It can be a costly and emotional experience if you lose precious holiday snaps, important files and work. To make things easier and for peace of mind, use a free online storage service to back everything up.
This guide explains how online storage services work and how to make sure they're safe, then rounds up the best of the free services out there.
Always check for compatibility
Always check software's compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any problems caused from acting upon the info given.
What is online storage?
What is online storage?
Online storage, or "cloud" services as they're also known, use a virtual hard drive that's installed on your desktop and linked directly to your online space.
How do they work?
Once you've downloaded the storage service, you just open up the drive and copy and paste something on to it, like your holiday photos for example. They'll then be uploaded to an online server and synced anywhere you've installed the software.
You can also share your photos and documents with friends and family (once they've installed the same service).
Are they safe?
The biggest issue with using cloud storage is data security, as you are relying on the service to keep your files and documents secure. If your account is hacked, your files are immediately available. However, there are several things you can do to prevent this:
- Frequently change your passwords and don't use the same passwords as your other accounts. As a lot of these services require you to use your email address as your ID, it makes it easier for the bad guys to crack your password.
- Install free antivirus software and malware software, and keep it up-to-date.
- Avoid opening any links or attachments that could be potential security risks.
- Beware of phishing emails and any messages from unknown senders that request your bank details.
It's also worth checking to see if you can get any free online storage from your broadband provider. BT and Virgin, for example, offer a decent amount of free storage for their customers. BT customers with the Unlimited Broadband Extra Package get 50GB thrown in while Virgin customers have access to the Virgin Media cloud which has up to 50GB free storage.
Best free online storage services
There are a whole load of online storage services available, with many offering a few GB of free space. Here are a few that are worth considering, and remember there is no limit to the number you can use, so you could get plenty of virtual storage for free.
Dropbox Up to 16GB free, or £60/yr for 100GB
Launched back in 2008, Dropbox is one of the biggest names in online storage, and is available to anyone with any kind of email address.
Why is it good? What makes Dropbox one of the best online storage services is the number of devices it's available on, as well as its simple, user-friendly interface. It can be downloaded onto PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android devices.
There is also an online version of the service, which you can use on any PC where Dropbox is not installed - just log in online. This could be useful if you need an important document and you haven't got your laptop with you - for example, if you're on holiday and need access to your travel insurance details and have to use an internet cafe.
How to get extra storage. You initially get 2GB of space, though this can be boosted by introducing friends to Dropbox.
For every friend you refer, you'll both gain an extra 500MB, up to a maximum of 16GB. If this still isn't enough space, you can upgrade your account with a monthly subscription. 100GB costs $9.99/mth (roughly £6/mth) or $99/yr (roughly £60/yr).
Also see the Is there any way to get more space? FAQ on the Dropbox site.
Anything else? Other users can't see your private files in Dropbox unless you deliberately invite them or put them in your "public" folder. Be aware though that everything in your public folder is, by definition, accessible to anyone.
Download it now: Dropbox
Copy15GB free, £59/yr for 250GB
Copy is an online cloud-based storage service with a twist - it lets users who want to pay for more storage split the cost of storing files with other users.
You get 15GB of free online storage space for photos, documents, videos and any other digital files. The desktop app gives you instant access to your files or you can log in via a web browser to access your files from any computer.
Why is it good? Copy's USP is a feature called Fair Storage, which allows users to split the cost of storage if they want to pay for space over and above the free 15GB. So five different users can opt for the 250GB package and each pay for 50GB, for example.
There's no limit to the number of users who can club together, but each will receive an equal amount of space and the maximun you can share is 500GB in total. You can choose to give those you're sharing with access to your files - or not, as you prefer.
How to get extra storage. If you want more storage, there are two packages to choose from. Paying $9.99/mth (£5.95) or $99/year (£59) will get you 250GB storage. For 500GB storage, it's $14.99/mth (£8.93) or $149/year (£88.79).
Anything else? Copy has very good techie reviews and its cost-sharing facility means it's different to the other cloud storage apps around. It's the newest service of its kind to the market, and while upload speeds aren't as fast as Dropbox, it's a good alternative.
