Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive are the most popular cloud storage providers today. Picking between them to determine which one is the best cloud storage provider is no easy task. Each has strengths and weaknesses that don’t always overlap.
Though we side with OneDrive, with multiple caveats, new readers of Cloudwards.net might be surprised to learn that none of the three finish atop our cloud storage comparison rankings. The main reason for that is a flaw they all share: security.
We much prefer cloud providers that offer private, end-to-end encryption, such as those in our review of the best zero-knowledge cloud services.
That said, we don’t deny that there are benefits to using Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive over the bulk of cloud storage providers, with most relating to productivity. As much as we laud Sync.com as a provider for its impregnable security, that security means image previews, media streaming and document editing are out of play.
The question of which of the three kings of cloud storage reigns supreme is an important one. It’s PC or Mac, Beatles or Rolling Stones and boxers or briefs important. When in doubt about whether one software-as-a-service provider is better than another, here at Cloudwards.net, we prefer a tried-and-true method of picking a winner: trial by combat.
Send the children to bed, because this three-way gladiatorial match is your front-row seat to a display of virtual carnage that will put the war for net neutrality to shame, and will help you decide whether Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive is best for your file-hosting needs.
The Battle: Dropbox versus Google Drive versus OneDrive
By the numbers, Google Drive has the advantage. In early 2017, the company announced it had passed 800 million monthly active users. By now, it’s probably the first cloud storage service to have passed the one billion mark.
Dropbox, once the leader in active users, last reported 500 million registered users. Of those, 11 million are paying users, including 300,000 business subscription customers (read our Dropbox Business review).
OneDrive, meanwhile serves a measly 115 million users worldwide. Then again, it’s reported that over 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies use OneDrive, which isn’t surprising given the popularity of Office 365.
Numbers aren’t everything, though. Each of the three tech giants has taken a different approach to marketing and developing their storage service, helping to define the cloud storage market along the way. Which one works best for you will depend on which approach aligns most with your needs.
We’ve broken our battle into five rounds to help you figure that out. After each round, we’ll rank each service and give two points to the winner, one point to the runner-up and a fat zero for last place. At the end of our article, we’ll tally the points and present our pick for the best of the three.
If you prefer an isolated look at our contestants, we have separate reviews for each:
Now, on to the bloodshed.
Round One: Pricing and Storage
We’ll begin where most consumers start, and some finish, by considering cost. In addition to detailing the subscription prices, we’ll look at how much storage you get. The range of plans offered will be considered, too, since there’s little value in paying for a 1TB storage plan when you only need half that.
All three cloud storage services have consumer and business plans. While much of our article is directed at personal use, we’ll look at both in round one to give our office-dwelling consumers something to think about.
We’ll also consider free cloud storage plans. Check out our article on the best free cloud storage offers to see whether any of the three made it and nab some no-strings storage at the same time.
One of the things that sticks out about Dropbox is its inflexibility. For individual users, both subscription options give you 1TB of storage. Dropbox Basic gives you 2GB of free storage, which is one of the least generous free cloud storage plans.
|Plans:||Dropbox Basic||Dropbox Plus||Dropbox Professional|
|Annual Cost (by Month):||Free||$8.25||$16.58|
We’d love to see Dropbox put out a 500GB plan, but we’re not going to hold our breath for that evolution. When it comes to subscription changes, Dropbox usually only increases prices.
By paying twice as much for Dropbox Professional over Dropbox Plus, you don’t get more storage, you get more features. It’s debatable whether they’re worth it, at least, for home use. Smart sync, shared link settings and 120-day versioning are the highlights. We’ll talk about each in more detail later in this article.
Dropbox Business plans are more versatile, with both a 2TB and unlimited cloud storage plan, but require a minimum of three users. You can go month-to-month, or pay for a year in advance to receive a discount.
|Cost per User:||$15||$25|
|Annual Cost (by Month):||$12.50||$20|
The unlimited cloud storage landscape is sparse and mostly limited to business plans. Dropbox ranks as one of the best options, but we have others listed in our best unlimited cloud storage article.
