SpiderOak is a relatively well known online backup, sync and file sharing service, with a number of positive write-ups in high-profile publications.
Like many backup service providers, SpiderOak are very keen to emphasise their focus on security and we will discuss it’s achievements in this area under the ‘Security&Privacy’ heading.
Pricing & Plans
Spider Oak offer a broad range of services for consumers and businesses. It’s the former that we concentrate on here.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the pricing model for SpiderOak is very straightforward for consumers, though it’s worth noting that the business options get rather more complex based on the number of users and how you want your data to be hosted.
The good news is that SpiderOak’s service is free, for limited storage of up to 2GB. The next tier is $10 per month for 100GB of data (or $100 per year, providing a $20 discount for up-front payment). Additional storage is an extra $10 per month (or $100 per year) for each additional 100GB.
This is a clear and simple pricing structure, and the costs themselves are competitive. Even though the 2GB free service doesn’t give you space to store a lot, it’s still sufficient for some key files, so if you don’t need much storage, you can use SpiderOak “free forever.”
Online backup services are largely cut from the same cloth these days, so the features list for SpiderOak looks similar to many others.
The main part of the service is secure backup functionality for either all of your data or your selected files and folders. You can either backup during set windows or continually.
Next up is a DropBox-like sync service that uses what SpiderOak call a “hive” folder, where you can keep documents synced between multiple computers and mobile devices. You can also share files with other people using private links, whilst maintaining password security.
Finally, as is standard with most mainstream backup services, SpiderOak keeps all of your file versions, so you can use the service to revert back if you damage a file or overwrite something in error.
Security & Privacy
Like many backup service providers, SpiderOak are very keen to emphasise their focus on security. SpiderOak describe their methodology as “zero knowledge privacy.” They state that “no one….can gain access; not our staff (and) not a government.”
You can read that article in full here, but the main point at issue is that the service, despite its security credentials, is closed-source and based in the USA. If this makes you uncomfortable in the wake of the NSA revelations, you may prefer to choose a service based elsewhere. However, if you have “nothing to hide and nothing to fear,” this probably won’t concern you. This review focuses on the service and software in general.
For the purposes of this review, we’re considering SpiderOak from the perspective of the average user, and from this perspective security in general is strong. AES256 encryption is used during data transmission and storage, and SpiderOak are keen to emphasise that not even their staff can access your data. They also provide extensive detail about their security practices here.
However, as with most things technical, it’s possible to pick holes in SpiderOak’s security if you look deeply enough, which is why SpiderOak didn’t score quite as highly when viewed specifically from a privacy perspective here. The main reasons were the company’s location in the USA, the fact that data isn’t pre-encrypted “client side” prior to transmission, and the fact that (as with some other services) passwords are still sent in plain text if you access your data from mobile devices.
We should emphasise again that if you’re a normal, everyday user, SpiderOak’s security is more than adequate. If security is your principle concern, then check out our guide to the most secure backup solutions.
SpiderOak’s website is clear and easy to navigate, but with plenty of detail below the surface for those who want it. A simple one-step email sign-up is available from the front page.
SpiderOak’s website also features a great “tour” section, which really does provide a step by step guide for what to to expect from the solution.
SpiderOak’s online support section is thorough and detailed. As is to be expected, there are FAQ and KnowledgeBase sections, and there’s also a very detailed online manual, which despite its electronic format gave us pleasing memories of the detailed printed user manuals of old!
When it comes to actually getting help from a “real person,” there’s a support email link that goes to a generic “support@” mailbox.
As is sadly the case with most of these services these days, a support telephone number is conspicuous by its absence. This is understandable when a free service is being provided, but we still love it when companies do make the effort to provide the ability to call a human being, rare though this is now becoming.
(NB. We tested SpiderOak on an Apple Mac. Windows functionality is largely identical, and SpiderOak’s documentation is very clear on how to do things using different platforms).
Signing up for SpiderOak was as simple as can be, with a one-step box prominent on the website homepage.
After entering our email, the additional information requested was minimal: Name, username, password, and (an optional) password hint.
