Dead Drops offline P2P file sharing network goes global

More than 1,200 physical locations allow people to share thumb drive files, and their lives, anonymously

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The data stored on the drive is purely up to the person who creates the Dead Drops location. When a user plugs in, they can upload content and download some of their own, if capacity permits.

The embedded USB thumb drives run the gamut in capacity, from 64MB to tens of gigabytes. One thumb drive, inserted into a brick wall near the lakefront in Zurich, Switzerland offers 32GB of file sharing capacity. The drive is bootstrapped with a full copy of Wikipedia.

In Sydney, one participant claims to have installed a 120GB USB drive in one of brick walls on the campus of the TAFE NSW Sydney Institute. The Dead Dropper claims to be a "Chinese exchange student who is hoping to help."

Dead Drop
A Dead Drops location in the Bridge of Sighs, New College Lane Oxford, at Oxfordshire, U.K.

Plug my computer into an anonymous thumb drive?

While Bartholl admits there are obvious security implications to plugging one's computer into a publicly accessed thumb drive, he points out that the file sharing on the Internet has similar risks.

"If I handed you a USB drive, you'd plug it in. But because it's on the street, it makes us think very differently about it," Bartholl said. "It's a lot about perception."

Dead Drops's website offers a "How To" instructional webpage for installing USB thumb drives into walls or other objects.

The page instructs people to first find or create a hole in a wall using a screw driver or some other hardened object. The USB thumb drive's plastic case is then cracked open with a flat putty knife. The USB drive's remaining memory board is wrapped in plumber's waterproof tape, and placed in the hole until only the USB port is exposed. Fast setting concrete is then used to cement the stick in the crack or hole.

"It's very easy to make one," Bartholl said. "Everyone can do it."

Not everyone involved in the Dead Drop project appears to play by the rules, but that's exactly what Bartholl had hoped -- that the project would take on a life of its own. For example, in Riverview, Fla., a Dead Drop location claims to offer 60GB of capacity through the use of an open wireless network, anonymously, of course.

"I invite hackers to come and visit my state of the art wireless drop. Just connect to the wireless network named "Dead Drop" and if you need to go to any webpage, it will redirect you to the drop's FTP and the FTP information. I'm not going to put it on here because it changes time to time," Dead Drop maker Gentoomen states on his location page.

There are now six wireless Dead Drops, including one named PirateBox, which is described as a self-contained mobile collaboration and file sharing device.

Another trend in Europe has been embedding USB drives in bridges, mirroring a romantic European trend of placing a lock on a bridge and throwing the key in the water - a symbol of everlasting love.

In order to find a Dead Drops location near you, the website offers a database with maps, street addresses and even coordinates in longitude and latitude.

Dead drops
A Chinese exchange student at the TAFE NSW Sydney Institute in Sydney, Australia placed this Dead Drop in a building's wall "hoping to help."

"The nice thing is there's all these variations and spinffs now," Bartholl said. "The art piece itself is everybody taking part. It's like a ongoing worldwide performance."

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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