Google Drive Pricing
If you own an Android phone or have a Gmail account, you already have 15GB of free Google Drive storage. That’s one of the most generous cloud storage plans available, even if storage is shared between Google Drive, Google Photos, Google Calendar and Gmail.
You can get 1TB of Google Drive storage for $9.99, the same price as Dropbox Plus. Google extends its price plan flexibility with more subscription options, ranging from 100GB for $1.99 per month to 30TB for $299. Annual subscriptions with discounts are available, too.
Free plan. Annual Discount: 16% Annual Discount: 17% Annual Discount: n/a Annual Discount: n/a Annual Discount: n/a Annual Discount: n/a
Plan 15GB 100GB 1TB 2TB 10TB 20TB 30TB Price Plan Storage 15 GB 100 GB 1000 GB 2000 GB 10000 GB 20000 GB 30000 GB Details
Annual Discount: 16%
Annual Discount: 17%
Annual Discount: n/a
Annual Discount: n/a
Annual Discount: n/a
Annual Discount: n/a
The number of options isn’t something you’ll get with most cloud storage providers. The rates aren’t impressive, but that’s about to change.
At the time this article is being written, Google Drive is on the cusp of being rebranded as Google One. With the name change, Google will be doubling the storage capacity of its 1TB plan, giving users 2TB. There will also be a new 200GB plan for $2.99 per month.
On top of those changes, Google One plans can be shared with up to five family members, making it one of the best cloud storage options for families. You’ll be able to give each family member their own private storage space.
Google One subscribers will also receive faster support access, credits for Google Play, hotel deals and other perks. Even without those extras, the doubling of storage and the option to share space with others represent a seismic shift in the cloud storage market that should force other providers to rethink their subscription offers.
Google has storage plans for business users packaged under the G Suite brand. As far as we know, these plans won’t be overhauled when Google One launches.
|Cost per User:||$5||$10|
|Notes:||N/A||If under 5 users, storage is 1TB per user.|
There are no minimum user requirements for G Suite, though if you license fewer than five users for the G Suite Business plan, you’ll get 1TB of storage per user instead of unlimited storage.
OneDrive plans include a free 5GB offer on the low end and Office 365 subscriptions on the high end. Sandwiched in between, there’s a 50GB cloud storage plan. Both month-to-month and annual subscriptions are available.
|Plan||Free||50GB||1TB||5TB||OneDrive Business||OneDrive Business Advanced||OneDrive Business All-In-One|
$ 1 99monthly
$ 23 88yearly
$ 6 99monthly
$ 69 99yearly
$ 9 99monthly
$ 99 99yearly
$ 60 00yearly
$ 120 00yearly
$ 15 00monthly
$ 150 00yearly
|Storage||5 GB||50 GB||1000 GB||5000 GB||1000 GB||Unlimited GB||1000 GB|
Comes with Office 365 Personal.
Comes with Office 365 Home.
Microsoft phone & email support .
Unlimited OneDrive storage.
Comes with full Office 365 suite.
Getting 50GB for $1.99 is a reasonable deal and one that Dropbox doesn’t match, though Google Drive gives you 100GB for the same price. The better bargains are the two Office 365 plans: Personal and Home.
Office 365 Personal is $6.99 per month for 1TB of storage. That alone is enticing, but what really drives the value up is that a subscription gives you access to desktop versions of Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (read our OneNote review).
Office 365 Home offers more value. For $9.99 per month, you get 5TB of storage for five family members, in addition to Microsoft Office.
We’ve written a separate OneDrive for Business review if you’re looking for cloud storage for your colleagues. The pricing is affordable, but note that the two low-end subscriptions come with cloud storage only, meaning no Office 365.
|Plan||OneDrive for Business||OneDrive for Business Advanced||Office 365 Business||Office 365 Business Premium|
$ 60 00yearly
$ 120 00yearly
$ 8 25monthly
$ 150 00yearly
OneDrive Storage per User: 1TB
OneDrive Storage per User: Unlimited
OneDrive Storage per User: 1TB
OneDrive Storage per User: 1TB
The Business Premium plan comes with all the apps, unlimited cloud storage and 50GB mailboxes with custom domains. Other perks are included, as well.
