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As any PC power-user knows, getting files from one place to another is one of the oldest tasks in the book. Since way back when people have used floppies, ZIP disks, CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, thumb drives, email and more to get the files you need from point A to point B. But now there’s DropBox, which has—in the half year or so since it came out of beta—become our very favorite way of making sure that we always have our most important files at hand.
If you’re not familiar with how DropBox works, it’s simple: You create a free account with DropBox, and install a small app on your computer. This app creates a folder on your computer (wherever you choose) and monitors that folder at all times. Whenever you change the contents of this folder, by adding, modifying or deleting files, DropBox automatically syncs these changes to your account’s folder on their servers. Additionally, any other computer logged into that same account will have their DropBox folder synced as well. There’s nothing earthshaking about this capability, but the whole process is amazingly simple and makes collaboration an absolute breeze.
Still, with a little creativity, DropBox can be a lot more than just a way to move files from one computer to another. We’ve compiled a list of five of the coolest DropBox tricks we’ve heard of so far, so read on to find out how you can use DropBox and other free software to recover a stolen laptop, organize your Torrents, keep your passwords safe, and more.
Everyone knows that good password security requires that you use passwords that are A) long, B) complicated, and C) different for every website and service you use. Of course, these three requirements also make it a total pain to memorize all the passwords you need, meaning that most people don’t follow the rules, either using one password across many services (a security risk) or writing their passwords down near the computer (also a security risk).
That’s where KeePass comes in. KeePass is a free, open source password safe. It allows you to generate a unique, totally random password for every site or service you use, while only requiring you to remember a single master passphrase. Whenever you attempt to log into a service, KeePass asks for your master passphrase, then automatically enters the appropriate password from your safe.
That’s all well and good, but what do you do if you frequently use two different computers (say, a desktop and a laptop)? You could use a USB drive to keep your KeePass password archive with you at all times, but that’s one more little bit of hardware you have to keep track of. Instead, use DropBox to keep an up-to-date copy of your password file on both computers, at all times. Just tell KeePass to save your password archive somewhere in your DropBox synced folder.
Worried about security? Fuhgeddaboutit. KeePass saves your password in an archive encrypted with nigh-unbreakable AES 256-hit encryption. That means that as long as you pick a strong, long password, getting a hold of your KeePass file won’t do a hacker a bit of good.
As PC enthusiasts, nothing gets our blood boiling like tales of stolen laptop computers. With DropBox, though, there’s a chance for sweet, sweet revenge. The trick is to set up a keylogger on your own machine, and set it to save its log files into the Dropbox shared folder. If anyone ever steals your laptop, your Dropbox folder will give you a detailed look at what the thief is doing with it. If the cretin connects to a service such as MySpace (and our personal research indicates that cretins just love MySpace) then you’ll know exactly who stole your notebook.
By letting Dropbox handle the syncing, you don’t have to let an internet-enabled keylogger through your firewall (because who knows who it could be sending data too). Of course, keyloggers are pretty sketchy business, so if you want to try this trick out you’ll have to track one down on your own.
We like Dropbox. We like TrueCrypt. So what if… What if, we were to use the two together? Crazy, we know, but by combining the top-notch encryption of TrueCrypt with the easy syncing of Dropbox, you can create an encrypted drive accessible from any computer.
To do this, just download the TrueCrypt executable, run it, and choose to Extract it (rather than install it) to your Dropbox folder. From there, make an encrypted volume, as described in this article. This will allow you to run TrueCrypt and mount your encrypted volume straight off of the Dropbox folder, on any machine.
There’s one thing you should note about this method: First, Whenever Dropbox updates a file, it first compares the old file and the new, then only uploads or download only the bits that have changed. On the one hand, this is good because it means that you don’t have to re-upload your entire 500MB encrypted volume every time you add something to it. On the other hand, a hacker could (theoretically) see how the encrypted data is changing as you add or change files in the volume; an encryption no-no. Still, this definitely not something you have to worry about if you’re just looking for a little extra security for your Dropbox files.
Read on to find out how you can use Dropbox to control a BitTorrent and sync up all your instant messaging logs!