Skype Alternatives

Skype is a telecommunications application software product that specializes in providing video chat and voice calls between computers, tablets, mobile devices, the Xbox One console, and smartwatches via the Internet and to regular telephones. It is one of the more popular methods of making voice calls (emulating telephones) over the Internet.

Microsoft purchased Skype from a privately-owned company in May 2011 for $8.5 billion. At the time, Skype was very popular, primarily because of its high audio quality and ease of use. Skype also was believed to be very secure at the time. While never officially stated, the advertising for Skype hinted that conversations between two Skype users (not traveling over public telephone lines) could not be wiretapped in its distributed, peer-to-peer network.

In the years since the acquisition, the ease of use in Skype has gone away, replaced by a very awkward user interface that is obviously designed for corporate use. The audio quality remains rather good. The original peer-to-peer network has been replaced with a more-or-less standard network that uses Microsoft servers to establish connections. The new network appears to be less secure than the previous peer-to-peer implementation.

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Tresorit’s Super Secure Online File Storage

NOTE: This is an update to an article I published in 2015. Tresorit recently made some major updates to the service and this article reflects those changes.

The big news in technology these days is “the cloud.” In fact, the cloud offers many different services but the most common one for consumers is file storage. Companies like Dropbox, Google Drive, SugarSync, OneDrive, and others provide off-site backup services and also allow users to access their own files on desktop, laptop, and tablet computers or even on cell phones. The file storage business has skyrocketed in the past few years as consumers have learned how useful such services can be.

Many consumers are reluctant to trust these services, however. Real and imagined security concerns have made many people slow to adopt file storage technology. Most of the concerns revolve around access to personal information by hackers as well as by government hackers and by anyone outside the government who wishes to steal personal information and identities. Experience has proven that any file storage service in the U.S. will quickly provide any and all personal information to any law enforcement officer who shows up at the company’s door with a court order. That willingness to share is a valid concern for anyone who values privacy.

One company solves the problem. That company’s product encrypts all data on the consumers computer BEFORE it is sent to the company’s servers. Nobody, not even the company’s own employees, can read your data. In addition, the company is based in Switzerland and has all of its servers in that country or in the European Union. Both Switzerland and the European Union have very strong laws about protecting the privacy of individuals. Swiss laws forbid the release of personal information to any government agency, not even to the Swiss government. A court order from a US court is useless in Switzerland and in the European Union when the data is stored on servers there.

That company has the strange name of Tresorit.

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Use Encipher.it to Quickly and Easily Encrypt Your E-mail Messages

Encipher.it is an amazing service. It secures your email messages and other data so that none of the bad guys can read it, it protects your work or personal files from identity thieves, it allows you to share confidential information easily with friends or co-workers, and it is available free of charge. What is there to dislike about Encipher.it?

Encipher.it offers several methods of use. In its easiest-to-use form, simply type your text into the Encipher.it web site (or copy-and-paste the text), click on ENCIPHER IT, enter an encryption password of your choosing, and your text is instantly converted into what looks like mumbo-jumbo. Here is a snippet from a message I just created:

EnCt2cde69551cb16fd53452aae147c8767b5688154e8cde69551cb16fd53452aae14jewcos7llgK
JmyiffFqxB1iaacDCXwhhO9bOo59TEVAoZ1ZCIuO2hzBwjQaCEqKnHlhPQ5+olv45+WHRa5lpnOZTl0/
sWq8sLn7bSL8KQs0JS7O+6u2qGTNN6Sf4WGRCs4zGl9pUtRRzt9cdyJXo9YcCrUD2IS97/r9D0LJ5DGk
6maetzrdFe2zc6ozcjbsJ892gr2kLi/LZhKIz613DV/fu772ZYafZadUhUdMPuAlQJhyO0gHWDP1L3BL
5uByzmfydNkZ7ujerQYiZBey2GPMoa9aBkpAHzU+gdJZgEJ816uPfc5EIDIYjw1K1yKRsLgYCwHu6bq5

Decrypt it at https://encipher.it

Then you can copy-and-paste that mumbo-jumbo into an email message and send it to anyone of your choosing. You also need to tell the person the encryption password you used. (Don’t send the encryption password in unsecured email!)