Round One Thoughts:
Dropbox is one of the worst deals in cloud storage, at least, if you’re only looking at cost and gigabytes. It’s out for round one.
Google Drive and OneDrive provide good value, but for different reasons. Google Drive has plans at multiple price points, including that 100GB plan for $1.99, while Microsoft’s Office 365 plans are among the best deals in cloud storage, thanks to the inclusion of Microsoft Office.
Normally, we’d tilt this round toward OneDrive by a hair. However, the announcement of Google One is as much a game changer as Godzilla breathing fire. It isn’t here yet, but we’re granting round one to Google Drive based on future prospects.
If you sign up for a 1TB Google Drive plan now, you’ll automatically be upgraded to 2TB after the rebrand.
Round Two: File Synchronization
Cloud storage isn’t just about clearing space on your hard drive. One of the key features to look for is file synchronization, a productivity feature that distributes edits in near-real-time across all devices connected to your storage account.
Round two will look at the sync capabilities and sync speed of Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive.
Dropbox founder Drew Houston invented the sync model commonly used by cloud storage services today in 2007. Like most great ideas, the concept is simple, hinging on a special folder placed in the file system of your computer. Files kept in this folder are stored on your hard drive and in the cloud.
Using the cloud as a middleman, files get transferred to other computers with connected sync folders installed, as well as smartphones with Dropbox mobile apps.
Desktop sync clients are available for Windows, Mac and Linux (read the best cloud storage for Linux). Smartphone apps are available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
The sync folder model is simple and most storage providers mimic it, but Dropbox remains ahead of the game with block-level file transfer. The only time full files are transmitted is when they’re first added to the sync folder. When edits are made to those files, only those edits get copied by breaking up files into 4MB blocks.
In theory, the result of block-level transfers is faster syncs and that bears out in testing, with file edits uploading and downloading at speeds that far surpass most storage providers.
Dropbox sync is not just fast, but more reliable. File names don’t get mixed up and files don’t go missing. Dropbox performs file deduplication at the block level, calculating a SHA256 hash for each block and comparing that to hashes already stored in the cloud.
Sync works well for small and large files and there’s no cap on file sizes as long as they’re uploaded through your desktop client or mobile app. Files uploaded through the website are capped at 20GB.
Sync is immensely useful, but the fact that it requires local file storage means you won’t be saving hard drive space. To address that, Dropbox’s “selective sync” feature lets you turn sync off for folders and files to make them available only while online.
Spring for a Dropbox Professional or Dropbox Business subscription and you’ll get the benefit of a newer feature called “smart sync.” Normally, when you use selective sync to turn off file synchronization, you’re no longer able to see those files on your computer.
Dropbox users can throttle upload and download speeds in case synchronization is affecting system resources, but, unless you’re using a 10-year-old laptop, that probably won’t be necessary.
Google Drive Sync
Google Drive sync makes use of the model Dropbox invented, creating a cloud-connected folder in your file system. Desktop clients are available for Windows and macOS, but not Linux.
Remote Google Drive access is possible using one of the best cloud storage apps for Android. There’s a Google Drive iPhone app, too, despite the competition between Google and Apple in the mobile market.
Google Drive is backed by a global server network, so it’s no surprise full-file transfers move fast. We uploaded a 1GB folder in just over 10 minutes using a 22 megabits per second internet upload connection. On the other hand, file edits sync slower than necessary because Google Drive isn’t capable of block-level file copies.
Google Drive sync can stick. New files added to the sync folder upload quickly, but, on occasion, we’ve had to wait several minutes for files — small files — to show up on the web application. Customer complaints about the issue indicate it’s not isolated, with many suggesting the problem gets worse as more files are stored.
