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Dropbox snuffs open code that bypassed file-sharing controls

'Torrent successor' Dropship drop-kicked

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Dropbox – the San Francisco startup that offers a free service for sharing files over the net – has suppressed a fledgling open source project that lets anyone use the service outside of its control, saying the project exposed Dropbox's proprietary protocol and could be used for piracy.

The open source project is called Dropship, and it provides a means of sharing files via Dropbox using only their hashes. It saves hashes of a file in JSON format, and anyone can then use the hashes to load the file into their Dropbox account. This could be used to share, yes, copyrighted content, which is officially barred by the company. "Dropship is a tool that attempts to access the Dropbox servers in an unauthorized manner," a Dropbox spokesman tells The Register.

Dropship caught Dropbox's attention when it was discussed on the popular developer news site Hacker News under the heading: "Dropship – successor to torrents?"

Dropbox’s CTO and cofounder Arash Ferdowsi promptly contacted Dropship developer Wladimir van der Laan, requesting that he remove the project from github. van der Laan complied, but Dropsip was soon mirrored by other Hacker News readers, including web consultant Dan DeFelippi.

DeFelippi actually mirrored the project inside his own Dropbox account. He soon received an email, signed by Dropbox CTO Ferdowsi, saying that Dropbox had received a DMCA takedown notice about the Dropship file, and DeFelippi's account was completely banned from sharing public files. As it turns out, there was no takedown notice. According to a company spokesman, the email claiming a DMCA takedown had been received was automatically sent to DeFelippi because the Dropship file had been banned from public sharing on Dropbox.

DeFelippi was soon contacted directly by Dropbox's Ferdowski, who rescinded the ban but continued to request the removal of the project. "Source code for Dropship was being hosted as a public file in a Dropbox folder," the spokesman tells us. "The Dropbox system flagged it as a potential issue and an automated notice was sent to the user that there was an issue with their file."

But DeFelippi did not comply with the company's requests that he remove the project. He has now hoisted it back onto github and mirrored it in two other places. "Censorship doesn’t work, especially in a community of open source using geeks," he writes.

According to Dropbox, however, the Dropship workaround will no longer work due to changes the company has made on its backend. ®

Update: This story has been update to clarify the situation involving the DMCA email sent to Dan DeFelippi.

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