Transporter, a private Dropbox in a tower

Move over DropboxBox and all you synch&share wannabees, there’s a new synch and share in town.

At SFD7 last month, we were visiting with Connected Data where CEO, Geoff Barrell was telling us all about what was wrong with today’s cloud storage solutions. In front of all the participants was this strange, blue glowing device. As it turns out, Connected Data’s main product is the File Transporter, which is a private file synch and share solution.

All the participants were given a new, 1TB Transporter system to take home. It was an interesting sight to see a dozen of these Transporter towers sitting in front of all the bloggers.

I was quickly, established a new account, installed the software, and activated the client service. I must admit, I took it upon myself to “claim” just about all of the Transporter towers as the other bloggers were still paying attention to the presentation.  Sigh, they later made me give back (unclaim) all but mine, but for a minute there I had about 10TB of synch and share space at my disposal.

Transporters rule

transporterB2So what is it. The Transporter is both a device and an Internet service, where you own the storage and networking hardware.

The home-office version comes as a 1 or 2TB 2.5” hard drive, in a tower configuration that plugs into a base module. The base module runs a secured version of Linux and their synch and share control software.

As tower power on, it connects to the Internet and invokes the Transporter control service. This service identifies the node, who owns it, and provides access to the storage on the Transporter to all desktops, laptops, and mobile applications that have access to it.

At initiation of the client service on a desktop/laptop it creates (by default) a new Transporter directory (folder). Files that are placed in this directory are automatically synched to the Transporter tower and then synchronized to any and all online client devices that have claimed the tower.

Apparently you can have multiple towers that are claimed to the same account. I personally tested up to 10 ;/ and it didn’t appear as if there was any substantive limit beyond that but I’m sure there’s some maximum count somewhere.

A couple of nice things about the tower. It’s your’s so you can move it to any location you want. That means, you could take it with you to your hotel or other remote offices and have a local synch point.

Also, initial synchronization can take place over your local network so it can occur as fast as your LAN can handle it. I remember the first time I up-synched 40GB to DropBox, it seemed to take weeks to complete and then took less time to down-synch for my laptop but still days of time. With the tower on my local network, I can synch my data much faster and then take the tower with me to my other office location and have a local synch datastore. (I may have to start taking mine to conferences. Howard (, co-host on our  GreyBeards on Storage podcast) had his operating in all the subsequent SFD7 sessions.

The Transporter also allows sharing of data. Steve immediately started sharing all the presentations on his Transporter service so the bloggers could access the data in real time.

They call the Transporter a private cloud but in my view, it’s more a private synch and share service.

Transporter heritage

The Transporter people were all familiar to the SFD crowd as they were formerly with  Drobo which was at a previous SFD sessions (see SFD1). And like Drobo, you can install any 2.5″ disk drive in your Transporter and it will work.

There’s workgroup and business class versions of the Transporter storage system. The workgroup versions are desktop configurations (looks very much like a Drobo box) that support up to 8TB or 12TB supporting 15 or 30 users respectively.  The also have two business class, rack mounted appliances that have up to 12TB or 24TB each and support 75 or 150 users each. The business class solution has onboard SSDs for meta-data acceleration. Similar to the Transporter tower, the workgroup and business class appliances are bring your own disk drives.

Connected Data’s presentation

transporterA1Geoff’s discussion (see SFD7 video) was a tour of the cloud storage business model. His view was that most of these companies are losing money. In fact, even Amazon S3/Glacier appears to be bleeding money, although this may not stop Amazon. Of course, DropBox and other synch and share services all depend on cloud storage for their datastores. So, the lack of a viable, profitable business model threatens all of these services in the long run.

But the business model is different when a customer owns the storage. Here the customer owns the actual storage cost. The only thing that Connected Data provides is the client software and the internet service that runs it. Pricing for the 1TB and 2TB transporters with disk drives are $150 and $240.

Having a Transporter

One thing I don’t like is the lack of data-at-rest encryption. They use TLS for data transfers across your LAN and the Internet. But the nice thing about having possession of the actual storage is that you can move it around. But the downside is that you may move it to less secure environments (like conference hotel rooms). And as with the any disk storage, someone can come up to the device and steel the disk. Whether the data would be easily recognizable is another question but having it be encrypted would put that question to rest. There’s some indication on the Transporter support site that encryption may be coming for the business class solution. But nothing was said about the Transporter tower.

On the Mac, the Transporter folder has the shared folders as direct links (real sub-folders) but the local data is under a Transporter Library soft link. It turns out to be a hidden file (“.Transporter Library”) under the Transporter folder. When you Control click on this file your are given the option to view deleted files. You can also do this with shared files as well.

One problem with synch and share services is once someone in your collaboration group deletes some shared files they are gone (over time) from all other group users. Even if some of them wanted them. Transporter makes it a bit easier to view these files and save them elsewhere. But I assume at some point they have to be purged to free up space.

When I first installed the Transporter, it showed up as a network node on my finder shared servers. But the latest desktop version (3.1.17) has removed this.

Also some of the bloggers complained about files seeing files “in flux” or duplicates of the shared files but with unusual file suffixes appended to them, such as ” filename124224_f367b3b1-63fa-4d29-8d7b-a534e0323389.jpg”. Enrico (@ESignoretti) opened up a support ticket on this and it’s supposedly been fixed in the latest desktop and was a temporary filename used only during upload and should have been deleted-renamed after the upload was completed. I just uploaded 22MB with about 40 files and didn’t see any of this.

I really want encryption as I wanted one transporter in a remote office and another in the home office with everything synched locally and then I would hand carry the remote one to the other location. But without encryption this isn’t going to work for me. So I guess I will limit myself to just one and move it around to wherever I want to my data to go.