After completing this information, there was a very short pause while the password was encrypted. Then, the software download automatically triggered on our Mac, and a welcome email dropped into our inbox.
The SpiderOak software downloaded in the form of a standard Mac DMG install file of around 35MB. After opening it, we had to drag the SpiderOak app to our applications folder, as is normal practice on OS X.
Upon first running the software, we had to enter our SpiderOak login credentials, and then provide a name with which to identify our computer. After a brief delay, the program crashed with a rather non-specific “Python quit unexpectedly” message. However, we were then taken to the program interface on restarting the application, and never saw this error again.
SpiderOak’s interface was relatively clean and simple, but not quite as polished as some others we’ve seem (such as Wuala) that keep things even easier for novices.
Even so, it wasn’t too hard to get started with our first backup. As you will see from the screenshot above, SpiderOak immediately begins to calculate the total volumes of different types of data on your machine, such as music, pictures and documents. With just a 2GB free account, we weren’t going to be able to back up any of these categories in their entirety, so we headed to the “Advanced” option to manually select some files and folders.
We think perhaps that the developers of SpiderOak assume that most users will want to back up certain data categories in their entirety (or would like to encourage them to do so), as things become a little intimidating once you enter this advanced menu, as you can see above. Direct access to the file system is no big deal for a techie, but we could imagine non-technical users seeing this screen and not knowing what to do next.
In our case, we drilled down into our documents, and chose a couple of folders to backup, before clicking “Save.” Flicking back to the “Status” tab allowed us to monitor the progress of the data upload, which seemed fast and efficient.
Playing around with the software further left us with rather mixed feelings. There was a wealth of options, but some UI choices seemed a little illogical (i.e. accessing scheduling options via the “Preferences” menu, with seemingly no way to do so from the file selection window).
As techies, there was access to plenty of power here, and the client software is good, but at times we couldn’t help wondering if some of the detail could have been left out to make things a little less mind-boggling for technical novices
Before moving on, we went into the “Sync” tab, which gave us a link to our SpiderOak “Hive” folder. We dropped in a few files, and after 10-15 seconds the software noticed there were files to sync and began uploading them.
While in the “Sync” tab, we noticed the option to set up further sync folders. We also noted that the app had placed a shortcut to our hive folder on the Mac desktop. None of this will be anything new to anyone who’s used DropBox or similar, but it all made sense and worked as expected.
Finally, before moving on to looking at the mobile app, we took a quick look at the sharing functionality, which uses a “share room” principle.
As you can see from the screenshot above, it does all look a little complicated, although everything worked well. Once again, we were left with mixed feelings: SpiderOak DOES get everything right, but we couldn’t help feeling a little time spent on improving ease-of-use for technophobes wouldn’t go amiss.
As well as Mac, SpiderOak is available for Linux, Windows, iOS and Android. As part of our testing, we trialled the iOS app on an iPhone.
We found the app in the App Store. After opening it and entering our username and password, we were warned that using it effectively negated the “zero knowledge” privacy in place. We touched on this issue above, so rather than go over it again, we’ll simply say that we commend SpiderOak for emphasising the situation so prominently on the mobile app. Whether it puts you off using SpiderOak’s mobile app, or SpiderOak in general, will have to depend on your own attitude to privacy.
After accepting the warning, we were taken straight to the SpiderOak Hive folder, where all our previously uploaded files were available to view and manipulate. We could also view the files backed up from the Mac, and access our “share rooms.”
The iOS app was simple and effective, if perhaps not the most attractive piece of software we’ve ever seen.
Overall SpiderOak is a great general use secure backup solution which we wouldn’t hesitate in recommending. If you’re looking for other options, then visit our secure backup list mentioned in the article or head over to our sister website BestBackups for more great Backup service reviews.
- Free option available
- “Zero knowledge” privacy, which will be adequate for most
- Good cross platform capabilities
- Great documentation
We weren’t so sure about
- Solid but rather unfriendly user interface
- Privacy compromises when using mobile apps
- Unexplained crash on first launch of the software
- No telephone support