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Dead Drops: “Uncloud Your Files” Sunday 11/21/10

Posted by smcgamer in Archive, Technology.
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Dead Drops is an idea to embed USB flash drives into the walls of buildings in order to share files.  Featured on Lifehacker, this has gained a lot of both positive and negative response from the Internet at large.

The Idea

The idea is to place a flash drive into the wall of a building (hopefully yours) and either put files on it or allow others to put files on it.  Project starter Aram Bartholl writes:

‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer-to-peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop is installed empty except a readme.txt file explaining the project. ‘Dead Drops’ is open to participation. If you want to install a dead drop in your city/neighborhood follow the ‘how to’ instructions and submit the location and pictures.

In this way it becomes somewhat like geocaching, the practice of hiding boxes containing a log book and pen so others can find it and write down when they found it.  Ideas for usage include:

  • To showcase photography, art, or writing
  • To share files in a more personal, less Internet-centric manner

To use the Dead Drop, you will need a laptop, and a USB female-to-male cable.

Response has been half positive, half negative.  Among the primary concerns:

Installation of Malware

People are afraid that hackers are going to place malware onto the Dead Drops, rendering any computer that uses them infected.  This fear, while well founded, disregards two things:

  • Malware writers want their malware to spread to as many computers as they can reach before a patch is released for it.  A Dead Drop is not nearly as used as a torrent or file-sharing site.
  • Most laptops already have autorun disabled, so if there was malware, people would have to run the file itself.

Dead Drops will be used to Trade Illegal Stuff

I’m not saying what, just look at the main site to see.  Anyway, people who trade illegal digital stuff won’t use Dead Drops because they are out in the open and anyone, including police officers, could check them.

My Concerns

I find a few things wrong with the idea:

  • Legality of Installation: You can’t just drill a hole into any building, only one that you own.  Of course, if you own it, you probably won’t drill a hole in the first place.
  • Damage Potential: Solid-state drives like flash drives may be more resilient than the hard drive, but people could still break it too easily.  Someone trying to plug in their laptop without an extension cord would probably either break the plug or the port.  And it would be subject to rain, wind, snow, and heat.  You could put a cap over the USB plug, but fewer people would see it.  The installer could use a female-type plug but people might just interpret it as a hole in the wall.
  • It Might Have Junk: Not malware,  but useless files that take up space, like advertising messages.

But there are alternatives to drilling a hole in your wall.  You could set up a geocache with the flash drive, or create a guest network where you could have a file share.

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