Google Drive doesn’t have a feature comparable to Dropbox’s smart sync, but it does have selective sync to help you clear hard drive space. You can manage it using the Google Drive Backup and Sync preferences tool.
If Google Drive is sapping your system resources, you can slow down your upload and download bandwidth from the preferences tool. Click “settings” and “network settings” to limit speeds.
Google Drive has an advantage over Dropbox and OneDrive that’s not exactly sync, but related: file backup. With file backup, you can establish one-direction uploads from desktop folders to the cloud. The usefulness of this feature is marginal, though, compared to the dedicated backup services mentioned in our best online backup guide.
The OneDrive sync folder is in your file system if you’re a Windows 10 user, though you’re welcome to remove it. It works like any other sync folder: drop content into it to send it to the cloud and synced devices.
Linux isn’t supported but macOS is. Smartphone apps are available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
In our OneDrive speed tests, a 1GB folder took nearly 30 minutes to upload. That seems slow, but our test computer had a 5 Mbps upload connection. At that speed, 30 minutes is what you should expect.
For file edits, OneDrive has block-level sync for Microsoft file types. Other file types are copied in full when changes are made. Though we’d like it for all file types, most cloud storage services don’t use block-level copying at all.
Selective sync is an option, configurable using the desktop client settings tool.
As with Google Drive and Dropbox Plus, turning sync off for content means you can no longer see it in your OneDrive sync folder. That’s an annoyance, but, at least, you can save space on your hard drive and access it online.
Finally, OneDrive lets you throttle sync speeds.
Round Two Thoughts:
Google Drive and OneDrive sync files quickly. Google Drive doesn’t use block-level encryption and sync occasionally stutters on it. OneDrive runs sync more smoothly, especially for Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Between the two, we’ll take OneDrive, but Dropbox trumps both at file copying.
While we have our issues with Dropbox, we give credit where it’s due. Drew Houston invented the file sync model used by most cloud storage providers and his company continues to set the bar with block-level file copying and smart sync. We only wish that last feature didn’t require an expensive Dropbox Professional subscription.
If you like the idea of seeing files in your computer file system, but don’t want them stored on your hard drive, an alternative method is to set up a network drive in your file system. Read our network drive guide for more information.
Round Three: File Sharing
Granting file access to others through your cloud storage service lets you share photos and movies with friends and family. File sharing facilitates collaboration, too.
The basic mechanics of file sharing are the same from one provider to another, relying on internet links that point to files and folders, but links can be dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. To assist with content control, additional file linking features, such as passwords and expiry dates, can be used, though most providers fail to do so.
We have an article dedicated to the top cloud storage services for file sharing. Let’s see how Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive perform.
Dropbox File Sharing
Objects stored in Dropbox can be shared using the web interface. Each folder and file has a share button attached to it. Click it to generate a shareable link that you can copy and paste into email bodies, chat, documents or anywhere else. Alternatively, enter email addresses belonging to whomever you want to allow access.
If you’re sharing a folder, you can choose to allow view-only or edit access.
Dropbox has a few file-sharing features to control access. They include passwords and expiry dates for links and the option to disable downloads. The features are only available with Dropbox Professional, though.
To keep from losing track of shared files, use the Dropbox “sharing” page. A link view lets you quickly disable shares, while folder and file tabs show content shared with you.
A “file request” page lets you request content from coworkers, customers and others. You can leave a description of your request, allow folder access and set a deadline.
Overall, Dropbox has nice sharing features, though we’d prefer to see them included with the Dropbox Plus subscription.
Google Drive File Sharing
For a cloud storage service of its pedigree, Google Drive has surprisingly weak file sharing features. You can generate links for folders and files and grant edit, comment or view permissions to both.
You can permit access based on email address, rather than create a link. Options for disabling downloads and preventing editors from adding new people are available in “advanced sharing settings.” Links can be posted directly to Gmail, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
Granting access to Google Docs files allows others to collaborate by leaving comments and making and suggesting edits. We’ll talk more about Google Docs later, but sharing access is central to Google Drive’s reputation as a productivity tool.
