Using Dropbox

By Charley B. Gee, Swanson Thomas & Coon

What is Dropbox?

Dropbox is a growing Web tool that enables users to access a shared drive or share files with others without having to clog email in-boxes or set up an FTP server. Dropbox is one of the biggest names in "cloud computing," wherein a user's files are stored on a server and are accessible from any computer. It ranges in cost from free for two gigabytes of storage to $19.99 a month for 100 gigabytes.

I use it quite often to transfer large files to opposing counsel, experts and clients, through the use of a "Public Link." By uploading the file(s) to the Dropbox folder and emailing the link to the recipient, this solves the problem of sending digital files that are too large for email or waiting for a CD by mail. Recipients can then click on the link and download the file without even needing to install the Dropbox software on their computer. Users of Dropbox can also share folders with one another which allows simultaneous access to synchronized folders.

The Dropbox site has a short tutorial that explains how it works. You can see it by going to www.dropbox.com

Security Concerns

However, Dropbox poses some concerns for attorneys and their staff. The "Public Link" can be accessed by anyone who has the link. Once you get word that the file has been downloaded, a user can delete the file from their Dropbox directory and the link will no longer be valid.

Dropbox's privacy policy also raises certain concerns for attorneys, namely that Dropbox's own encryption is not adequate and that Dropbox employees may have access to user folders.

Safeguards

While the OSB has no formal ethics opinion regarding the use of cloud computing technology, Helen Hierschbiel, General Counsel at the OSB and Beverly Michaelis, Law Practice Management Advisor with the Professional Liability Fund, have both written on the concerns this type of technology presents.

In her article "Safeguarding Client Information In a Digital World" published in the July 2010 issue of the OSB Bulletin, Hierschbiel advises that "[c]ompetently safeguarding client information does not require a lawyer to become a computer or technology whiz. Instead it requires that lawyers be able to identify the potential problem, and consult an expert when they are in over their heads."

While Dropbox may present some concerns, the prudent attorney can take steps to safeguard his or her client's information without going so far as to hire an expert.

The first step is common sense. While Dropbox may be the perfect tool for transferring a large amount of data, the type of data transferred should be considered. Lawyers may be better off sending highly confidential or sensitive documents by old-fashioned postal service rather than by Dropbox.

Second, an office could use a third-party encryption program, such as TrueCrypt Volumes (free and open source but somewhat complicated to use) or Secret Sync (professional level license is $59.95 a year). These programs will add a layer of encryption to Dropbox that is not provided in the program itself.

Third, a user could use Windows to create a compressed .zip file and password protect it. While this does not provide much protection against anyone who is determined to access the information, it does protect against inadvertent disclosure.

Dropbox and other cloud computing solutions can provide law offices with tools to manage and transfer large amounts of information painlessly. However, this emerging technology requires lawyers to be mindful of the risks involved and to use common sense and diligence in protecting client information.