Following the release of the PassPack Offline Version, we’ve had a number of questions about Google Gears. Here’s a FAQ that covers the basics: What is Gears? Is it safe? Synchronizing?…
What is Google Gears
Google Gears is browser plugin that lets you access and use websites without an internet connection. It does this by allowing the website to send information to be stored in a local database on your computer, instead of back to the server. You need to explicitly allow websites to do this (for example, PassPack).
Once you’ve installed Google Gears, you can use it only for PassPack, or you can also use it for other sites offering a Gears version (web sites must be specifically designed to use Google Gears).
There is no directory of Gears enabled websites yet, but you’ll probably find some examples in Google’s showcase of websites (yup, PassPack is in there).
PassPack online vs. offline security?
The data stored in that local Google Gears database is encrypted with AES-256 – just as it before being sent to PassPack’s servers. This is the same encryption also used in the personal backups that you can make for yourself.
Personal backups, like the offline version, are saved to your computer. The primary difference is that with the offline version, you are able to view the data, whereas with the backups, you can’t (unless you restore it into a PassPack account – online or offline).
In the online version, you need to Sign in before you are sent the encrypted data pack. After that point, you can enter the Packing Key to view the data. In the offline version, you only sign in once (during set up) and then you skip that step from then on.
This means that in the online version a potential hacker would need to break all three User ID, Pass and Packing Key. In the offline version, instead of breaking your User ID and Pass, he’d need to break into your computer – but then he’d still need to try to break the Packing Key.
If you’ve chosen your Packing Key wisely, this should not really be an issue. If you think your Packing Key may be weak, then it becomes an important element.
So, in short, can an unauthorized stranger on your computer be able to read the data stored in your offline PassPack account? Only if he has the Packing Key.
Google Gears on Portable Firefox?
What about saving & syncronizing?
When you press the Save my pack button in your offline version, you are saving to your offline database – not to your online account.
The current release of the Offline version does not have synchronizing capabilities (yet). In the meantime, to synchronize your online and offline accounts, use one of these three options:
- Use the backup and restore functions to move data between the two accounts.
- You can also export and import to move data between the two accounts – this is a little faster than backup/restore since you can just copy and paste from one screen to the other. Only use this if you’re on a trusted computer as the data passes in clear text through your computer’s clipboard.
- Fastest » If all you want to do is re-download your online data, then open your Offline Version, and click “empty and reset your local database” under your Account tab. This will delete all the data from your offline database and you will be sent back to the same screen you had during setup – the one that allows you to download your online data. This is fastest since you don’t need to open your Online account, the Offline version takes care of that for you.
Can I use the offline version while I’m signed in Online?
During setup of the offline version, you will be automatically signed out of your online PassPack account if you were signed in. After that, no problem. The two versions live totally separate lives.
What about Google privacy?
What about Beta?
One last thing that you might like to consider when making your decision is that, just as PassPack, Google Gears is in Beta. You’ll need to decide for yourself if this is acceptable to you or not.
Can I uninstall Google Gears?
Should you choose to do so, you can always uninstall Google Gears, you can follow the instructions here: http://code.google.com/apis/gears/install.html. Just remember that the PassPack Offline Version will no longer work. The normal, online version of PassPack will be uneffected.