When we call sharing Google Drive “flimsy,” our main complaint is that there’s no option for links passwords, expiry dates or download limits. Google Drive doesn’t have an easy way to audit links you’ve created, either. There’s a “sharing” page to see objects shared with you, but nothing to see what you’ve shared.
The net result is that it’s easy to lose sight of what files you’ve shared, which adds a degree of risk to using Google Drive that may outweigh its capabilities as a productivity tool.
OneDrive File Sharing
OneDrive has the secure file-sharing features that Google Drive doesn’t and, unlike Dropbox, it doesn’t require a $20-per-month subscription to access them.
You can permit access using email addresses or by generating a shareable link. Passwords and expiry dates can be added when you create links to limit access. There’s a permissions option to allow edits. Access links can be automatically posted to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Sina Weibo if you want to share with a broader audience.
To keep everything in order, you can review files shared by you and with you using the OneDrive “shared” view online.
It’s good news for the most part when it comes to OneDrive file sharing. The big miss is that there’s no route for file requests like there is with Dropbox, pCloud, Sync.com and a few other cloud providers. An option to limit downloads would be nice, too.
Round Three Thoughts:
The absence of password and expiry date features for file sharing is one of Google Drive’s biggest weaknesses. You could call those misses a security issue, which adds to other privacy concerns we have with Google Drive that we’ll pick up on in round five.
Either way, Google Drive is the easy loser in round three. Both Dropbox and OneDrive have issues, but they’re not quite as crippling.
We hate that you have to purchase a Dropbox Professional subscription to get access to advanced link controls. There’s no good reason not to include what should be fundamental sharing features with Dropbox Plus, if not Dropbox Basic.
Our bone to pick with OneDrive is that it doesn’t have a file request feature. The inclusion of link passwords and expiry dates for all OneDrive subscribers is a convincing reason to choose it over Dropbox, though, so we’re ruling round three in favor of Microsoft.
Round Four: Cloud Apps
Storage, sync and share are the essential elements of any cloud storage service, but you don’t become best in show by sticking to basic tricks. What separates Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive from the rest of the field is application integrations. They enhance work productivity and facilitate collaborations. Apps are in the spotlight for round four.
Much of the Dropbox desktop experience requires an online user interface. The UI has a homepage where you’ll find content you’ve tagged as important and a list of recently accessed documents.
Navigation links run vertically down the left side. One of those links leads to your “files” page, which is where you can access content directly from the web.
You can view photos and PowerPoint presentations using the Dropbox website. Certain document types can be previewed in the Dropbox UI, including .csv, .docx, .pdf and .xls extensions.
Videos can be streamed, but only up to 60 minutes for shared files. Music files are playable, but, without a playlist feature, you are limited to playing one at a time.
Dropbox has one native app called Dropbox Paper. It does the job for meeting notes, but isn’t good enough to make our best note-taking app guide.
Dropbox doesn’t have an office suite of its own, but it does come pre-integrated with Office Online that lets you edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. By sharing content with others, you can use Office Online to co-author documents and gather comments.
There are many third-party apps that connect to the Dropbox API to provide additional functionality. For example, you can connect the chat tool Slack to Dropbox or a project management tool such as those in our best project management software guide.
There are even more integrations available for Dropbox using trigger-response automation tools Zapier and IFTTT.
Dropbox could make it easier to find integrations by providing a searchable library. That’s something Google Drive does well, in addition to attracting third-party app developers.
Google Drive Apps
The Google Drive web UI has a more complex layout than Dropbox. That’s because it’s a more complex service. If you need help finding your way, we have a guide to getting started.
Left-side links let you access your cloud drive, recent files, starred files, files shared with you and files that you’ve backed up. The “new” button in the top left corner lets you create a new file using Google Docs or another integrated application.
Google Docs is the best reason to use Google Drive. Docs refers to a standalone word processor and the entire Google office suite, which includes Google Sheets for spreadsheets and Google Slides for presentations.
