Get Rid of the Middle-Man: Exploring BitTorrent Sync (Updated)


Last week, I read of one person's effort to stop relying on cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Intrigued by this approach, I decided to give BitTorrent Sync a try. As it says on their web site, you can accomplish the following:
  1. Sync unlimited files between your own devices, or share a folder with friends and family to automatically sync anything.
  2. File transfers are encrypted. Your information is never stored on a server in the cloud and your data is protected by private keys. Read more about this.
  3. BitTorrent Sync is specifically designed to handle large files, so feel free to sync original, high quality, uncompressed files.
And, BTSync works on Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS. (updated 09/02/2013)

As you may not know, I recently moved away from Google Drive and Gmail for my personal information. My alternative was Dropbox, which I felt gave me better control over my files, enabled me to encrypt my confidential files.


Some of the features that I like about Dropbox include the following:
  • Cross-platform compatibility...it simply works on all my devices and I use every OS for desktop and mobile devices.
  • Easy to decide what I want to "get" and "put." For example, I decide what folders I want to sync in Dropbox per device.
  • Ease of sharing. Once I put something in Dropbox, I can share that file/folder with others with a right-click.
What I don't like about Dropbox, of course, can fit on a short list--it costs me about $100 per year, and my data is hosted on someone else's servers. Although I have about 56gigs of data up there, I have about 21 gigs that are "free," giving me a total storage of 120gigs.

Here's what I like about BitTorrent Sync:

1) Drop-dead simple. Want to quickly share files among computers or with people? No problem,t his is the tool. You even can share a QR code if you're working with a mobile device. I'm able to easily put content into a folder on one computer and then a copy magically appears on another. I've tried this with my entire contents of Dropbox folders, and voila, it worked (you have to give it time, though). Of course, it simply made a copy of content on one computer to another.

2) Encryption keys can be ones that you provide, or that BTSync generates. Either way, I'd still encrypt the data using one of my favorite solutions, Paranoia's SSI File Encryptor, AESCrypt.com, or 7zip, before putting it "out there" for others to access. As always, I wouldn't necessarily trust BTSync (or Google's or Dropbox's) built-in encryption. Some other notes about security:
  • BitTorrent Sync was designed with privacy and security in mind. All the traffic between devices is encrypted with AES cypher and a 256-bit key created on the base of the secret—a random string (20 bytes or more) that is unique for every folder.
  • There are no 3rd party servers involved when syncing your files.
  • There are rare cases when peers can’t talk directly. This usually happens when devices are in an office behind strong firewalls. In such a case BitTorrent provides a relay server to route traffic between peers. All traffic is AES encrypted with your secret, so there is no chance for us to see any of your data.

3) Large file handling. Surprised at the instantaneously synch'd 16 meg video file from my Linux desktop to my Macbook laptop, I decided to try something bigger. I had a 242 meg video file that took about 20 minutes to place on Dropbox.

Using BTSync, it took only 3 minutes. Wow! I was able to easily follow the progress here:
On Linux (Lubuntu), you can access BitTorrent Sync management console at http://localhost:8888
4) You can easily share folders with others via a QR code. If sharing data that need not be secure, you can send someone a QR code or the "secret" code that will allow them access. For example, I have some video tutorials I'd be happy to share with anyone.

a) On Linux, I just go to http://localhost:8888 and then click on the ADD FOLDER button;


Here's the code, which I generated using Secure Password Generator:
Kdm9YwKN15UJa
(note that the full code is not displayed 'cause I don't want anyone to start putting their stuff on my computer!)

BTSync offers two QR codes:

Full Access (I've blacked it out):


or Read Only access, which could be used for sharing with strangers:
Here's the full-length "secret" for the Read-Only version, in case you want to try it on a computer:
Uk9OTFl6BMcfFjAAnj/EApqfR9sfVnG4Cinu3ismcCesJ2iJTy3i/Ihom4i0zbCV385SxXY=
BTW, enjoy the video tutorials!

If you click on the gears icon in the web console, you can see some additional interesting options:
Notice the one-time secret access that makes it easy to temporarily share content with others. I also like the feature that allows connect a mobile device via QR Code.

5) I host the content on my computers and/or external USB hard drives. Since I work on multiple computers separated by time and space, it doesn't hurt to have them synch'd across multiple machines. I'm not Google, but this is an easy disaster recovery approach that doesn't make my data accessible on someone else's computers.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
No solution is perfect, and what I didn't like about BTSync is as follows:
  • If you're synching a file folder (e.g. Backup) that has several folders in it (e.g. Videos, Audio, Docs), you can setup a separate synch process for a sub-folder if you already have it setup for the main folder (e.g. Backup). That means, I can't be sharing the main folder if I decide to share a sub-folder (e.g. Videos) with someone else. This limits my sharing options. It means you have to be a bit more strategic about how you share.
  • Unable to sync certain folders. With BTSync, you get everything. That's OK if the devices you're synching between have huge hard drives/storage, but that's not always the case. It would be great to be able to choose what to save or not to BTSync.

Some quick reflections:

  1. Makes it easy to create a "shared drive" with others in your workgroup, bypassing cloud storage solutions. No email account is needed.
  2. Great for sharing large video files
  3. You can beef up the "secure key" by using a web site like Secure Password Generator (or something else that generates Base64 string (40 characters long).
  4. This might be blocked by school district/business filtering that view BitTorrent as problematic.
  5. Since you can set up as many folders to share, and put them anywhere, it's a versatile tool that doesn't lock you into ONE folder or location. You can always turn it on/off as needed.
Those are my quick thoughts after playing with BitTorrent Sync as an alternative to cloud storage solutions.

Verdict: 

Will I switch to BitTorrentSync as an easy way to get information shared across my multiple devices? Absolutely, yes, I will switch to it about 95% of the time. There still remains a 5% usage for when Dropbox is still useful (especially on iOS devices), quick sharing and connections with others, and when I want to something shared over a long period of time. After all, what happens when all the computers I'm sharing content off of get turned off? I suspect loss of access will occur.

Will I drop my monthly payments to Dropbox? Yes, now that I have an easy way to get large files from here to there. I will probably have at least two machines in constant sync.

Will I use BTSync on my mobile devices? Since there's no support for iOS, it won't work with my iPad. And, since I can't choose WHAT to sync, I'll only use it on my Android device when I quickly want to move stuff over (but again, I have tons of options for doing that).

Will I use BTSync to share content with my family's computers? Yes, it's fantastic! I can put something in a folder and they will see it on their computer almost instantaneously. You can't go wrong with that. Imagine 




Check out Miguel's Workshop Materials online at http://mglearns.wikispaces.com


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure



Comments

Anonymous said…
you can exclude individual files/folders or file types using the .SyncIgnore file
http://forum.bittorrent.com/topic/18624-syncignore-example-request/

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