Here are some of the other blog posts by SFD7 participants on Transporter:

Storage field day 7 – day 2 – Connected Data by Dan Firth (@PenguinPunk)

File Transporter, private Synch&Share made easy by Enrico Signoretti (@ESignoretti)

Transporter – Storage Field Day 7 preview by Keith Townsend (@VirtualizedGeek)


Securing synch & share data-at-rest


1003163361_ba156d12f7Snowden at SXSW said last week that it’s up to the vendors to encrypt customer data. I think he was talking mostly about data-in-flight but there’s just a big an exposure for data-at-rest, maybe more so because then, all the data is available, at one sitting.

iMessage security

A couple of weeks ago there was a TechCrunch article (see Apple Explains Exactly How Secure iMessage Really Is or see the Apple IOS Security document) about Apple’s iMessage security.

The documents said that Apple iMessage uses public key encryption where every IOS/OS X device generates a pair of public and private keys (one for messages and one for signing) which are used to encrypt the data while it is transmitted through Apple’s iMessage service.  Apple encrypts the data on its iMessage App running in the devices with every destination device’s public key before it’s saved on the iMessage server cloud, which can then be decrypted on the device with its private key whenever the message is received by the device.

It’s a bit more complex for longer messages and attachments but the gist is that this data is encrypted with a random key at the device and is saved in encrypted form while residing iMessage servers. This random key and URI is then encrypted with the destination devices public keys which is then stored on the iMessage servers. Once the destination device retrieves the message with an attachment it has the location and the random key to decrypt the attachment.

According to Apple’s documentation when you start an iMessage you identify the recipient, the app retrieves the public keys for all these devices and then it encrypts the message (with each destination device’s public message key) and signs the message (with the originating device’s private signing key). This way Apple servers never see the plain text message and never holds the decryption keys.

Synch & share data security today

As mentioned in prior posts, I am now a Dropbox user and utilize this service to synch various IOS and OSX device file data. Which means a copy of all this synch data is sitting on Dropbox (AWS S3) servers, someplace (possibly multiple places) in the cloud.

Dropbox data-at-rest security is explained in their How secure is Dropbox document. Essentially they use SSL for data-in-flight security and AES-256 encryption with a random key for data-at-rest security.

This probably makes it easier to support multiple devices and perhaps data sharing because they only need to encrypt/save the data once and can decrypt the data on its servers before sending it through (SSL encrypted, of course) to other devices.

The only problem is that Dropbox holds all the encryption keys for all the data that sits on its servers. I (and possibly the rest of the tech community) would much prefer that the data be encrypted at the customer’s devices and never decrypted again except at other customer devices. This would be true end-to-end data security for sync&share

As far as I know from a data-at-rest security perspective Box looks about the same, so does EMC’s Syncplicity, Oxygen Cloud, and probably all the others. There are some subtle differences about how and where the keys are kept and how many security domains exist in each service, but in the end, the service holds the keys to all data that is encrypted on their storage cloud.

Public key cryptography to the rescue

I think we could do better and public key cryptography should show us the way. I suppose it would probably be easiest to follow the iMessage approach and just encrypt all the data with each device’s public key at the time you create/update the data and send it to the service but,

  • That would further delay the transfer of new and updated data to the synch service, also further delaying its availability at other devices linked to the login.
  • That would cause the storage requirement for your sync&share data to be multiplied by the number of devices you wish to synch with.

Synch data-at-rest security

If we just take on the synch side of the discussion first maybe it would be easiest. For example,  if a new public and private key pair for encryption and signing were to be assigned to each new device at login to the service then the service could retain a directory of the device’s public keys for data encryption and signing.

The first device to login to a synch service with a new user-id, would assign a single encryption key for all data to be shared by all devices that could use this login.  As other devices log into the service, the prime device sends the single service encryption key encrypted using the target device’s public key and signing the message with the source device’s private key. Actually any device in the service ring could do this but the primary device could be used to authenticate the new devices login credentials. Each device’s synch service would have a list of all the public keys for all the devices in the “synch” region.

As data is created or updated there are two segments of each file that are created, the AES-256 encrypted data package using the “synch” region’s random encryption key and the signature package, signed by the device doing the creation/update of the file.  Any device could authenticate the signature package at the time it receives a file, as could the service. But ONLY the devices with the AES-256 encryption key would have access to the plain text version of the data.

There are some potential holes in this process, first is that the service could still intercept the random encryption key, at the primary device when it’s created or could retrieve it anytime later at its leisure using the app running in the device. This same exposure exists for the iMessage App running in IOS/OS X devices, the private keys in this instance could be sent to another party at any time. We would need to depend on service guarantees to not do this.

Share data-at-rest security

For Apple’s iMessage attachment security the data is kept in the cloud encrypted by a random key but the key and the URI are sent to the devices when they receive the original message. I suppose this could just as easily work for a file share service but the sharing activity might require a share service app running in the target device to create public-private key pairs and access the file.

Yes this leaves any “shared” data keys being held by the service but it can’t be helped. The data is being shared with others so maybe having it be a little more accessible to prying eyes would be acceptable.


I still prefer the iMessage approach, having multiple copies of encrypted shared data, that is encrypted by each device’s public key. It’s simpler this way, a bit more verifiable and doesn’t need to have as much out-of-channel communication (to send keys to other devices).

Yes it would cost more to store any amount of data and would take longer to transmit, but I feel we would all would be willing to support this extra constraints as long as the service guaranteed that private keys were only kept on devices that have logged into the service.

Data-at-rest and -in-flight security is becoming more important these days. Especially since Snowden’s exposure of what’s happening to web data. I love the great convenience of sync&share services, I just wish that the encryption keys weren’t so vulnerable…


Photo Credits: Prizon Planet by AZRainman