One of the useful new features of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite is iCloud Drive, a storage facility that lets you save files and data to the cloud. iCloud Drive lets you store a number of files so that you can access them from all of your Apple devices: your Mac, iPad, and iPhone, and even a web browser on any computer, including Windows PCs. However, working with iCloud Drive can be a bit tricky at times.
iCloud Drive is different from other types of cloud storage. With Dropbox, for example, you have a folder on your computer, and an app on iOS devices, and you can access any files you put there, and you can organize them as you want. iCloud Drive does not work like this; it stores files in application-specific folders, and, while you can open some files with other apps, there are limits as to how you can move them around and access them.
Here’s a guide to using iCloud Drive: how to save files to the cloud, access them from other devices, and use them even with apps that can’t access iCloud.
It’s not easy to export all your iCloud data and documents. There’s no single button to click to do this. If you want to quit iCloud, or archive all your data and documents, it’s a complex process. iCloud stores the following types of data and documents:
Documents, stored in iCloud Drive
Photos and videos
Apple has a support document Archive or make copies of your iCloud data which explains how to export or copy all of this data. It’s not easy, and it will take a while, but this document will serve as a good template explaining how to do this for each type of data.
iCloud also stores data for third-party apps, and the only way you can access that data is through each individual app.
Because of this incident, and others, I’ve realized that I simply don’t trust iCloud any more. I know lots of people who have lost data and don’t trust it either.
Today, I was browsing an RSS feed of new iOS apps, one of which touted “Syncs via iCloud.” And, for the first time, I just passed it by, because iCloud is no longer a selling point, but rather a reason to avoid an app. It’s entirely possible that the app can also sync its data via Dropbox, but I didn’t see that in the capsule description.
For people who have been burned by iCloud, this is now a reason to avoid apps. App developers should think about this; they’ll be losing sales as more people distrust Apple’s cloud. Granted, those who have lost data may still be in the minority, but as long as there’s no way to get it back – without some substantial hoop-jumping – I won’t trust any of my data there. And I won’t buy any apps that sync to iCloud.
I have been trying out Realmac Software’s Clear, recently, to keep task lists on my Macs, and sync them to my iOS devices. I like the app; it’s minimalist, easy to use, and avoids the cruft that many list and to-do apps add.
But then I lost data.
Clear syncs to iCloud, using Apple’s CoreData mechanism. I’ve seen problems with this in many apps in the past, and I’ve come to distrust it. I shouldn’t have even started using another app that syncs with iCloud, but I did.
The problem with Clear is that it doesn’t make automatic backups. If it did, I would have been able to restore from a backup. Fortunately, I sync my iOS devices to my Mac regularly, and my iPhone, Sugaree, had a backup from last night.
The data loss occurred some time in the last 12 hours or so, after that last backup. So, with a couple of tools, and a bit of grunt work, I was able to find my missing data.
Clear lost one of my lists; all the others were intact. So I needed to find the data from that list – which was a list of articles I’m planning to write for this website – and copy its data. It wasn’t long; just about ten article titles. But it had a lot of important ideas.
To start out, I used iExplorer to access my iTunes backup. (It’s a coincidence that iExplorer is my current sponsor, but I chose to offer the developer a sponsorship because their app is so useful for this kind of troubleshooting.) In the backup, look for a folder with the name of the app whose data you want to recover. In this case, the folder is named AppDomainGroup-group.clear.
Clear stores its data in an .sqlite file; for some apps, data may be stored differently, or in multiple files, depending on whether or not it syncs to iCloud. Right-click on the .sqlite file and choose Export to Folder. Save the file where you want.
Since it’s an .sqlite file, you can’t just open it in a text editor and access its data; you need a utility that will let you view that data. I used DB Browser for SQLite. Open the file and click the Browse Data tab. Each app will have different data structures, but for Clear, it was easy to find what I was looking for: a table named “tasks.”
The data I needed was in the “title” field; I double-clicked each one and copied the data, then plugged them into a different app. (For now, I’m trying ToDoist.)
That’s all I needed to do.
So, there are a couple of morals to this story. First, don’t trust iCloud. I don’t blame Realmac; it’s probably not their fault. I find it interesting that the data loss occurred overnight; I may have looked at my Clear list on my iPad yesterday evening, but I don’t recall doing so. If I had, I would have spotted that a list was missing. So my guess is that the data loss is due to iCloud itself.
Second, don’t use an app that doesn’t offer backups. I looked in my local folders and couldn’t find any readable files that I would have been able to recover from Time Machine backups. There’s a locally-stored .sqlite file, but it doesn’t contain the same data.
