The following Plus Edition article is written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I love the program called Dropbox and have written about it several times. You can read my earlier articles if you start at http://goo.gl/dWzhB. Judging by the feedback that newsletter readers have posted at the end of those articles, many people agree with my opinion of the program. Dropbox appears to be very popular. However, it also has some drawbacks.
Dropbox is a multi-purpose program. It provides off-site backup of files that you select. Those files can be almost anything: text files, word processing documents, genealogy databases, pictures, .mp3 music files, or most anything else.
In addition to backups being stored on Dropbox's servers, the files also can automatically be copied (replicated) to other computers you own or to computers owned by friends or relatives. For instance, if you own both a desktop and a laptop computer, Dropbox can be used to make certain you always have the latest version of a file available on both systems. This can be great for keeping the latest version of your genealogy database on both systems.
Dropbox also can create backup copies of data on your office computer by automatically copying it to your system at home. Dropbox also has an option to either copy everything or copy only specific folders. For instance, I have one folder under Dropbox that is shared with my daughter. We use it mostly to exchange family photographs, especially of my new granddaughter. However, we also have old family photographs in the same folder and sub-folders. Any time I add a new photo to any of my computers, she has a copy of it within seconds and vice-versa: when she adds new photos to that folder, I have a copy almost immediately. We only share that one folder; she cannot see my other folders nor can I see her other Dropbox folders.
Dropbox also allows for file retrieval from any web browser. When traveling, I can use a friend's computer or a computer at an Internet café or at a public library to access my files and photos.
Dropbox is a great service that is free for storing up to two gigabytes of data. Even more storage space is available for a modest fee. Details are available at http://www.dropbox.com.
In the past, I protected my private information by encrypting it immediately when stored on the local hard drive in the Dropbox folder. Since the data is already encrypted before being sent to Dropbox, even the Dropbox employees cannot access it. If any Dropbox employee looks at my data, all he or she will see is a bunch of gibberish. Data being sent and received is also protected since it, too, is fully encrypted before being sent.
Manually encrypting each file that I want to keep private is an effective, but somewhat unwieldy, solution. I have to remember to encrypt each file manually. Once the encrypted files had been replicated to my laptop computer, I had to manually decrypt them before use. Luckily, I recently found a better solution.
Writing in a comment to one of my earlier articles, a newsletter reader stated that she had found a solution that automatically encrypts files before they are sent to Dropbox. As a result, the files are protected while being sent and received as well as when being stored on Dropbox's servers. Not even the Dropbox employees can decrypt the files, should they want to or even if they have a court order to reveal the contents.
Even better, the files that are copied to other computers, such as from a desktop to a laptop system, are also encrypted while being sent, but they automatically become decrypted (converted to plain text) after arrival in the receiving system. The receiving system receives plain, unencrypted files. At the same time, any hackers along the way cannot read any of the files, even if those hackers succeed in intercepting the (encrypted) data as it is being sent or while it is stored on Dropbox's servers. I'd trust this solution with any of my private data. I now use it to store and copy my bank account information, income tax data, credit card numbers, and more.
NOTE: Many years ago, I spent four years in the U.S. Air Force as a crypto technician. In that capacity I helped protect our government's most secret information, including White House communications, war plans, diplomatic messages, proposed targets of our missiles and bombers, and more. I have intimate knowledge of how encryption works and the security that is possible. I trust this technology.
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