23 August 2013

Dropbox' Hidden Dangers (OT)

A nasty incident last night is the motivation for this Off-Topic post today about Dropbox.

Scare: Last night around 11 pm, my wife called while visiting her family: quite a few files in Dropbox, which we use extensively – and typically flawlessly – for business and some private stuff are missing. Did I delete them?

Details: A quick survey discovered that over 3 gigabyte of data of a total of circa 7 gb were deleted. Even stranger, they supposedly were deleted from my personal laptop, over a period of about two hours. Two more oddities: the files were deleted while I was nowhere near my computer; and: the deletions were very selective. Not complete folders went AWOL, but perhaps 90% in one folder, 5% in another, 60% in a third and so on. Some personal things, some business files, some software, some phone apps. You get the idea.

Solution: Neither the hidden Dropbox cache nor the Events Timeline showing deleted files were complete and practical solutions for restoring several thousand lost files. But since I had worked in my office until lunch, the office computer did have a complete Dropbox snapshot, lacking only the last six or eight hours (the time between my shutting it off and the deletions).

So last night I unlinked the office computer (and all others), changed the Dropbox password, and created an external backup of what was left of Dropbox and of the hidden Dropbox cache.

This morning in the office then, I immediately turned off Dropbox sync (with an unlinked computer technically not necessary, but I had to be sure), then synced the office Dropbox folder with my the external backup and thus created a second identical copy, minus about eight hours of changes.

Syncing that back to Dropbox on my personal computer restored 3gb of data, missing only a few files from yesterday afternoon, which I still have to hunt for in either “Previous Versions” on Dropbox or in the saved cache. 

Possible Explanation: From a logical perspective, I see five possibilities: 1. I personally deleted the data, or someone else at my laptop. 2. My wife deleted the data. 3. Our Dropbox is shared with another person/s. 4. The Dropbox servers conched out. 5. Our Dropbox account got compromised.

Going down the list: 1: nope – I was not at my computer and home alone. 2: nope – cui bono? My wife and I work together, and she has neither reason nor time nor incentive to torpedoe our work and selectively delete over 18,000 files. 3: nope – it isn’t shared. 4: possible. 5: possible.

Consequence: Despite Dropbox being brilliant most of the time, reliance on cloud-based storage is simply not justified as we all should know; I got my personal reminder last night. Only the fact that I have several computers linked to Dropbox saved my Speck.

In the light of my experience – and I’m sure I’m not alone – the ever-increasing push in favour of cloud storage from mobile phone manufacturers to eliminate SD-card storage or from companies like Google to offer Net-Books without hard drives is deeply flawed, risky and plain irresponsible. Do not fall for it.

Did you have a similar experience with any cloud-based storage? Please share it, and also any preventive measures you implemented – thanks!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

For a business, this could be fatal. You may store marketing documents for new products, financial documents and more, which could benefit your competitors. Often, the cyber-criminals will simply change the Dropbox password and hold to ransom until you make a juicy payment; yet, even then, they may not change it back.
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