Data Centers

Norton Online Backup enables anywhere access and safe sharing

Norton Online Backup is part of Symantec's efforts to both protect your data and allow you to access it anywhere, anytime.

Keeping small office/home office (SOHO) data safe is not easy. The same is true for home users. There are several online and onsite methods that might fit within the small budget (if any at all) allocated to data backup. However, I've found none as easy to use and as feature-rich as Symantec's Norton Online Backup version 2.

Until recently, I used Mozy (EMC). However, when my laptop drive decided to retire, restoring files to the new one from Mozy backups was harder than it should have been.  Before Mozy, I backed up to storage using JungleDisk. It also worked okay, but was a little rough.

As I get older, and as my wife and my business partner require services they can use without my assistance, I need something easy to use and easy to access.  So I gave Norton Online Backup a try.


Because this service isn't free, and because I don't like to spend money before I see proof of vendor claims, I signed up for the 30-day trial.  It is full-featured with a 5GB storage restriction.

Installing it was easy. It requires a 5MB download. The download contains the agent used to scan and copy files to the Symantec servers.

It took about five minutes to install another five to review the default backup configuration. No technical knowledge required. And the online help is outstanding. It is the best I've seen for any SOHO or home backup solution.


Control Panel

Everything is managed from an online control panel.  I accessed the panel via an icon in the system tray, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Figure B shows the initial control panel view. Although the panel lists only one computer, I was able to add up to four more.  Any computer added is able to back up or restore as long as the user has the control panel password.  My backup settings are accessible clicking the Settings button.

Figure B

What and when to backup

The initial settings view displays an overview of what is backed up and backup status.  Clicking on the What tab brings up the view in Figure C.  The agent's default setting targets all folders and files under the Users folder.  I was able to select files to backup by category.  I can also configure rules to backup uncommon file types.

Figure C

Clicking on When displays scheduling.  Figure D shows available options. I use the default Automatic setting.

Figure D

The Other tab allows performance adjustments, a simple alert setting, and an update setting, as shown in Figure E.  I set mine to  Fastest and performed several manual backups.  There was no noticeable performance hit on the processor or Internet usability.

Figure E

Sharing and Restoring

To share files with other members of a project team—or with family—I use Dropbox.  I simply share a folder, drop files in it, and everyone gets it auto-delivered to their desktops.  Any change made by anyone with the file is auto-synced to everyone else.  This is a great way to share multiple files with trusted users. However, Norton Online Backup provides a way to safely share one or a few files with trusted or questionable individuals. Since the control panel is available over the Web, I can download or restore files to any connected PC.

Clicking on File Actions in the Home view of the control panel shows file disposition options, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

I can restore files by name or by folder.  The interesting thing about Norton Online Backup is the ability to restore any file version created over the last 90 days.  So if you need a prior version of a file, you select it and restore it to a new folder or the original folder.

Sharing files is easy and secure, as shown in Figure G.  All sharing is done by email.  So to test the process, I entered one of my business email addresses and a short message.  I left the default 14-day expiration alone. I entered a test password. The recipient must have the password to open the file. No password is necessary to use the sharing feature.

I browsed to the file to share and selected it with a check mark. I could also have performed a search for files that met certain criteria. The search feature is available anywhere you select one or more files.

Figure G

I received an email immediately after clicking on Main Now. The message content, shown in Figure H, contains information useful to the recipient, including how long he or she has until the file is no longer available for download. Note that the user has 10 downloads available. However, if the recipient fails to click on the link to the shared file within 14-days of receipt, the link is deactivated.

Also note that the assigned password is not included in the email. This is something I need to provide by phone, fax, or a separate email.

Figure H


Like any responsible online service, Norton Online Backup encrypts my saved files. However, the files are available over the Internet to anyone with my control panel password. I set my password to a large random collection of characters and access it with RoboForm. However, less security-minded users might use the same password they use for everything else on the Web. In that case, a simple unrelated phishing ploy can obtain the key to all the user's important files.

The final word

This is an excellent backup solution for the security-minded. I now have it installed on all my home and small business systems. I recommend Norton Online Backup for anyone who is comfortable storing their files in the cloud and who are careful about access.


Tom is a security researcher for the InfoSec Institute and an IT professional with over 30 years of experience. He has written three books, Just Enough Security, Microsoft Virtualization, and Enterprise Security: A Practitioner's Guide (to be publish...

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