is the only version that includes blockchain certification. Acronis fingerprints your files to show no-one else has altered them. This is a way to protect against ransomware. The premium version costs US$100 a year for one machine and US$150 for five.

nest smart homeNest, the smart thermostat maker Google acquired in 2014, is the world’s best-known home automation brand. The company is now selling its smart home products and services in New Zealand.

Smart home technology has been slow to take off around the world. It gets the attention from technology fetishists, but, despite years of hype and marketing, has yet to break into the mainstream. It remains a tiny niche.

Take Nest’s thermostats. They look good. They get rave reviews in technology publications. Users swear they can save hundreds on their power bills with them. Yet Google only sold 1.3 million in 2015.

To put things in perspective, Apple sold 6 million Watches in three months during the same year.

Nest performances disappointing

Some analysts report Google is disappointed with Nest’s performance to date. It looks a long way from recovering the US$3.2 billion it paid for Nest and the US$550 million it paid for Dropcam, which makes home security cameras. The two brands have since been merged.

That doesn’t mean Google’s investment will never pay off. Nest sits alongside Google’s Speaker and Chromecast.

All are part of a “connected home” strategy. The idea is that you can speak to tell Google to turn up the heat and get the devices to display your camera’s security images on your TV via Chromecast. On a good day, it all works.

Smart home still immature

Home automation is still in its infancy. About one in 20 US homes have one or more smart home components. Hardly any have a full suite.

The numbers will be far lower in New Zealand. Apart from anything else, few New Zealand homes have the kind of central heating system that can make full use of a Nest controller.

What’s more the Unisys Security Index shows we’re wary of the Internet of Things. There’s a huge potential for the Internet of Things to make smart home devices even smarter, but for now that’s not happening fast enough.

While companies are quick to embrace the IoT technology that uses sensors, communications, computing and automation to save money or speed processes, doing the same things at home feels like playing with toys.

Your idea of fun?

Make no mistake, home automation vendors are on to this, they often talk about their products being ‘fun’ or use similar language. They also like to use fear to sell. The curious press release from Google about Nest’s New Zealand launch is full of words like ‘worry’, ‘stolen’ and ‘safe’.

Not that there’s anything wrong with home security, but Google lays it on thick.

Nest gets around two of the biggest objections to home automation. First, most smart home products are too expensive to take seriously. Who in their right mind would spend more on an intelligent fridge than a new car?

There are three Nest cameras. With prices between $360 and $550 they are not cheap, you can buy cameras for a tenth of that. Likewise the $220 smoke alarm. You can buy an unconnected one in Mitre 10 for about $10. Yet, these are small investments to get started with home automation.

The second object is that home automation technology is too hard to use or install and the parts don’t tend to work well with each other. Nest gets around this.

Simple, needs to be simpler

When Google wraps the technology in with its Speaker and Chromecast things will be even simpler. Where this leaves households with Amazon or Apple technology is another question.

Perhaps a more pressing question is what are the consequences of huge technology giants like Google owning the home automation market? There will be privacy concerns and the problems associated with technology lock-in, switching from a Google home to, say, an Amazon one would be difficult.

Another issue is where is the business model here? Google didn’t spend the thick end of half a trillion dollars to flog home gadgets. It wants more back from Nest than hardware sales. How will that work for the company and, more to the point, how will that business model work for you?

Also on:

Acronis True Image 2018 promises to store all your data so you can recover it in a hurry. The company’s marketing says the process is complete and easy.

You are give a choice of storing data to a local drive, in the cloud or both. Acronis also says it has high levels of security.

None of this is unique to Acronis. Almost every other backup tool offers the same basic story. Acronis differs from the pack by adding defence against the ransomware dark arts. It also uses blockchain to keep the marketing, if not the software, bang up to date.

For testers there is a 30-day free trial. If you want to buy the software you can choose from a variety of options. You can choose a US$50 standard one-time payment for one computer. This rises to US$80 for three computers and US$100 for five devices.

Backup to cloud

Acronis’ advanced package is the same price. It is a one-year subscription that adds up to 250GB of cloud storage.

There is also a premium plan. This has 1TB of cloud storage. It also includes blockchain certification of files and electronic document signatures. This costs US$100 for a single computer and $160 for five devices.

I tested the advanced package. My first job was to download and install the software on my Mac. That task isn’t going to trouble anyone that has used computers before.

The software loads as a background app on the Mac. It places a discreet icon on the menu bar. This doesn’t add much functionality, but does remind you the software is running. Most of the time the software chugs away in the background making backups. It needs little human intervention.

Dashboard

Acronis deserves praise for its software dashboard. The design is clear and uncluttered. Although there’s a nod to the MacOS Finder design, you’re never left wondering where you are.

On the left of the display a column shows the important functions: Backup; Archive; Active Protection and Account.

When you’re in the main backup function you’ll also see a list of devices and their backup locations. Adding new ones is simple. You can choose the Acronis Cloud or browse your local network to find a suitable place to store a backup. You can check earlier backups from this screen.

