iCloud is a Syncing Service, Not a Backup Service

This past Friday on our security episode of Daily Observations, we briefly talked about backups to make sure your data is safe in case you get malware. I took the opportunity to remind people that iCloud is a syncing service, not a backup service. Even iCloud Backup isn’t a true backup, because it leaves out some data.

Make Backups

Making backups is extremely important. There are many reasons to make backups, and one of them is what we talked about: Keeping a copy of your files in case your device gets infected with malware, like ransomware. It’s fine to keep your files in iCloud Drive (I do) or iCloud Photos. But it’s not a backup.

iCloud syncs your data between your Apple devices. If you delete a file in iCloud on one device, it gets deleted on all your other devices. But that means if one device is infected with malware, and your files get messed up, they will be messed up on every iCloud-enabled Apple device (Conjecture, I haven’t had this happen to me…yet).

iCloud Backup is a good start but it’s not a true backup either. This service does back up many things on your device, but it doesn’t back up data that is already in iCloud. Services like Contacts, calendars, Safari bookmarks, Apple Notes, and Messages in iCloud are not included in iCloud Backup. A true backup would back up everything.

Image of hard drive

I’m not telling you to give up iCloud or iCloud Backup, but it shouldn’t be your only backup method. The solution many people recommend is to have three backups: One in the cloud, one to external media you keep at home, and one to external media you keep in another location. In a worst case scenario, like if your home was damaged and you lost your local backup, you’ll still have the cloud backup and the backup at another location, like a friend’s house.

On the Mac you can make an iOS backup with iTunes or Finder. But it may not be a true, complete backup either. Apple’s web page notes a list of data that isn’t include, like Apple Mail data, data already stored in iCloud, Face ID / Touch ID settings, and more.


I have all of my files in iCloud, and I also make copies of them that I store on an external hard drive. It’s not a perfect solution, but I’m less concerned about backing up apps and more concerned about my data, and this solution saves my data.

I use this SanDisk wireless flash drive. By using the accompanying app, you can automatically back up your photos and videos, and manually copy files over to the drive. I wanted to make sure it was wireless in case Apple changed the ports on its devices.

Here are other backup solutions I’ve come across. For Macs I think Backblaze is a good service. It’s just US$5/month. In the past I’ve written about apps that let you export your Apple Notes to text files, which you can then store elsewhere. An app we recommend at The Mac Observer is iMazing. It backs up iOS data to your Mac, but it backs up everything, like voicemails and texts. On a related note, here’s how you can fix iCloud contacts not syncing.

Further Reading

[macOS: How to Export Apple Notes as Plain Text Files]

[What’s the Difference Between a Data Backup and an Archive?]

4 thoughts on “iCloud is a Syncing Service, Not a Backup Service

  • Hypothetical question: I get hit by a ransomeware attempt. My Mac’s HDD is locked. Does that mean the copies of those files that are out on iCloud are ALSO locked? I was under the impression that it was a local whole drive encryption that broke connections with remote copies of those files. The remote copies would not be damaged.

      1. Well, that’s a problem.
        Would TMO consider doing a review/comparison of Mac security packages? Ive seen a few out there but none seem to address Ransomware protection. I changed my Malware package to Avast about three years ago and they do offer Ransomware protection. But, after the revelations of them selling user data, I think it might be time to look elsewhere.

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