I won’t be trusting any important data to iCloud any more. I am slightly concerned about my contacts; I’ve had issues with them in the past. I know there are local and Time Machine backups that I could restore if I ever need to. But for the rest, iCloud is simply too precarious.
You’ve heard the stories about iCloud accounts getting hacked; the ones that make the news are celebrities’ accounts, but there may be people wanting to get into yours too. In addition to your Apple ID–the email address you use to identify your account–your password is the key that lets you into that account.
But anyone can pretend to be you, and attempt to get into your account, saying they’ve forgotten the password, and then attempting to answer the security questions that you chose when setting up the Apple ID. If they get through them, because they know the name of your first pet, your favorite sports team, and whatever else, they can access your account. Unless you add an additional layer of security.
As of today, one of them is live: if you sign into iCloud on the web, you’ll get an email:
This is interesting, but is it useful? First, if you get one of these every time you sign into iCloud on the web, it’ll just be a bother. Sure, if you didn’t sign into iCloud, you can reset your password, but too much security hampers usability. People will, over time, get tired of these messages and just delete them.
And, what if I just accessed iCloud around the same time someone broke into my account? Will I get two emails? Or will I just assume that the email I get is for my access?
In any case, by the time you get the email, it might be too late.
As my friend and editor Michael Cohen pointed out:
“Of course, if someone DID sign into your iCloud account via a Web browser, that person would see the email, too and could reset your password, locking you out! Unless you use 2-factor authentication; then it might be harder to do the last.”
You’ve seen it on the internet, even on TV news shows: a number of A-list celebrities had nude selfies swiped from their phones, or their iCloud accounts. Initial thoughts pointed to iCloud, since an exploit was released a couple of days before the photos leaked which targeted Find My iPhone, part of iCloud. This exploit found that Find My iPhone wasn’t rate limited; that it didn’t block users after a certain number of failed password attempts. So the exploit used a list of the 500 most commonly used passwords, and tried them against any Apple ID. If your password was weak, well, you’d get owned. Apple patched iCloud to fix this issue two days later.
But Apple came out with a public statement, saying, “After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved.”
So, who to believe? Some stars jumped the gun, relying on sketchy media reports suggesting that Apple was to blame, and cast aspersion – well, pizza turd – on the company:
But evidence suggests that if iCloud was to blame for some of these breaches, it was not the case for all of them. Some of the stars claim the photos are fakes, while others point out that they don’t use iPhones. According to Apple, their iCloud security questions – the ones you answer to reset a forgotten password – were too easy to figure out. (Though I haven’t seen any suggestions that any of these stars found themselves locked out of their accounts, which would have happened if their passwords were reset.)
There’s lots of speculation, and one of the more interesting theories comes from Boris Gorin of FireLayers. As PC World reports, Gorin said, “The images leaked have been gradually appearing on several boards on the net prior to the post at 4chan–making it reasonable to believe they were not part of a single hack, but of several compromises that occurred over time.”
The PC World article goes on to say:
“Gorin shared a theory the celebrities may have been hacked while connected to an open public Wi-Fi network at the Emmy Awards. If they accessed their personal iCloud accounts, attackers connected to that network would have been able to intercept and capture the username and password credentials. That’s not a security flaw with iCloud and having a strong or complex password wouldn’t offer protection against transmitting that password in clear text on a public Wi-Fi network.”
So we’re stuck in a he-said-she-said loop. In this corner, Apple is saying that these people were targeted by password-reset hacks, which depended on weak security questions. Yet none of the celebrities have said that they found anything amiss when trying to log into anything with their phones or computers. (Of course, they may not want to admit that.) And in that corner, security researchers are looking at old-school man-in-the-middle hacks on public wifi networks.
What seems likely is that, as Gorin says, these were images that were slowly leaked, and that one person decided to dump all at once, to suggest that they all come from the same exploit or hack. And if so, why? Should one speculate that there is a link between this photo dump and Apple’s new product event next week? That, perhaps, a competitor contracted with some black-hat hackers to try and get Apple to have some egg on their face; or some pizza turd?
Put your tinfoil hat on, dear reader. We will probably never know the answer to this one.
One suggestion to the celebrities reading this article (there might be one or two): you have people who tell you what to say and what to wear; find someone to tell you how to keep your personal data secure. It’s not that complicated.
Update: We now know much more about this breach. There was no one single incident grabbing all the photos, a number of techniques were used, from simple figuring out the answers to security questions to forensic software, which anyone can buy for $400 (or simply torrent). Part of the fault is Apple’s, for those accounts that were accessed using the brute-force script, but not all of the accounts whose photos have been leaked were accessed in that manner.
Apple’s iCloud is used for several purposes. You may use it for email; you can use it to sync your contacts and calendars; you can store files there, notably for Apple’s iWork apps; and you can use it to back up your iOS devices.
