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Dropbox 'insecure and misleading' – crypto researcher

Soghoian, PGP founder say no bargepole is long enough

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Updated Popular cloud storage service Dropbox is misleading users into thinking it is more secure than it really is, says a security researcher and academic, who has asked for the FTC to investigate.

Dropbox has around 25 million users. It's often used as an escape hatch by owners of Apple's iPhone and iPad: the iOS slabs don't expose the device's local file system or provide the end user with a way of manipulating files.

"Dropbox's customers face an increased risk of data breach and identity theft because their data is not encrypted according to industry best practices," says Christopher Soghoian, who filed the complaint. Soghoian is a researcher at the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University. He explains that unlike other cloud services – he names SpiderOak and Wuala – Dropbox allows its employees to access unencrypted copies of users' encrypted data.

Soghoian says Dropbox made specific changes in response to a blog post highlighting the practice last month, removing the claim that no employee can access the data.

"Nobody can see your private files in Dropbox unless you deliberately invite them or put them in your Public folder" was modified to be "Other Dropbox users can't see your private files in Dropbox unless you deliberately invite them or put them in your Public folder".

A statement claiming that "Dropbox employees aren't able to access user files, and when troubleshooting an account they only have access to file metadata" was changed to "Dropbox employees are prohibited from viewing the content of files you store in your Dropbox account, and are only permitted to view file metadata (eg, file names and locations)".

Dropbox also added the disclaimer that:

"Like most online services, we have a small number of employees who must be able to access user data for the reasons stated in our privacy policy."

PGP Inc co-founder Jon Callas says he deleted his DropBox account after the changes, which don't go far enough to clarify the situation, according to Soghoian in his FTC filing.

Dropbox has yet to respond to the FTC submission, which you can read in full here (16-page PDF/482KB). ®

Update

Dropbox has sent us the following the statement: "We believe this complaint is without merit, and raises issues that were addressed in our blog post on April 21, 2011. Millions of people depend on our service every day and we work hard to keep their data safe, secure, and private.”

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