There’s an option to backup now. When you create a backup you can choose whether to save everything or select files. Once you’ve made an initial backup, incremental backups are automatic. by default the software makes an incremental backup once a day. You can change this. If you like, hourly backups are an option.

Slow start

While the software works as promised, Acronis True Image 2018 is not trouble-free. The first problem was that I had difficulty activating the software with my code. It took a few attempts.

The other issue that might put you off is the sheer amount of time it took to make my first cloud backup. My MacBook Air has 256GB of SSD storage. I like to keep around 20 percent free, in part so there’s headroom when huge files come my way.

Acronis True Image 2018
Four days to go

Four days to goFor my initial backup I choose everything on the drive. A total of 203GB. You can see this in the screen shot above. Acronis interpreted this as a total of 180GB that it needed to send to the cloud.

The software warns: ”This backup is going to take a while…”. It wasn’t kidding. According to the display it was going to take four days and three hours.

Often MacOS starts a huge backup to my network drive warning it will take a long time. It then reconsiders and re-estimates once the transfer gets underway. I assumed this might be the case with Acronis True Image.

It wasn’t. It really wasn’t. In the end the initial backup took a little longer than four days and three hours.

Now here’s the odd thing: that screen shot above says the backup is running at 3.9Mbps. That’s fair enough, but I have a VDSL2+ connection that usually runs at between 45 and 70Mbps. I can BitTorrent at around 40Mbps. Streaming HD video works without a hitch.

Bandwidth blues

It’s good that Acronis doesn’t hog all the bandwidth on the home connection. But it could take more than under 10 percent. It turns out, it doesn’t use anything like 10 percent.

I took the second screenshot 24 hours after the first. Acronis says it works in the background while you get on with other tasks. That’s possible. But a whole day after starting the initial backup, it had only uploaded 4GB of the total.

Acronis True Image 2018 - after one day
After one day, there are another 33 days to go…

After one day, there are another 33 days to go…As the second screenshot shows, at this rate it would take 33 days to handle the initial backup. In the event it took 4.5 days, about 110 hours in total. So the average speed was about 0.5Mbps.

In the preferences there’s an option to halt backups if your laptop is working on battery power. There are no other settings here to tweak to speed things up. For the record I had the software set to continue while on battery power.

Australian servers

On the backup screen there’s a small cog icon to adjust settings. The options here allow you to chose where to backup your data. The software selected an Australia default server for me. If that bothers you, there are alternatives.

You get the choice of optimal or maximum data backup speed. Optimal uses less of your bandwidth freeing up capacity for other apps. At first, this didn’t appear to make much difference to the upload speed for the initial backup. The pace picked up some time after I chose the option. I’d like to see more transparency in these settings, four and a half days for an initial backup is not acceptable.

Once it finished the initial backup, Acronis True Image works at a cracking pace. Subsequent incremental backups often hit speeds in the mid-20Mbps range. They all happen in the background. It’s reliable and rock solid.

There are some neat touches. Acronis allows you to archive files to its cloud. You can send them via the app, and retrieve them using a web interface. In fact, you can use this web interface to recover your data at any time without the app.

More secure than alternatives

Acronis’ key selling point is the blockchain technology. This determines if anyone else has altered your online archive.

Before we look closer at how this works, the description above should trigger alarm bells. You might think an online cloud backup service should be secure enough to guard against anyone else accessing your data.

Acronis says that one of the best defences against ransomware is to keep regular backups. Ransomware works when criminals encrypt your data. They say they will give you the encryption key in return for money, usually Bitcoin.

That defence only works so long as the ransomware criminals don’t encrypt your backups along with the main data store. Hence the need to check no-one else is tinkering with your files.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is useful.

Verdict: Acronis True Image 2018

If you’re in business and have important data you should already be making local and offsite backups. There are plenty of choices for making offsite backups in the cloud, Acronis True Image is a good, secure option.

Once you’ve made the first backup, the incremental updates are fast. There’s little work needed on your part and you don’t need to be a geek to understand how the software works.

While True Image 2018 may feel like overkill for many user, Acronis prices are reasonable. It costs little more than alternatives that are neither as safe nor as simple.

Norton Wi-Fi PrivacyLast year Symantec released an iOS version of Norton Wi-Fi Privacy. It’s a solid VPN app that shields an iPhone or iPad against everyday risks with public Wi-Fi hotspots1.

This year Norton has expanded the product in two ways. First, it now comes in PCs and Macs versions as well as iOS and Android. Second, you can now buy multiple licences to cover five devices. The earlier version covered just one.

A third change is with the price. Norton asks for a lot more than before. Last year a single licence purchased through the app store was NZ$45. This year it is double that amount: NZ$90.

App store price Norton Wi-Fi Privacy
This is the price Norton charged a year ago.

 

Norton Wi-Fi Privacy pricing
This month’s price for a single licence.

A three licence pack is NZ$120 and protecting five devices costs $140.

Better value when buying in bulk

While the multiple packs are better value, NZ$90 for a single device is pushing it. Norton Wi-Fi Privacy is expensive. It’s about twice the price of alternative VPN services.