But what if you have several iOS devices, and also use iCloud for email and documents? If you back up your iOS devices to the cloud, you’ll quickly hit the 5 GB limit. I explain how to trim iOS device iCloud backups, but, still, some people will hit that limit quickly.
Apple’s free 5 GB is a good thing; it entices people to use iCloud. But it’s not enough. If they want people to use iCloud, they should make it easier to use. Apple’s prices for storage are quite expensive:
Yes, you can get an extra 10 GB for only $20 a year; that’s enough to back up a couple more devices, but it’s pretty stingy. For $100 a year, you only get 55 GB (the free 5 GB plus another 50). Cloud storage prices are plummeting, and Dropbox, for example, gives you 100 GB for $100 a year, and Dropbox’s storage is much more flexible, since you can access it directly from a Mac.
Apple needs to move to a model where they give you more storage, perhaps 5 GB per device. It’s not that hard to manage; they could give you the storage when you buy the device, and have you register it, and then, say, once a year, have you connect to iCloud with the device to verify that you still own it. Or, if they were smart, they’d just give you a lot more storage free. After all, OS X is free, iOS is free, and the iWork apps are now free as well. Why make it so hard to manage file storage and backups?
(Note: when I bought my Android phone, it came with an extra 50 GB storage on Google Drive for two years; that’s in addition to the default 15 GB.)
By the way, I’ve paid for Apple’s online services since the beginning: iTools, MobileMe and .Mac. I very much regretted the loss of the iDisk – even though it didn’t work very well – but Dropbox has stepped in to to that type of receptacle, useful for sharing large files, the right way. I wouldn’t mind paying Apple for iCloud, if the service were good enough, and if there were enough storage. But let’s wait and see: with their big data centers, I have a feeling they may be planning something for the next big versions of OS X and iOS.
With the recent demise of free iCloud storage for MobileMe users, many people are wondering whether they need to pay for more iCloud storage to keep their iOS devices backed up. A free iCloud account comes with 5 GB storage, and paid upgrades are available. But how much of that 5 GB do you really need? (To be fair, 5 GB is really stingy; Yahoo! is now offering 1 TB of storage for its email; not that you’d ever use anywhere near that amount…)
You can check by looking on your iOS device. Go to Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup > Manage Storage. You’ll see how much space is used by your different devices, by different apps (Documents & Data), and by iCloud email.
In the screenshot to the right, you can see my 64 GB iPhone; it’s almost full with music, so why is the backup only 188 MB? This can be confusing; from some emails I’ve gotten recently, people think that iCloud backs up is all or most of the content on your iOS device.
Purchased music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books
Photos and videos in your Camera Roll
Home screen and app organization
iMessage, text (SMS), and MMS messages
Your iCloud backup includes information about the content you have purchased, but not the purchased content itself. When you restore from an iCloud backup, your purchased content is automatically downloaded from the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBookstore based on iTunes in the Cloud availability by country. Previous purchases may be unavailable if they have been refunded or are no longer available in the store.
Your iOS device backup only includes data and settings stored on your device. It doesn’t include data already stored in iCloud, for example contacts, calendars, bookmarks, mail messages, notes, shared photo streams, and documents you save in iCloud using iOS apps and Mac apps.
As the above says, iCloud doesn’t actually back up that much; it backs up settings and links to apps and other iTunes Store content, as well as photos and documents. But it doesn’t back up any actual apps, music or videos, so none of these will use any of your iCloud storage.
The main case where your iOS device backup will be large is if you have a lot of photos or videos (that you’ve shot) on your device. If you’ve already moved those photos to your computer, you can turn off photo backups to save space. In the Manage Storage screen, tap on your iOS device, then toggle off Camera Roll. While you’re at it, you can turn off backups for other apps too; just find them in the list, and toggle their backups off. This will not only save space, but make iCloud backups quicker.
You may also have some apps that store large documents; in that case, these documents will get backed up. If you don’t need backups of a specific app’s documents, you can turn that app off in the above settings. (For example, you may have an app you use to view PDFs or photos, that you use for work; if you have copies of the files on your computer, there’s no need to back them up to iCloud.)
Also, if you use Mac apps that store documents in iCloud – notably Apple’s Pages, Keynote or Numbers, but many others can as well – you may need more storage space for them. Also, if you have a lot of iCloud email, that will take up space. (You can always cull your email, moving some of it to your computer.) But if you don’t use iCloud for large documents, and don’t have a lot of email, you may find that 5 GB is enough for a couple of iOS devices.
So check what you need to back up. You might be able to trim your backups and save money on iCloud storage.