Dropbox drops the ball on data security

Dropbox is accused of lying and deliberately misleading customers about how secure data is on the cloud-based storage service

Dropbox, a provider of cloud-based data storage services, is in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission over claims that it lied and intentionally deceived customers into believing that their data is more private and secure than it really is. Whether Dropbox was deliberately misleading, or just failed to clearly communicate policy changes, the complaint filed with the FTC illustrates concerns over online data security.

At issue are Dropbox's terms of service. Previously, the company stated in its terms of service that "all files stored on Dropbox servers are encrypted (AES-256) and are inaccessible without your account password." But, Dropbox has continued to modify the terms of service, and backpedal on exactly how secure customer data is -- sometimes putting its foot in its proverbial mouth.

After a few amendments, the terms have been altered such that it now reads more to the effect that Dropbox can access and view your encrypted data, and it might do so to share information with law enforcement if it is compelled, but that employees are prohibited from abusing that power and viewing customer data.

According to encryption expert Vormetric, the root of the Dropbox scenario is that the keys used to encrypt and decrypt files are in the hands of Dropbox, not stored on each user's machine. While Dropbox might have policies prohibiting Dropbox employees from viewing files, a rogue employee could view customer data using the keys held by Dropbox.

Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox rival Box.net, is a class act. Rather than take advantage of the situation to kick Dropbox while it's down, Levie gives his cloud competitor the benefit of the doubt. "I think Dropbox has its users' best interests at heart, but probably went a bit too far in the messaging. I believe they will rectify this."

Levie did, however, stress the importance of data security as well. "Broadly speaking though, security must be of critical importance to any cloud service, and businesses should be absolutely certain they can trust their provider -- things like SAS 70 Type II certification, encryption in transit and at rest, and extensive security controls for users and IT should all be top of mind for enterprises looking to leverage the cloud."

Dropbox is a popular online data storage service with over 25 million users. I tend to side with Levie and assume that Dropbox doesn't have any insidious or malicious ulterior motives. It seems that Dropbox has perhaps been too fickle in trying to adapt its service and features to improve performance and meet address concerns, but I doubt Dropbox meant any harm.That said, employees don't always follow policies, and the fact that customers might believe their data is impenetrable while Dropbox employees can actually view it at will is more than a little problem.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Federal Trade CommissionapplicationsdropboxsecurityCloudsoftwareencryptioncloud computinginternetdata protection

More about AES EnvironmentalBox.netDropboxEMC CorporationFederal Trade CommissionFTCMicrosoftSAS

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Tony Bradley

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place