Google Docs has all the tools and features of a top office suite, rivaling Microsoft Office. You can co-create documents with peers, leave suggestions for edits and add comments, making Google Drive one of the best cloud storage tools for collaboration.
Though browser-based, Google Docs files can be edited without internet access as long as “offline” is turned on in the settings.
If you prefer Microsoft Office to Docs, there’s a Google Drive plugin that can be used with both Office Online and Office 365.
Google Drive has two more integrated office apps called Google Forms and Google Drawings. Google makes Google Keep, a note-taking app, too, but it isn’t officially a part of Google Drive (read our Google Keep review).
As it does with Android, Google courts developers for Google Drive with an open API that allows anyone to develop apps. You can access and integrate those apps using Google Drive’s app library with a couple of clicks.
The library is searchable and broken into categories. Editors for images and video, electronic signature collectors, file converters and process planners are a few software examples. Some of our favorites include:
- Lucidchart: for flowcharts, mockups and UML diagrams
- Smartsheet: for project management
- DocuSign: for e-signature collection
- DocHub: for editing and annotating PDFs
- Pixlr Editor: for photo editing
Zapier and IFTTT expand the options with Google Drive automations for tools such as Trello, Facebook and Wrike.
The OneDrive interface is one of the nicest looking among cloud storage providers, with sharp lines, clean font and a pleasant color scheme. Links down the left margin can be used to view stored files, recently accessed files, photos, shares, trashed files and connected computers.
A chat icon at the top of the interface launches Skype sessions with your friends, family, coworkers and other contacts. Click on the tiles icon in the top left corner to access other programs, including Outlook, a calendar and Office Online apps.
Office Online is the free, browser-based version of Microsoft Office, a collection of the most popular productivity tools in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. If you prefer desktop versions of the software, you’ll want the Office 365 subscription.
Another integrated app of interest is OneNote. While it’s debatable which of OneNote or Evernote is the top cloud notebook, they’re the clear front-runners. Neither Google Keep nor Dropbox Paper comes close.
Microsoft doesn’t have a third-party app library to make finding integrations easier. The company should take notes from Google Drive in that regard. While there are third-party apps out there, they’re too hard to find.
Integrations using Zapier and IFTTT are easier to discover by using the websites of either automation service.
Round Four Thoughts:
All three cloud providers offer well-designed web interfaces with enough tools baked in to drive productivity and facilitate collaboration. For Dropbox and OneDrive, the highlight is clearly Office Online, while Google Drive has Google Docs.
Though the integrations for Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Dropbox are done well, there are misses, including OneNote. Dropbox Paper just isn’t cut out for serious research. OneDrive has a handful of other integrations, too, including Skype and Outlook, that make it better suited to getting work done than Dropbox.
Choosing between OneDrive and Google Drive for productivity depends, in part, on whether you prefer Office Online or Google Docs. Both are excellent services with many collaboration features, so we’ll call that aspect a draw.
OneDrive has two primary advantages over Google Drive: OneNote and Office 365. However, Google Drive has an integrated app library with hundreds of third-party options to enhance your experience. We’re giving round four to Google Drive, but it’s a thin margin of victory.
If you have no interest in third-party apps, OneDrive is the better choice. Microsoft Office file formats are more popular than Google Docs formats, though you can convert Google Docs files to Office files directly through Google Drive.
Round Five: Security and Privacy
Our final round examines security. File safety has been a central concern of cloud storage since its beginnings. Until news of the National Security Agency’s mass-surveillance program PRISM broke in 2013, it was an aspect that many cloud providers didn’t take seriously enough.
On top of the public relations disaster of PRISM, an increase in high-profile cybercrime threats such as man-in-the-middle attacks, ransomware and password theft, have increased awareness.
Despite those concerns and the need for a better public image, security is one area that these three cloud storage offerings don’t exactly nail. Let’s take a closer look.
Dropbox takes two steps that should be expected of cloud storage providers, even though there are still some, like OneDrive, that whiff on the second. Those steps are in-transit and at-rest encryption.
