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Acronis True Image 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 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 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 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 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 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. ↩︎

Norton Wi-Fi Privacy — Easy, flawed VPN was first posted at billbennett.co.nz

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.

New Zealand Public’s Support for Data Analytics

New Zealanders don’t like welfare agencies using personal spending data from credit card or insurance to verify benefit claims.

The 2017 Unisys New Zealand Security Index found only 42 percent agree with welfare agencies accessing this kind of information.

It’s not just welfare. Even fewer New Zealanders support the tax office collecting similar data to verify income tax returns. Just 21 percent think this is OK.

Researchers found the most positive government use of analytics is with border security. Allowing border security officers to analyse the travel history of passengers and their fellow travellers to decide if they are eligible for fast-track border clearance gets a tick from 57 percent of New Zealanders.

Sharp insights or nosy parkers?

Business use modern analytics and big data. They see it as a way to pluck customer insights from masses of messy-looking scraps of information. It gives them a short cut to the consumers most likely to buy their products.

Governments use big data and analytics for social policy and security reasons. Marketers also love the technologies. Used well they can boost sales and reduce marketing waste.

It turns out New Zealand consumers are, at best, luke-warm, about that idea. We don’t like marketing department computers sifting out personal data. Most of the time we are not at all happy with sharing information.

Unisys found a majority, almost two-thirds, of New Zealanders do not like data analytics being used to sell goods and services to them.

Lack of trust with banks

Researchers found 64 percent don’t want their bank to monitor their spending habits to offer related products such as insurance for items they have purchased.Shop workers using face recognition glasses to identify loyalty programme members gets a thumbs down from 62 percent of New Zealanders.

Richard Parker, Unisys Asia-Pacific vice president financial services says: “While they may be trying to improve the customer experience, if businesses cross the line and appear to invade customers’ privacy by revealing that they know more about them than what the customer has knowingly shared, it just turns the customer off.

“Technology alone is not enough. It must be used in the context of understanding human nature and cultural norms.”

This is part of a series of sponsored posts about the 2017 Unisys Security Index New Zealand.

New Zealanders cool on data analytics catching benefit fraud first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

Also on:

When do New Zealanders Support Wearable Biometrics?Unisys Security Index researchers looked at how comfortable New Zealanders are with biometrics and wearable computer devices. That’s the technical name for biometric hardware like health bands and other kit that measures medical data. It also covers smart watches and products like Google Glass.

When there’s a clear benefit, New Zealanders are happy with the devices.

Most New Zealanders support the idea of police or border security staff using face recognition body cameras to identify criminals or even terrorists on watch lists.

Likewise three-quarters of New Zealanders are happy when medical devices like pacemakers or blood sugar sensors report important changes back to a doctor.

Fingerprint scanning

About half of all New Zealand consumers are comfortable using a fingerprint scan to access a smart watch or authorise payment.

This is curious. Most recent Apple and Android phones include finger scanners. Phone makers promote the feature in advertisements and marketing. The products sell in huge quantities. This suggests a significant slice of people buying those products aren’t happy with fingerprint scans.

Around half of all New Zealanders are happy with airline staff wearing face recognition glasses to verify the identity of passengers as they board aircraft. Again, this makes sense, there’s a clear benefit from the technology speeding queues.

It seems a large segment of New Zealanders are still fiercely egalitarian. Only 24 percent support airline staff using the same glasses being used to identify VIP customers and provide them with personalised service. The same suspicions are evident in news there is low support for employers giving employees fitness trackers to track their movements or heart rate stress levels while in the workplace. Unisys says only 29 percent like the idea. This also suggests a mistrust of employers. Let’s face it, some have been known to abuse this kind of personal information in the past.

Biometrics

New Zealanders are positive about biometric devices that help health, safety and security. We don’t like devices that are part of someone’s marketing plan. New Zealand consumers do not consider a loyalty programme sufficient justification.

Mark Sabotti, director of healthcare & life sciences for Unisys Asia-Pacific, makes an interesting point on the biometric hardware results. He says consumers see a clear difference between, say, a doctor monitoring a condition and an insurance company collecting information. Even if that information means some people can save money.

Sabotti sees challenges ahead for health providers and others as the use of smart medical devices rises.

This is part of a series of sponsored posts about the 2017 Unisys Security Index New Zealand.

New Zealand security concernsNew Zealanders worry more about security than ever before. The 2017 Unisys Security Index shows the NZ index sits at 154 out of a possible 300.

That is the highest score New Zealand has registered in the 10 years the Index has run. It is up 12 percent since 2014. That was the last year the survey ran. Then New Zealand rated 137. Today’s Index is half as high again as the one in 2010.

Yet the New Zealand Security Index is well behind the global Security Index. That now sits at 173. Moreover, the global index climbed 20 percent since 2014.

NZ less worried than most

Some countries are in far worse shape. In the Philipines the Index now sits at 243. The US is a touch below the global figure at 169. Australia is a touch more concerned than New Zealand at 157. The UK rates lower than New Zealand at a relaxed 144. This seems low considering the terrorism attacks there. The Netherlands scores 125.

Unisys surveys at least 1000 people in 13 countries worldwide to produce the index. Researchers compiling the index asked questions about eight areas of security in four categories:

  • National Security includes disasters or epidemics and threats such as terrorism or war.
  • Financial Security measures attitudes towards bankcard fraud and other financial matters.
  • Internet Security looks at viruses, computer hacking and the safety of online transactions.
  • Personal Security is concerned with identity theft and personal security.

New Zealanders worry more or less equally about all four categories, but Financial Security tops the list. It’s the same in the UK and Malaysia. It doesn’t bother Germans at all. America was one of only four countries which listed National Security as the top concern. Australians are most concerned about Personal Security.

Unisys says there has been a noticeable increase in the security index in all developed countries since the last survey.

This is part of a series of sponsored posts about the 2017 Unisys Security Index New Zealand. The first was about attitudes to  security aspects of the Internet-of-things