A cloud service that you are one of the owners of, wouldn’t that be ideal? No more worrying about data ownership or subscription fees. About 3000 users up to date have found and joined Cubbit, which is a cloud service you access through a dedicated computer, the Cubbit Cell. It’s developed in Italy.
The Cubbit Cell is the part you buy. It is a hexagonal plastic device that you hook up to your Internet router and it’s your gateway to the Cubbit swarm. The latter is the actual cloud storage — the virtual data centre made up of thousands of Cubbit Cells.
I received my test Cell in a large cardboard box with another much smaller brown cardboard box and plenty of brown paper buffer material inside. The box that holds the Cubbit Cell is unassuming and inside you’ll find a black hexagonal plastic Cubbit Cell, a power adapter and a short Ethernet cable.
There’s a translucent Cubbit logo on the top that lit up once, when I connected the thing to the power outlet. The hexagonal Cubbit Cell looks like it’s made of recycled plastic which, if I’m right, fits into the developers’ philosophy. It’s not a thing of beauty that you give a prominent place commanding a price hike like Apple’s Chinese sweat-shop factory made shiny hardware we all love.
The setup process couldn’t be easier and more user-friendly with the whole process documented on the web in clear English. And the interface does have that refined Italian signature design I was expecting.
You use Cubbit for anything you would use Dropbox, Box, Sync, iCloud e.a. for: to sync files with a dedicated folder on your Mac or store files exclusively in the cloud.
You can share your files or folders with a link, private or public. If you don’t know the receiver, it’s a good idea to go with the private link that is protected by an AES-256 encryption key (you can read what Cubbit’s cybersecurity expert has to say about zero-knowledge encryption here) . Sharing a link, by the way, will not affect the original file or folder — the system automatically creates a copy.
Storing files in the Cubbit swarm and not on your disk is possible with a selective sync and allows you to choose folders for uploading to Cubbit without synchronising them, unless you turn sync back on. Unchecking a checkbox in the Cubbit app is all it takes, but currently, there’s a caveat. The Cubbit system is in its “Hatch” stage of development, meaning that some promised features aren’t yet available (the company publishes a clear and elaborate roadmap of their progress).
That’s why there’s a warning that if you later want to sync the folder, Cubbit will need to download its contents to your Mac and that may take plenty of time as Cubbit isn’t yet working at its full speed.
How Cubbit works
The Cubbit system uses a zero-knowledge, redundancy based, decentralised peer-to-peer protocol. The Cubbit Cell is the computer taking care of joining the swarm, uploading and downloading files, etc. The Coordinator server shares the IP addresses of your Cell with other Cubbit Cells in the swarm, allowing them to connect to each other.
Once you upload files to your Cubbit Cell, it encrypts them and splits them into 24 parts of which 12 shards for redundancy are created. This procedure guarantees the uptime of the distributed storage, allowing the owner to retrieve the original file from any set of 24 out of 36 shards.
What happens to the availability of files when Cells go offline? Nothing much, as long as enough Cells remain online. Recovery is performed automatically when 8 out of 12 shards go offline. The Coordinator identifies the reliable Cells from those remaining, downloads the available file shards, recovers the missing parts and redistributes them, and presto, your Cubbit Cell can reconstruct the file.
The file doesn’t have to be decrypted to rebuild it as the encryption is also redundancy based. There’s also no person in the middle controlling the process. The Coordinator decides and has a duty to avoid losing files and guarantee constant and acceptable network performance for everyone at the same time. Security is not an issue as your password is known to you alone and the related randomly generated encryption key is stored on your computer only.
If you lose your password, all is lost, though. That is the price you pay for the security of many Cubbit Cells having a small piece of your files that cannot be decrypted by anyone else but you.
Cubbit or a “real” cloud service?
So, what’s the deal? Is it any good?
After installing the Cubbit Cell I dropped a few folders in the synchronised Cubbit folder. Uploading those 1100 files or 4GB in total took half a day. That’s not fast, but, as I said, the system is in its startup phase and your ISP’s upload speed plays a significant role. A good point is that Cubbit at no time was a memory or CPU hog.
Linking and downloading files were much faster than uploading them. Sharing folders with a link works exactly how you do it with Dropbox or any other cloud service. In the case of a private link, you get both a link and a secret key to share with the receiver. Furthermore, you can secure your Cubbit account with 2FA (again, their cybersecurity chap explains it here) — even using a Yubikey (Yubico Authenticator) is possible.
Based on my experiences with the Hatch version of Cubbit I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone. In fact, in one of the next stages of development, you’ll be able to connect up to 4TB of storage room to your Cubbit Cell. Find any cloud service provider and see what 4TB of storage will cost you per year.
If that’s not scaring you off, then the ownership of your data and privacy being at the mercy of a company that can be acquired by another one with more casual ideas about data ownership and security, might.
A 1TB Cubbit Cell retails at a one-time price of €589 (in July 2021, there was a discount of 40%, i.e. a one-time payment of €349).