nextcloud - self-hosted cloud alternative with privacy and security

NextCloud: self-hosted Google Drive alternative with privacy and security

7 min read

With more and more people working and studying remotely, it is no surprise that file sharing services and collaboration tools are being used more than ever. This on-the-go file sharing convenience is ultimately made possible by cloud-based services.

Such cloud storage services allow you to access your files and data from anywhere in the world on any device, enabling you to work on projects together with other people who may be thousands of miles away.

Google Drive has been at the forefront of such services for a number of years. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other alternatives that can offer you much more in terms of data privacy and information security rather than you having to entrust your data elsewhere.

One such privacy-oriented, open-source alternative to Google Drive is none other than NextCloud.

The problem with Google Drive

Each file you upload is scanned and analyzed in order for Google to achieve better personalization. While it is true that Google Drive encrypts your files during transfer and storage, making it pretty secure, unfortunately, this does not mean that no one can view them if they somehow fall into the wrong hands.

There have been multiple instances over the last few years where large volumes of user data has been leaked or sold by major companies. While Google doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, having your data stored elsewhere can, as we previously mentioned, compromise your privacy.

As a matter of fact, Google keeps quite a lot of information. Similarly to the data from Analytics, which did cause some issues in Europe prior their newest release, they also keep the encryption keys of your files, which poses two potential problems.

The first vulnerability is that Google may decrypt and access your files at will or provide the private keys to a third party - for example, a government agency or law enforcement if required to do so. While this is something that is governed by both European and US legislation, if you are working with clients and their data it would be much more beneficial to have potentially sensitive files stored locally on a self-hosted platform.

The second issue is that you rely on Google to have procedures in place to keep your private encryption keys safe from hackers, which is again, not ideal if you are dealing with client data management.

The file access control options in Google Drive are not all that great either, which means that it is possible to inadvertently share a file with someone who does not really need to have access to it. It is also possible for someone with rights to edit the file and to also share it with someone else. What’s worse is that you will not be notified if the file has been re-shared.

All of this means that your data is secure (thanks to the robust encryption), but its privacy can easily be compromised. The only way to be certain that you have full custody of your data is to use a self-hosted solution.

What is Nextcloud?

Nextcloud is a great alternative to Google Drive, which offers the same core features and more. With Nextcloud you can share and access files, collaborate with others, manage your calendar, send and receive emails, chat and even host video meetings and conferences.

What sets Nextcloud apart is that it can be self-hosted. This guarantees that no one can get a hold of your data without your permission. It is great for individuals as well as organizations and it can be scaled up or down depending on your needs.

Furthermore, Nextcloud is open-source, which means that anyone can check and review the code. The company even offers substantial bug bounties to anyone who finds a vulnerability in the software.

The features that make Nextcloud private and secure

Nextcloud provides enterprise class security with server-side, client-side and in-transit encryption.

Additionally, it offers impressive user management tools and fine-grain user permissions controls. You can have the convenience of a single sign-on, while having the option to enable two-factor authentication, password policies, brute-force attack protection and even machine learning based suspicious login detection for added security.

Nextcloud also has built-in monitoring tools with a graphical UI, which can display information about the server’s state and performance. You also have the option to import the data to another tool using an API endpoint. The users, on the other hand, can easily check all activities related to their files, including the addition and deletion of files, file modification, downloads and sharing. This activity feed is customizable so each user can enable or disable any event type.

The file management system - the backbone of Nextcloud

When it comes to file management, NextCloud offers not only great security, but also convenient tools for organizing and searching files and sharing files with people on the server and outside the server. Publicly shared links can be password-protected for better security.

Furthermore, links to secure upload points can be sent to third parties. If you need to, you can lock files as well. The interface is very intuitive and easy to use and NextCloud has developed both a desktop and a mobile app for extra convenience.

Collaborating using Nextcloud

One of the great strengths of NextCloud is its collaboration tools and features. These tools include a note-taking application, which supports a rich variety of text formats as well Collabora Online tools for editing text documents, spreadsheets and presentations of all major formats (including Microsoft Office compatible files).

You can work on a document together with other users, write and reply to comments and even have a quick video chat to discuss any changes. What’s great about Collabora Online is that, similar to NextCloud, the suite is also open-source, making it more secure.

Privacy-protected communication tools included

Another great thing about Nextcloud is that it can substitute applications such as Microsoft Teams or Slack for video calls and messaging. Nextcloud Talk supports text chat rooms as well as direct messaging, event scheduling and making audio and video calls. It also has screen sharing capabilities, web conferencing tools and even collaborative virtual whiteboards.

All of that while having your data stored on your own servers including all of the metadata, allowing you to have full control over your communications.

Additionally, Nextcloud is entirely GDPR compliant, with a full privacy checklist, extensive administrator manual and compliance features for data requests, terms of service and account deletion.

Should you be using NextCloud?

Nextcloud can do everything that Google Drive does with some features being even better! In addition to its ease of use and the impressive number of handy tools, it is one of the best alternatives to Google Drive for people and companies which value security and privacy above all else.

Almost everything about it can be customized and configured to fit your needs, from security policies and file access control to themes and branding. It’s the ideal solution for anyone looking to self-host their own private cloud and collaborate online with no data leaks.

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