In-transit encryption protects data being transferred over the internet. Dropbox files that are in transit are protected with TLS using at least AES 128-bit. TLS means “transport layer security” and AES means “advanced encryption standard.” We explain both in our cloud security primer.
Files stored in the Dropbox cloud are encrypted at rest using AES 256-bit encryption. That’s a different encryption protocol than the one used in file transfer, which indicates a serious problem with Dropbox. The company decrypts files upon arrival at its data centers, then encrypts them again.
The reason Dropbox does this is to extract metadata. That metadata is put to good use by serving as indices that speed up file retrieval, but it’s stored in plain text, which is a security concern.
The bigger issue, though, is that Dropbox holds onto your encryption key in the first place. To be fair, it is essential for providing file previews and allowing file edits through browser-based tools such as Office Online.
That said, Dropbox could do what pCloud does and offer a separate zero-knowledge encryption add-on (read our pCloud review). Doing so would let you privately encrypt files that you don’t want anyone, not even Dropbox technicians, to be able to decrypt. At the same time, you could let Dropbox manage the keys for any files you’re working on.
There’s a workaround solution for that problem, which is to use Boxcryptor. It’s a private encryption service that’s compatible with Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and other cloud storage providers. Read our Boxcryptor review for more details.
The good news is that an AES encryption key, whether 128 or 256 bits, would take a supercomputer billions of years to crack. That’s why most cloud incursions result from password theft. To protect against that possibility, it’s not enough to create a strong password or use a password manager such as Dashlane. Two-factor authentication is just as vital.
The purpose of 2FA is to prevent logins on unfamiliar machines without first supplying an additional credential. For Dropbox, that credential is a six-digit security code sent by text message. You can also use an approved mobile authenticator app such as Google Authenticator or Duo Mobile (read best 2FA apps).
Ransomware is a trickier attack and most often targets files on your hard drive. Dropbox doesn’t perform active scans for ransomware, but there are tools out there that do, such as Acronis Active Protection. Should files in your Dropbox sync folder get corrupted by ransomware, those corruptions will be passed to the cloud.
You can recover your files after you’ve removed the malicious program by taking advantage of Dropbox’s file versioning feature.
Dropbox retains previous file states for 30 days on a Dropbox Plus account and 120 days on Dropbox Professional. Dropbox Business users get indefinite versioning.
There are better storage providers for versioning, but 30 days should be enough for ransomware if you’re diligent about fixing the issue.
Google Drive Security
Google Drive encrypts files while in-transit using the TLS cryptographic protocol to prevent online eavesdropping. Rather than AES 256-bit like Dropbox, Google Drive files are encrypted with AES 128-bit while in motion.
On the other hand, while Dropbox encrypts files at rest using AES 128-bit, Google Drive uses 256-bit. It doesn’t really matter which is used, though, since both are uncrackable in any practical sense. Like Dropbox, Google Drive pulls metadata for indexing files.
It’s perplexing and concerning that Google didn’t start encrypting consumer files until 2013, after the NSA’s PRISM project blew up in its face, but being late to the party is better than not showing up at all.
Google supports optional two-factor verification for its products, which can be turned on in your Google account settings.
Once enabled, you’ll need to enter a security code for new machine logins. The code can be received via text or mobile app. As with Dropbox, we recommend this precaution.
While most cloud storage data centers offer ample security, Google goes above and beyond with the measures it has in place, including laser grids and biometric scanners. Granted, those measures are there to protect Google’s own vast and valuable data stores, but your cloud data still gets to go along for the ride.
Google Drive handles file versioning separately for native and non-native files. Google Docs files can be rolled back using the “revision history” view in the document.
This view lets you see all every change ever been made to a file and roll back to any previous state. With limitless versioning, ransomware should never pose a serious threat to Google Docs files.
Non-native files are kept for up to 100 versions, but only for 30 days. That will provide some ransomware protection, but may not be enough. You can choose to retain file versions indefinitely, but it’ll take time since each file has to be set separately.
