Dropbox takes a peek at files

The behavior was noticed after a file-tracking service was used to watch several files uploaded to Dropbox

Dropbox takes a peek at some kinds of uploaded files. That's normal, the web storage service says.

The disclosure comes after a test of the service found that several ".doc" files were opened after being uploaded to Dropbox.

Dropbox's behavior was detected using HoneyDocs, a new Web-based service that creates a log showing when and where a document was opened, according to a blog post at WNC InfoSec.

The experiment involved uploading to Dropbox ".zip" HoneyDocs folders with embedded ".doc" files. HoneyDocs lets users set up a "sting," or a notification that is sent by SMS or email when a file has been viewed. Where the file has been viewed from is plotted on a map.

The callback, or as HoneyDocs calls it a "buzz," is an HTTP Get request with a unique identifiers assigned to a sting. The data on when and where the file has been opened is sent over SSL port 443, according to HoneyDocs.

WNC InfoSec wrote the first buzz came back within 10 minutes after a file was uploaded with the IP address of an Amazon EC2 instance in Seattle. Dropbox uses Amazon's cloud infrastructure.

Of the submitted files, only ".doc" files had been opened, WNC Infosec wrote. HoneyDocs also pulled information on the type of application which accessed the document, which in this case was the open-source productivity suite LibreOffice.

"So now I'm curious," WNC InfoSec wrote. "Are the files being accessed for de-duplication purposes or possibly malware scanning? If so, then why are the other file types not being opened?"

Despite the strange behavior, the explanation is straightforward. What WNC InfoSec picked up on using HoneyDocs is automated backend processing that Dropbox does on certain kinds of files.

Dropbox allows users to see previews of some kinds of documents, included ".doc" ones, but it must build a preview of those documents, according to a Dropbox spokeswoman. To do that, the document must be opened.

According to Dropbox's website, users can open Word, PowerPoint, PDF and text files from directly within their browser, which saves them from needing certain software programs installed on their computer.

Still, the behavior may make some people nervous. Security experts generally recommend that for stronger privacy, users should encrypt documents before transmitting those files to Web-based storage providers.

Dropbox forbids all but a small number of employees from accessing user data. Its technical support staff may in some cases have access to file metadata, or the data identifying a file rather than its content.

"We have strict policy and technical access controls that prohibit employee access except in these rare circumstances," according to its policy.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesdropboxsecurityinternet

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?