Dropbox Bug Causes Man to Lose 8,000 Photos

cockroach deleteA blog post on Medium.com caught my attention recently.  It explains how one man lost 8,000 of his photos due to a bug in Dropbox.  Here’s what happened, and how you can avoid making the same mistake.

The Backstory

Jan Čurn is a Ph.D student who has been using Dropbox since 2009.  Earlier this year, he was running low on hard drive space.  He decided to unsync his Dropbox files from his laptop, so they would only be stored in the cloud.

Jan writes:

I thought it might be about time that one can trust a cloud-based storage service and use them as a sole backup of their files. Boy, I was wrong.

When he unsynced the folders, a bug in Dropbox deleted his files from the servers.

Jan could have recovered his files, but he didn’t notice they were gone until 60 days had passed.  Dropbox only keeps a copy of deleted files for 30 days.

Lesson #1: Never Store Your Data in the Cloud Only

In the article, Jan explains how he disabled the Selective Sync feature in Dropbox.  Disabling Selective Sync removes the local copy of files, so they are only stored in the cloud.  This is not a backup.  A backup is having your data in more than one location.

Important files should always be stored in more than one location.  Whether it’s an external hard drive, the cloud, your friend’s house – it doesn’t matter.  As long as they are stored in more than one place, preferably offsite.

Trusting 8,000 of your most precious memories to a cloud service, with no local copy or backup, is asking for trouble.  It’s like skydiving without a reserve parachute.

Cheap cloud storage space is everywhere.  You can buy a terabyte on Google Drive for $10/month.  It may be tempting to replace your hard drive with a cloud drive, but the risks outweigh the benefits.

So don’t disable syncing, unless you’re also backing up your data elsewhere.

Lesson #2: Backup Your Data

It’s important to have a dedicated backup system in place.  This can be done using an online backup service, “offline” backup software, or a combination of both.

To create local backups, you can use built-in utilities like File History in Windows 8, or Time Machine on Mac.  These backups are free, easy, and there’s no reason not to do them.  All you need is an external hard drive.

For more powerful data recovery, you can use full disk imaging software.  This would create a sector-by-sector copy of your hard drive.  There are plenty of free and paid solutions out there.

To backup your data offsite, use an online backup service like CrashPlan, Backblaze, or any of the dozens of others that are out there.  These cost as little as $5 per month, and it’s one of the best ways to protect your files.

Any of these backup solutions would have protected Jan.

Dropbox is clearly to blame here.  A bug in their software did delete this man’s files.  However, Jan failed to realize that storing files solely in the cloud is not a backup.  When you unsync your files from the cloud, you are replacing your hard drive with a cloud drive.  And storing data in one location is always a risky move.

Geoff Akerlund

Geoff Akerlund

Geoff Akerlund is the founder and editor-in-chief of BackupReview.com. He enjoys attending music festivals, whitewater kayaking on the American River, and board game nights in his free time.

Geoff Akerlund