Download it now: Copy
Google Drive 15GB free, £14/yr for 100GB
If you're a Gmail user, you can sync Google Drive with your Google account to store and access files wherever you are.
Why is it good? It can be operated entirely within your web broswer and is simple to use. In total you can get 15GB of free storage spread over three Google services: Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ Photos. You'll get 5GB for each service.
It can be accessed on PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android devices.
Because Google Drive works with Google Docs (the web giant's suite of editing tools), if you or someone you've shared your Google Drive files with makes any changes to a document, it automatically updates on every device you've installed Google Drive on - very handy if you want to allow simultaneous editing.
How to get extra storage. If you run out of free space, you can purchase more to be shared across the three Google services. There are a number of storage plans and you can find full info on the Google Drive site. 100GB will cost you $1.99/mth (roughly £1.18/mth, or £14 for the year).
Anything else? As Google Drive uses your Google account login details, it's important you keep these safe. Google offers some top tips on keeping your account secure, and says it takes security and privacy very seriously. Enabling two-step verification makes your account much safer.
Download it now: Google Drive
oneDrive 7GB free, £30/yr for 100GB
Popular with MoneySavingExpert.com's tech team, OneDrive (previously SkyDrive) is Microsoft's free online storage offering. You need to have a Hotmail or Live mail account, but as these email services are free, it's worth setting one up just for the free storage.
Why is it good? It offers 7GB of virtual storage space, and can be downloaded to PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Windows devices and Android devices. You'll also have access to your documents on any PC, via the SkyDrive.com web service (no need to download), which is handy if using a public PC.
How to get extra storage. You can add more virtual storage by paying a monthly subscription, with 100GB costing $50/yr, roughly £30/yr.
Anything else? SkyDrive has "public" folders and "shared" folders. Shared folders are only visible to specific people that you select, but public folders are visible to anyone. It is possible to turn off the public folders.
Download it now: OneDrive
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Amazon Cloud Drive5GB free, £32/yr for 100GB
Following in the footsteps of Google and Microsoft, online shopping giant Amazon runs a cloud-based storage service called, straightforwardly enough, Amazon Cloud Drive.
It offers 5GB of free online storage space for photos, documents, videos and other digital files. You can download the desktop app for instant access to your files, or, if you're using a different laptop or PC, go via the Amazon site portal (handy if you need to access documents when away from home).
Why is it good? As well as its Cloud Drive storage space, Amazon also offers a free Cloud Player service. The Player lets you store up to 250 songs in the cloud, so you can listen wherever you are, on your iPhone, iPod, Android mobile or Kindle Fire tablet.
How to get extra storage. If you want more storage, there are several packages to choose from. Prices start from £6 for 20GB/year, and run up to £320 for 1000GB/year.
Anything else? Some users have reported that Amazon Cloud Drive doesn't support the latest version of Google Chrome, so if you use Chrome as your default browser, it may be worth switching to another browser to download the desktop app.
Download it now: Amazon Cloud Drive
Apple iCloud 5GB free, £70/yr for 50GB
If you're a diehard Apple fan, there is only one option for you: Apple iCloud.
Why is it good? The free version comes with 5GB of virtual storage space, and is available on Macs, PCs, iPads, iPhones (3GS models or newer) and 3rd/4th generation iPod Touches.
Though it can't be used for syncing emails and backing up your files, it's the easiest place to store all your music, videos, books and photos. It's simple to use, and once set up, automatically adds all the photos you take using your devices to the Photo Stream album.
How to get extra storage. You can boost your free allocation of space with a subscription. You can get 10GB for £14/year, 20GB for £28/year and 50GB for £70/year.
Smartphone apps? Yes, free for iPhones.
Anything else? iCloud requires iOS 5 on iPhone 3GS or newer, iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation) or iPad. On Mac computers you'll need OS X Lion or newer, or a PC with Windows Vista or Windows 7.
Download it now: Apple iCloud
Which programs do you rate?
We've only picked the big name online storage programs here, but there are loads more. Tell us which you like in the Free online storage discussion.