Is Dropbox Dropping in on Your Shared Files?

The ability to instantly share and interact through online sources has become an expected part of our daily lives. We live in a time where any service that helps make this happen is quickly welcomed. And because of this mentality, cloud services such as Dropbox, where people can access shared information and files in real-time through online sites and apps, have become useful for everyone from business executives to students. However, with clouds comes rain. Things are not always as private as they seem with Dropbox as it was recently discovered that the service might be peeking into some of your files once they’re uploaded.

One of the biggest concerns in using services such as Dropbox is privacy. When files and data are being shared across the Internet, users face the worry that those files are no longer secure. But secure from whom? The privacy issue may be more internal than you would think.

Using a web-based service that notifies you when a document you send is opened, researchers at the Western North Carolina InfoSec (WNC InfoSec) Community discovered that files on Dropbox were being opened elsewhere within 10 minutes of upload. This spiked up as red flag to those doing the study as a sign that Dropbox might be manipulating files on its servers. Dropbox explained that it was generating previews of uploaded files so that users can preview a file within their web browser before (or instead of) downloading. This was eventually found to be in line with backend processes that are used to automatically create those previews for Dropbox users.

Still, this discovery brings to light security concerns surrounding file-sharing. Many people are worried about the potential for this backend process to be misused by hackers, and other cyber snoopers on the hunt for important files. So, what can you to do protect yourself when using services like Dropbox?

Most importantly, across the board, share your files with care. Dropbox and other online services are almost too convenient when it comes to sharing files with many different people. Make sure you know who has access to the files you are sharing on the other side of things. Additionally, consider the following tips to give your shared files extra protection before sending them to the cloud:

  • Encrypt files before you upload. Most cloud services do not have an option to add additional encryption but there are many user-friendly tools to help you do so yourself. This way, only those who have the encryption password will be able to see the actual data.
  • Be mindful of your password. Make sure to set a strong password on your file-sharing account, and try not to reuse passwords across multiple accounts, even though it might make them easier to remember. McAfee SafeKey password manager (part of the McAfee LiveSafe™ service) can help you to easily store very complex passwords for added peace of mind. With it you can safely log in to sites with one click and manage all of your passwords from a single device. It is also recommended to set up two-step verification on your Dropbox account, which is quite simple and recommended to protect your shared files.
  • Research the service you are using. Every online service has different levels of security, and it pays to do a little research and find the one that works best for your needs. Ask questions about their security policies, and even read through some reviews. This will help you find a service that is both reliable and convenient. For those with sensitive documents such as passports, deeds, wills, etc. that you want to keep in a highly secure cloud storage and use biometrics to access, consider using McAfee LiveSafe. This comprehensive security offering for all your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets includes secure online storage accessible only through facial and vocal recognition.

Remember to stay aware and alert about risks in online sharing with these tips.


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