Ask LH: Is It Safe To Use Dropbox For Collaboration?

Hi Lifehacker, My company is thinking about using Dropbox for daily file transfers (such as working from home and not needing to email the document to another email), but some people are concerned about the possible access the general public would have to the files. Do you guys have any suggestions of how to keep the info as secure as possible using Dropbox? Or is it not advisable to use Dropbox if we’re planning on using it for confidential information? Thanks,

Dear Laura,

It’s a good question (and one which actually popped up in a comment but which merits a broader answer).

We’re big believers in using Dropbox for collaborative work, and the US Lifehacker team offered a detailed guide a while back on how to make that work. The approach outlined there is worth checking out for some general ideas, so I won’t repeat them here. In terms of security, the answer to your question is: Dropbox is fine as long as you approach it the right way.

The wrong way is to drop them in the ‘Public’ folder on a Dropbox account, since that creates a web link which is accessible to anyone who gets hold of it.

As we’ve suggested before, a better idea is to set up a work Dropbox which everyone can log into. That means there are copies of vital files on multiple machines, and the newest versions are automatically replicated. If someone wants to grab a file for use on an unfamiliar machine (perhaps an emergency presentation), that’s also possible by logging in via a web browser.

Not that whole they are shared, those files aren’t available to the general public; only people who have the relevant login address and password can get to them. Make sure to use a strong password and change it regularly (including whenever a team member leaves or takes on a new job).

That approach isn’t foolproof: if the password leaks, then those documents will be accessible. But that applies to virtually any collaboration system. Given its ease of installation and availability on a wide range of platforms (including via a web browser), Dropbox is still a great solution for where you want to exchange files or have them available to multiple members of a team but don’t need actual, real-time interaction.


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