Cloud

How to use end-to-end encryption in the upcoming Nextcloud desktop client

Nextcloud 13 is out, and offers a host of new features. One such feature is end-to-end encryption that will work with the soon-to-be released desktop client. Jack Wallen gives a preview of the client.

Image: Jack Wallen

With the much-hyped release of Nextcloud 13, will come a new official client app for mobile and desktop syncing of files and folders that includes built-in end-to-end encryption. That's a huge step forward for companies looking for an in-house cloud solution that offers such security measures.

Although the official release isn't ready for public usage, I was privy to an unofficial release candidate, so I could illustrate how the end-to-end encryption works in the desktop client. As you might expect, this is pre-release, so it's buggy. Even so, it shows serious promise and should offer a glimpse into a new feature that will make a Nextcloud in-house cloud server a no brainer for businesses.

I won't bother with the installation steps for the client. For the Linux platform, they are currently only offering an AppImage for the pre-release software (the client does work the same, regardless of platforms). I'll be demonstrating on Elementary OS with Nextcloud 13 running on a Ubuntu Server 16.04 instance.

Set up on the server

The first thing you need to do is log onto your Nextcloud server as an admin user. Once there, click on the drop-down in the upper right corner and select Apps. In the resulting window, click on Disabled and then locate and install the following apps:

  • Default encryption module
  • End-to-End Encryption

Once you've installed those two apps, log out and log back in and you're ready to connect with the desktop client.

Using the new desktop client

As I mentioned, I've downloaded and run the new desktop client. Once the client is open, and you've connected to the server, you'll see a new popup that wasn't available in previous iterations of the client (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Our first sign encryption is working.

Click on Show Details to reveal your encryption passphrase. This phrase will be a collection of words that you need to save. Do not lose that passphrase! After you copy your passphrase, click OK to dismiss the window.

From your desktop system tray, click on the Nextcloud icon and click Settings. You should see any and all folder sync pairs listed (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

This is pre-release software, so there will be errors.

Now comes the cool part. Right-click one of your folders and click Encrypt. Once that folder is encrypted, it cannot be opened. Open up the web instance of Nextcloud, log in, navigate to your files, and you'll see the encrypted folder has a lock. Attempt to navigate into that folder and you'll be immediately dumped back out with an error Operation is forbidden. Go back to the desktop client, right-click the encrypted folder, click Decrypt, and you can then navigate into the folder in question.

A new level of security

That, my friends, is promising. Having an in-house cloud solution that allows for such a level of security would be a boon for so many businesses. When this desktop client is released, combined with Nextcloud 13, get it up and running so you can see just how powerful and business-ready Nextcloud has become.

As of today, there is no official word on when the Nextcloud client, with built-in end-to-end encryption, will be released. You can, however get this same level of encryption in the Android client. The final release of that app will be Thursday, February 8, 2018. So get Nextcloud 13 setup and start using E2E with the mobile app right away.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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