Can you use Rclone with BT Cloud?

Trying to use Rclone with BT Cloud

I recently changed my broadband ISP and decided to switch to BT Fibre. I’ve had fibre from BT in the past (back when it was called BT Infinity) and although their support can be poor, I knew that once the service is up and running, it’s fast and reliable. One perk for me was that my package included BT Cloud for free. BT Cloud in case you don’t know is a cloud storage solution aimed at home users. “Great!”, I thought. “This will help progress my data hoarding, and it’s free”. I promptly signed up to the service and fired up rclone. I had a bit of trouble getting rclone to work for some reason though. After playing around for a few minutes I headed over to the BT support forums only to make a shocking discovery. You can’t use rclone with BT Cloud as they’re not compatible. To make matters worse, you can only access your BT Cloud account using either BT’s proprietary applications or a Web browser!

Why doesn’t rclone work with BT Cloud?

Unlike other cloud storage providers, BT do not provide an API or other method of programmatically accessing BT Cloud. To compound matters, they restrict access to either a Web browser or stand-alone application. For example, you can’t use FTP, SMB, NFS, SCP, or similar to access your BT Cloud account. Their apps are only compatible with Windows, Mac and mobile too so if you run another operating system (e.g. Linux) you’re pretty much out of luck. You could use a browser to upload/download individual files but it would be fairly arduous. It’s for this reason that rclone can’t support the BT Cloud storage platform.

Why doesn’t BT Cloud support open transfer standards like FTP?

Nobody outside of BT will really know the answer to this. I personally suspect that the product was probably a bit of an after-thought. BT have plenty of storage capacity so they probably decided to offer some of it their Fibre customers as a bonus. It’s not aimed at enterprise users, only home users really. As it’s not directly generating any revenue for BT, they probably don’t want to spend too much on its development. The other argument is that they’re intentionally making it hard to use by forcing the use of clunky apps rather than something sleek like rclone. This dissuades people from using the full storage capacity advertised, thereby reducing the cost for BT. Again, this is all just speculation on my part.

Is BT Cloud encrypted?

Aside from making cloud storage easier to use, rclone is often used because of its encryption capability. It’s very easy to encrypt and decrypt your data on the fly. Rclone can be configured to seamlessly encrypt your files before uploading them to the cloud and then seamlessly decrypt them after downloading them. This means that any data stored in the cloud is always encrypted to keep it from prying eyes. When I realised I wouldn’t be able to use rclone with BT Cloud I looked into whether it was necessary from an encryption standpoint. I know that some cloud storage platforms keep your data encrypted as standard. From what I’ve read, with BT Cloud, your data is encrypted in transit (i.e. it can’t be intercepted whilst you’re uploading or downloading from BT Cloud). Unfortunately, I can’t find anything that states the data is encrypted at rest (or on-disk). This seems a bit of a shortfall to me. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from manually encrypting your data before uploading it (with something like Veracrypt, 7-Zip, etc) and then manually decrypting it after downloading it. This is, of course, an extra step and potentially time-consuming. If you want to make sure your data is stored securely however, it’s a necessary evil due to the lack of rclone compatibility.

Is BT Cloud safe?

This follows on from the previous answer regarding encryption but I felt it deserved its own paragraph. When we talk about cloud storage being “safe” we don’t necessarily all have the same definition of “safe”. Let’s break down some of the concerns people have when wondering if BT Cloud is safe:

Privacy from commercial interests

BT make a point of stating they won’t profile your data with a view to targeting advertising towards you. They also commit not to sell your data to marketing companies. For example, if you upload your ebooks about golf or a financial spreadsheet including a monthly golf club subscription, you should be confident you won’t suddenly start seeing ads for golf clubs as a result. This is a simple example but you hopefully get the gist. BT won’t try to monetise the contents of your files, in other words.

Privacy from government agencies

As your data isn’t encrypted, you should probably assume it’s not safe from Big Brother. There is an argument that if you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve nothing to worry about. Like if you’re not shoplifting then why are you concerned that you’re being recorded on CCTV? This is a much larger subject that I don’t want to get into here but I’m sure the criminal fraternity won’t be choosing BT Cloud any time soon.

Security from hackers or unauthorised access

From a cybersecurity standpoint I’m not very taken with BT Cloud. They state that they keep your data protected and secure yet they don’t really go into how they handle that. If you have your broadband connection with BT then you must trust them to be secure to some degree, right? Yes and no, in my case. I feel the login/authentication method employed to secure BT Cloud accounts isn’t up to scratch. For example, there’s no two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication. Not only is 2FA not enforced but from what I can tell, it isn’t even an option! All that’s needed to access your private data stored on BT Cloud is your email address and BT account password. I don’t have a particularly strong/complex BT password as I chose it some years ago before we all became so sensitive to information security. I’m not sure why BT don’t implement some form of 2FA, such as requiring, along with your password, an app on your phone, or a digital certificate. I’m sure they’re planning to augment their security as I’ve read in the press that they’re trying to transition from a telecoms company to a technology/security specialist.

Safety from foreign states

If you’re worried about foreign organisations peeking at your data then BT is probably one of the better options when it comes to cloud solution providers. If you take a look at their privacy policy, you’ll see that BT promise your data will remain stored solely within UK datacenters. This means your data remains subject to EU and UK privacy laws. BT is, of course, an extremely large organisation so we have to accept this statement at face value. If BT were found to have been in breach of contract and housing your data in Russia or China, for example, they would leave themselves open to huge civil lawsuits and also fines.

Safety from data loss

BT are being slightly vague on this point. They state that your data will be “protected” but don’t really elaborate on what this means. I think it would be fair for us to assume that given their size that they implement best-practice when it comes to backup and redundancy. It may be that your data is very well protected but BT feel that it would be a security or business risk for them to state exactly how it’s protected. I would have liked a little more clarity on this point from BT which I’m sure they could have provided without divulging trade-secrets or confidential business processes.

Summary

In summary, you can’t use rclone with BT Cloud. This is because BT provide no mechanism for the software to interact with its cloud infrastructure. It’s not clear why BT have not implemented any well-established data transfer standards or APIs. We’ve speculated why this may be the case but it’s all guesswork. We’ve briefly explained how you could mitigate against not having the encryption feature found in rclone, by manually encrypting/decrypting your data. Finally, we explored the subject of “safety” in the context of your data when it’s entrusted to BT. We talked about how safe it is to use BT Cloud to store your files and highlighted a couple of areas of concern. In short, if you’re already paying for a broadband service from BT that includes the use of their cloud service then it could serve a purpose. If you’re not already a BT customer and have no compelling reason to switch to them then their cloud storage offering shouldn’t sway you. There are a number of competing, well priced, cloud storage platforms, most of which offer rclone support as standard.

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