You can buy arguably better VPN protection for far less money. However, most alternatives require a level of knowledge that many users will find daunting. Norton packages it up, makes it easy to install, use and pay for. You pay more for the convenience.

I tested the software on two iPads, an iPhone and a MacBook. The apps are similar in each case.

An icon show on the MacOS menu bar when it is working. The MacOS app user interface is tiny. That makes it hard to see. It is on a par with what you might see on an iPhone screen. It works fine as a full screen on an iPhone, but it huge and chunky on an iPad. At this price you might expect Norton to do a better job tailoring the user interface.

Most of last year’s comments still apply:

Easy:

Norton’s Wi-Fi Privacy software is easy to install and use. Most of the time it stays out of the way. There are few settings to worry about. Most of the time, you don’t need to do anything after you have installed the software.

Settings:

The setting that may interest you is choosing the end point of your VPN. You can choose from 28 overseas destinations to set as your virtual location. This is more than most alternative VPNs offer. New Zealand is not an option.

If you set the software to auto-select it chooses Australia. I’ve used the VPN to make it look as if my device is in the UK and the US in order to buy services in those countries which are geo-locked for New Zealand. I also use the VPN to force some websites to show a specific country version when the one served up for New Zealanders isn’t my first choice.

Ad-blocking:

Norton says the app also blocks the ad-trackers used by online advertising companies to spy on your web activity. Apart from the report, see below, there’s no way of checking if this works. We’ll have to take Norton’s word on this.

Performance hit:

There’s a noticeable line speed overhead. Running the software on a Mac, connecting to VDSL over a a home Wi-Fi connection the speed drops by at least 10Mbps. That’s a lot when the overall line speed is in the range of 50 to 60Mbps. Line speed drops on iOS are similar. The software is awful when it comes to latency, ping times can take almost twice as long, this may be in part because of the roundabout route.

In practice the performance hit is far worse. I run a cloud back-up app, when Norton Wi-Fi privacy is switched off, the back-up chugs along at around 20Mbps. With the VPN switched on, the back-up speed drops to around 4Mbps.

Reason not to buy:

Norton Wi-Fi Privacy comes with a potential deal-breaker. It doesn’t work with BitTorrent. Either Norton assumes you’d only use BitTorrent and nanny-like takes this option away or it can’t cope with the protocol. Whatever the reason, the software switches off when you start a BitTorrent client.

Another negative:

BitTorrent aside, in practice the VPN sometimes disconnects for no apparent reason. This happens mainly on iOS, I only saw it happen once on MacOS.

There is a clear indication that the software is or isn’t working on the Mac – the menu bar icon shows a green tick. While the iOS version also has a small menu bar icon at the top of the screen, it is more ambiguous. When the VPN is not active, no icon shows. That’s not as helpful as a VPN-is-off indicator.

Useful for some, imperfect VPN

Norton has done a good job making it easy for non-technical users to get VPN protection. At the same time, it gives big brand-name confidence for those who need it. Many alternative VPNs are from companies you’ve never heard of.

Yet the high price, performance overhead and BitTorrent restriction make it hard to recommend Norton Wi-Fi Privacy to anyone tech-savvy enough to find a better alternative. If you’re confident with security and privacy you’ll do better looking elsewhere.


  1. At the time a number of readers pointed out that public Wi-Fi hotspots are not as risky as Norton would have us think↩︎

Ben Kepes writes about an infosec panic:

Bitglass, a company that is all about protecting organizational data, wanted to see the impacts of widespread use of public wi-fi, alongside the use of unsanctioned file sharing solutions…

…Bitglass’ threat research team tested two real-world scenarios—public wi-fi use and sharing of data from within a cloud app. The assumption being that the combination of public (and, one assumes, at-risk) wi-fi and cloud file sharing apps (shock, horror, cue the “cloud is risky” FUD) would deliver a double blow of cataclysmic risk.

Source: Public WiFi plus cloud file sharing: A recipe for InfoSec panic? « The Diversity Blog 

Kepes goes on to talk about his experience of using public wi-fi. He says he uses it a lot and never runs into trouble.

That makes sense. But it misses something. Kepes is motivated. He owns a business. He has enough experience, knowledge and sense to steer clear of obvious traps.

You, I and Kepes might be sensible. You can’t assume everyone using an enterprise computing app on a mobile device will be as careful or as savvy.

No amount of training or awareness programmes changes that.

Risky, not too risky

Organisations are at risk from careless use of public wi-fi. As Kepes points out the level of risk might not be high.

There is a simple way to deal with the risk. Build VPN functionality into every heavy-duty mobile enterprise app. That way that users have a secure, encrypted end-to-end link from their mobile device to the server handling their data.

VPNs are not expensive, they are not hard to build. They don’t impose much of a performance overhead.

Enterprise software companies can absorb the cost, a few cents per month, into their pricing model. It makes sense to guarantee security with an insurance policy against data being hijacked between a mobile device and the server.

Kepes’ point, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt undermines cloud computing. In general, cloud is more secure than older computing models. You might not expect cloud infrastructure vendors to address mobile access risks; it should be a priority for an enterprise SaaS business.