Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

When megaupload.com was taken offline, many users' files were rendered inaccessible. If a service provider goes away, it's clear that you can lose your data.

I do not use file sharing and had never heard of "MegaUpload." I don't have any files on that site, but I had a thought: how do the innocent people get their files back if their only copy was on that site?

They may not.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned, as well as a fair amount of controversy to be gleaned, from the closure of the file sharing site MegaUpload.com.

One of the most important lessons is something that I've been preaching for years.

Background: MegaUpload.com

Megaupload.com was a file sharing site. It's primary purpose was to provide a place where large files could be uploaded and freely downloaded.

I'm sure you can imagine both legitimate and illegal uses for such a service.

FBI Seizure of Megaupload.com

As a result of the alleged illegal use of the service to upload, host, and share copyrighted materials, such as movies and music, without the authority to do so, the United States FBI seized the domains owned by MegaUpload and effectively shut down the service on January 19th, 2012.

The use of MegaUpload wasn't restricted to illegal activities. As a general purpose file-sharing service, it was used for many totally legitimate purposes as well.

Unfortunately, the closure did not distinguish between legitimate or illegal - the entire service was shut down and all files, legitimate or otherwise, were rendered inaccessible.

In fact, it's unclear, but the data may end up being completely and permanently deleted. (At this writing, it's unclear and a recovery plan for holders of legitimate content may be forthcoming. It's just not certain if or when.)

People who've placed the only copy of their data on MegaUpload may quite possibly be out of luck.

The Lesson

We don't even have to go into the legalities and ethics of the MegaUpload story to find a very, very important lesson from it.

And it's something that I've been saying for years.

If your data is in only one place,
it's not backed up.

I don't care where you keep your important data - your machine's hard disk, an external hard disk, DVDs in a bank vault, an online service like MegaUpload or something as simple as Google Docs - if you have only one copy, you are asking to lose that data forever.

Your machine can crash, external hard drives can fail, DVDs degrade over time, accounts get hacked ...

And online services can disappear overnight.

I'll leave the legalities of file sharing up to you, the specifics of your situation, and your conscience.

But whatever you're sharing, keep a copy. Back it up. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Especially when that basket belongs to someone else.

Article C5084 - February 21, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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6 Comments
Robert Miller
February 24, 2012 8:30 AM

Using websites or anything in the cloud to store personal data places that data at risk of loss, as experienced by users of MegaUpload. Don't join the bandwagon to using cloud-based computer programs or storage. Maintain backups of any data on devices that you can see and touch.

My advice is different: go ahead and use cloud services as is appropriate to what you are trying to do - just be sure to BACK UP.
Leo
24-Feb-2012
Simon Willis
February 24, 2012 11:21 AM

@ Robert Miller. I do not agree with 2nd sentence "Don't join the bandwagon to using cloud-based computer programs or storage."

It is like saying you should not use gmail etc or online banking or saving your bookmarks/favourites. What about secure legitimate "membership websites" with forums, webinars etc? What about ecommerce or info web sites? - I have heard there are one or two of those in the cloud.

You cannot very well see and touch computer, external hard drive, 2 usb data backups, laptop - all destroyed by fire (or in a case of theft or natural disaster). Cloud storage literally saved my "online"information and that included copies of ID, cards, important documents and 7 years of business accounting etc etc.

Who is going to steal your stuff, provided well encrypted (Leo says 12 digit passwords) in Drop Box or Sugar Sync? Cloud storage serves an incredibly important safety back-up (also by way of auto-synchronization = backup across computers / devices).

A good cloud company maintains its own backups on different located and well-encrypted servers just in case of their own down-time, hacking, disaster etc. They are professional and they have to be.
They serve a very useful function indeed.

Dave
February 24, 2012 11:22 AM

I have to say that I have regarded so-called "cloud storage" with some suspicion ever since it was first mooted and my worst fears were confirmed with the MegaUpload debacle. I have what would probably be termed a "large number" of external drives (not saying how many - way over the top, probably!) backing up my 105 gigs-worth of music and documents and still they fail. Recently had to replace two that died almost simultaneously, so I wonder just what IS the ultimate medium for storage? Drives fail, DVD and CD discs become unreadable, memory sticks wear out. What is the be-all and end-all for storage? Is there anything that will last the course?

Bruce Tech Guy
February 24, 2012 6:30 PM

Re. Dave's comment and question - an excellent one. I too wish for the answer to that best backup solution question.

Years back I bought a Magneto-Optical cartridge drive (Fuji DynaMO), which seemed technologically to be the best possible long term storage. Unfortunately, the drive and cartridge cost was a bit high, and the device did not sell well enough for it to be kept up-to-date. So its 1.3GB cartridges are now rather on the small side. But they did seem very reliable!

On-line services may help, but for two or three caveats: a) slow upload speed for those of us on DSL or similar, b) security, though "assured" suggests it is best to TrueCrypt any personal data first (or similar encryption), c) longevity of service -- now called into question by MU situation.

HD: And now with HD prices near to double (due to Thailand factories' flooding) I am wishing I had bought several more 'spares' last year...

Optical: I do write a lot of my lesser accessed data to DVD-R discs, using quality media. But even there, I have read back some of those that were only a year or two old, and sometimes get warnings that the data could not be completely read.
Sigh.

Patrick C
February 25, 2012 6:19 AM

There IS NO ULTIMATE STORAGE DEVICE... That's the lesson I've learned from experience.

However, there are METHODS and HABITS to help you avoid trouble - and none of them is 100% cast-iron.

As Leo states; "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

Another one might be "Take hardware limitations into account", i.e. don't physically overload your system (e.g. your machine's feed can only take say 2 internal drives upto a combined maximum capacity, DVD's cannot be overwritten upto the advertised maximum, keep an eye on your CPU laod,...) and take at least a 10 to 15% margin below what the manufacturer says to be optimal.

As to file sharing and cloud storage... Even though I have no experience whith this at all it is tempting... but I don't feel at ease with the implementation(s).
In a somewhat different perspective, I have the distinct impression that the industry has been pushing to get rid of home computing atogether since more than a decade ago and that they build homecomputers (and other appliences besides computerrelated hardware) to break down at preset times. There have been several successful lawsuites filed in this matter.

But I'm getting off topic...

The best advice anyone can get comes down to :
1. "study, acquire the knowledge you need through reliable sources (such as Leo), know what you're doing
2. always keep in mind that 'if something can go wrong it will' (I would add 'sooner than later' - BTW, I forget the name of the guy who formulated this law for the first time... which illustrates his point :-)
3. sometimes trust your intuition, but only after years of experiece and lots of disappoint, and even then, double-check anyway
4. keep a life!

Greetz,
Patrick.

PS: The rumour goes that whatever comes on the net stays on the net...


Dave
February 26, 2012 1:11 AM

Thanks for replies to my post. I also meant to add that cloud storage could be a problem for individuals regarding their ISP's traffic limit, which could be exceeded many times over in an attempt to upload large quantities of important files, not to mention the invariably slower upload speed. This alone may put cloud storage off-limits for some people.

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