Maybe the most troubling aspect of Google Drive are the privacy issues we cover in our Google Drive review. Among them is that the Google terms and conditions allow the company to scan your cloud files, as well as your Gmail inbox.
These scans might be used to find and remove illegal content, including files that are copyrighted such as movies and music. They’re also used to gather information about you, which Google uses for targeted marketing.
You can get around that by encrypting your files privately. As with Dropbox, we recommend using Boxcryptor, which will prevent Google from analyzing your files. Privately encrypting files means that you can’t view or edit them in the browser, though, leaving you to choose between convenience and security.
Unless you’re a business subscriber, files stored in the OneDrive cloud are not encrypted at rest. This is a big issue and one that Microsoft doesn’t advertise. We had to bug customer care repeatedly to get a straight answer about it. The problem is that Microsoft is a big company, which has always made it an attractive target for hackers.
That files aren’t encrypted at rest is a good reason to stick with Dropbox or Google Drive, no matter the benefits of using OneDrive. The service is compatible with Boxcryptor, but that will limit your ability to use Office Online.
Files are encrypted in transit using TLS encryption with AES 256-bit. OneDrive supports 2FA, as well, to protect against password theft. You can receive the security code by text, email or the OneDrive mobile app.
In the past, OneDrive only supported file versioning for native file types, but Microsoft fixed that mistake in 2017, extending the capability to all files. Previous versions are only kept for 30 days, though, and there’s no option to extend that, not even for OneDrive Business users.
Round Five Thoughts:
Choosing between Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive for the best security is like deciding between having your foot stomped on, being punched in the stomach or sticking your hand in scalding water.
Dropbox was involved in one of the biggest data breaches in cloud history, with 68 million passwords stolen in 2012. Since then, Dropbox has taken steps to ensure the incident isn’t repeated, including constantly switching its password hashing algorithms.
Google Drive and OneDrive have the two bigger strikes, with Google taking a suspect attitude toward privacy and OneDrive not encrypting files at rest unless you’re a business user. Of the two, we’ll take OneDrive’s ineptitude over Google snooping through our files.
That’s not to say that Dropbox and OneDrive don’t scan your files. We know that both, at least, check for copyrighted content when sharing, which is smart to do to avoid becoming the next Mega. The difference is that both companies are respectful of your privacy and don’t turn your data into a bombardment of ads.
Whether you opt for Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive, we suggest taking one of two steps: use Boxcryptor to create a private lockbox in the cloud, or use a second, more secure cloud storage service for files you’re not working on. We recommend Sync.com since it provides zero-knowledge encryption for free and it’s cheap, providing 2TB of storage for $8 a month.
Dropbox and Google Drive managed two first place finishes, while OneDrive only had one. OneDrive had four second place and no third place finishes, though. Dropbox finished last twice and Google Drive three times.
The table below tallies our votes. Remember, a first place finish receives two points, second place one point and third place no points.
|Pricing and Storage||Third||First||Second|
|Total Points:||5 points||4 points||6 points|
The race is close, with OneDrive nosing out the others for a victory with six points, Dropbox finishing with five points and Google Drive coming in last with four.
Picking between Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive ultimately depends on what you need from a cloud storage provider and what you’re willing to put up with to get it.
OneDrive’s greatest weakness is by far the absence of at-rest encryption for home consumers. If you can overlook that, it’s the best of the bunch. If you can’t, Dropbox is a better choice, though it comes at a cost that many will find unpalatable and doesn’t have as many apps as Google Drive or OneDrive.
For collaboration, Google Drive is the best of the three. Its rebranding as Google One and increased storage capacities should boost its already-considerable active user figures. For the record, we use Google Drive here at Cloudwards.net for producing content, in part, because it’s so convenient. The downside is privacy, which is why we also use pCloud.
In a nutshell, we’re declaring OneDrive the winner, but with the disclaimer that it isn’t the best choice for everyone. Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject below, and thanks for reading.