Happy New Year’s! The start of a new year and a new semester are as good a time as ever to evaluate your data management practices. Here are some reminders about data management best practices, groups on campus who can help you with managing your data, and some upcoming opportunities for you to sharpen your skills.
Written by Jarrod Irwin
Researchers across disciplines care about the security and privacy of their data–especially those with data containing personally identifiable information, as even limited combinations of certain data points can lead to the identification of a subject. Researchers in the health sciences have an especially strong need to protect it. Patient health data has special legal restrictions on its use and handling.
Here’s a quick look at the most important U.S. law affecting patient health data, as well as some best practices for preserving data privacy when working with laboratory tests and other types of medical research data.
What It Is: Cloud-based file storage, synchronization, and back-ups. SpiderOak is available on Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS, Android, and N900 Maemo.
Cost: Free, premium, and enterprise accounts available. The pricing for storage is better compared to Dropbox; $10/month gets you 100GB at SpiderOak vs. 50GB from Dropbox. SpiderOak also has no maximum storage limit. Additionally, it offers a 50% educational discount to anyone with a valid .edu email address.
Ease of Use: SpiderOak’s forte is security, not interface design. The web and mobile interfaces are fairly plain and not nearly as user-friendly as Dropbox’s interfaces. Additionally, while Dropbox has a very simple set-up–everything goes in the Dropbox folder and syncs to all your devices unless you tell it not to–SpiderOak’s set up is a bit more involved. First, you need to set up a back-up. You can choose multiple folders and even specific types of files. After you’ve done this, you can sync the folders across your devices. Finally, access from the web and mobile interfaces is read-only. You can only upload files from the desktop client.
Sharing and Collaboration: SpiderOak provides ShareRooms which allow you to selectively share folders (with anyone; not limited to other SpiderOak users), but the files are read-only. It also allows sharing of a single file, but this is read-only as well. The sharing is more secure: the ShareRoom is access through a unique URL and a RoomKey (password) must be entered, but there is no mechanism for collaborative editing.
Organizing: Other than the traditional hierarchical file system structure, SpiderOak does not have any built-in organizational features.
Exporting: Files can easily be exported. Simply de-select the folders or files in question from the syncing and back-up.
Backups and Versioning: This is one area where SpiderOak does well. It says all historical versions of a file, and does extensive de-duplication, so only the parts that are different are saved, not the entire file.
Security: SpiderOak is, as Ars Technica puts it, “Dropbox for the security obsessive.” Its main selling point is not that’s cloud storage, but that it is secure cloud storage. Unlike the other major cloud storage services, SpiderOak employees cannot access your files. Both Dropbox and SpiderOak encrypt their data, but SO also encrypts the decryption key. The downside to SpiderOak’s superior security is that if you forget your password, your files are gone.