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Use the FREE On My Disk Software to Create Your Own Private and Secure Personal Cloud

You probably have read a lot in this web site and elsewhere about the various file storage services in the cloud. Some of the better known ones include Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, SugarSync, SpiderOak, Tresorit, Mega.nz, and perhaps a few dozen others. These are valuable services that allow you to gain access to your files wherever you are, to (optionally) share files with others, and to copy files from one of your computers to another. However, there are two major drawbacks to these services:

1. They tend to charge a lot of money if you have a lot of files you wish to keep available.

2. You have to give your files and, more importantly, CONTROL of your files, to someone else.

To be sure, all the better file storage services provide industrial-strength encryption that prevents anyone else from being able to read the contents of your files—not even the employees of the file storage service. Nonetheless, many people are uncomfortable with giving control to strangers on the Internet.

I often hear or read comments from non-technical computer owners who say, “I don’t trust the cloud.” That statement always comes from someone who doesn’t understand how encryption works. Even so, convincing someone to forego their fears of giving up control is nearly impossible.

One new product called “On My Disk” would seem to solve both problems.

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US Border Patrol Says It Won’t Search Travelers’ Cloud Data

I am not sure if this is reassuring that they won’t do it or if it is scary because others are doing it:

“US border patrol officers don’t have the authority to examine data stored in the cloud when they search travelers’ phones, the US Customs and Border Protection has acknowledged.

“The agency clarified that while it can search electronic devices at the border without consent and in most cases without a warrant, it has no authority to search data in the cloud, according to a letter published Wednesday by NBC News. The clarification came in response to questions Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had about what he called the ‘deeply troubling’ practice of border agents pressuring Americans into providing passwords and access to their social media accounts.”

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Sia – a Safe, Secure, Affordable and Very Private File Storage Service in the Cloud

Most computer users are familiar with the leading online file storage services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, SugarSync, SpiderOak, Apple iDrive, Amazon Web Services S3, and a number of others. However, many people are reluctant to use any of these services because of concerns about security, privacy, and/or expenses. Sia plans to meet those concerns by providing low-cost file storage capabilities that are even more secure than any of the above-mentioned services. In fact, the company plans on building the largest storage superserver on the planet. However, the superserver will not be in one location. Instead, it will be distributed amongst thousands of homes, offices, and data centers around the world.

That is a lofty goal, but reading about Sia convinces me that the company might be able to meet its objective. If it does, and if you want to safely store files off-site for backup and security purposes, you probably will want to investigate Sia. The software is available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.

First of all, Sia won’t own many servers. Sia is a new approach to cloud storage platforms. Instead of all datacenters being owned and operated by a single company, Sia opens the floodgates and allows anyone to make money by renting out space on their hard drives to other Sia users.

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Storj.io, a Distributed, Encrypted File Storage Service Where Only You Have Access to Your Data

Storj.io logo

Storj.io (pronounced “Storage eye oh) is a proposed new service for storing data in the cloud. The data can be anything you wish. I suspect most users will use Storj.io as a file backup service, keeping copies of critical files off site and available at any time. Storj.io’s primary goal is to provide a cloud storage solution that is substantially faster and 50% less expensive than traditional data center-based cloud storage solutions provided by Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Storj uses distributed peer-to-peer storage. That is, there are no centralized servers with huge disk drives. Instead, the Storj.io software breaks the file(s) to be stored into thousands of tiny segments, encrypts each segment, and then stores the segments in available disk space of other Storj.io customers. Each segment is stored in multiple locations. The result is that the information can be restored to the user’s system at any time, even if some or even many of the other Storj.io customers turn their computers off. There are so many segments saved in so many locations around the world that the possibility of any segment being unavailable at any time is mathematically almost impossible. The developers of Storj.io expect the system to provide 99.99999% availability, higher than most any competitive system in use today.

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