College Professor: I Lost Tons Of Critical Files Because Of Dropbox

Heidi Kevoe-FeldmanNorthwestern UniversityHeidi Kevoe-Feldman

Here’s a scary story that shows how dangerous it can be to sync Dropbox across all of your devices, even when you are being very careful.
Until this week, Northeastern University Professor Dr. Heidi Kevoe-Feldman loved Dropbox.

“I’ve been using Dropbox for years for everything. I have students upload papers to it, I collaborate with other researchers on it,” she told Business Insider.

She was also using it as backup storage for hundreds of files and years worth of her own research. Kevoe-Feldman had more than 100 gigabytes of files stored on Dropbox, and she had long ago upgraded from a free account to a paid one.

Wednesday, she tried to access some of her research files and discovered that over 200 movie files were missing and over 3,000 pictures.

On top of that, a collaborative project with some of her colleagues, being done wholly in Dropbox and not on her PCs, was deleted, too.

And they weren’t just deleted from Dropbox. The files were gone from two computers that had the Dropbox app synched to Dropbox. They were also gone from a backup external drive, also synched with Dropbox.

“I lost everything,” she says, although she’s still hopeful that Dropbox’s technical support will be able to help her recover at least some of the files.

What’s so scary about this story is that Kevoe-Feldman is a Dropbox power-user and she was also super careful. She put copies of all of her important files in multiple spots and was using Dropbox for an extra layer of protection.

Kevoe-Feldman says she did not delete these files herself (“I never delete anything,” she told us. “I’m a data hoarder”). She was told by the university’s IT department that this looked like the work of hackers.

Researchers have recently demonstrated that it is possible, though not easy, to break into Dropbox through the Dropbox app and delete files.

Dropbox says it saves all deleted files for 30 days (and longer if you pay for a service it calls Packrat). In Kevoe-Feldman’s case, Dropbox’s records showed that the huge chunk of files were deleted on July 26 from Kevoe-Feldman’s account, she told us.

So the time had expired where she was guaranteed to be able to recover her files.

The date stamp makes no sense to her. “The strange thing is that some of the files deleted were created after [that] date.”

Dropbox declined to tell us specifically what happened to these files. However, a spokesperson for Dropbox told us:

“We can say with confidence that this situation did not stem from any Dropbox issues. Dropbox users can choose to have files synced across their machines. In that case, all changes made on local machines, including deletions, are synced.”

Dropbox’s sync function is meant to be a convenient way to keep all of your files up to date. As this story shows, however, sync can make it frighteningly easy to lose everything in case of accidental deletion or attack from hackers.

Here are the instructions on how to turn off sync.

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