This tip is a little too techy for my “Third Year at UNMSOM series,” but to be honest it’s pretty relevant for my UNMSOM peers.

Why Dropbox

The hospital firewall hasn’t blocked Dropbox like it has Cloudapp and I think Google Docs and other file storage sites, so I am constantly putting files in my Dropbox at home that I want to be able to open on a hospital computer. Documents that I’d like to keep working on, presentations I’d like to display, handouts I want to print… Dropbox is the perfect tool for easily transferring these documents from my home computer to a computer at school or the hospital.

I keep tons of stuff in my Dropbox. Some of it is relatively important information… not like credit card numbers and especially not HIPAA sensitive material, but old school projects, sentimental letters, and a ton of other stuff that I want access to on all my devices as well as cloud-based backups of those files. Things that Dropbox is excellent at.

The hospital computers don’t log you out.

For this reason, I would hate to get hacked or otherwise lose access to my Dropbox. Unfortunately, the hospital computers don’t automatically log you out of Dropbox when the window closes. This means that if you use Dropbox to access a file and close the window without clicking “log out of Dropbox,” the next person to use that computer could open a new window, go to Dropbox, and they’d have access to all your stuff. Not good.

Now I bet the hospital computers are pretty secure, but with any public computer you should also be wary that a “key logger” might be installed. These special hacker apps or viruses that can run in the background on a computer and record every key you type, thereby stealing your login information for various websites. You should keep this risk in mind anytime you log into a computer that is not your own.

Make a super password for your Dropbox.

I recommend that any heavy user of Dropbox change their password to something they have a hard time memorizing, since that implies that anyone that gets a glimpse of it will also have a hard time remembering it. Write it down or store it somewhere secure so you don’t forget it entirely, of course. I am a huge fan and heavy user of LastPass ($1 per month for a premium membership – one of the best deals and most used apps I’ve ever purchased), so I generated a 20-something character, completely random password, complete with capitals, lower case, symbols, numbers… the works. Luckily, I very rarely need to type in that password, since LastPass lets me just copy and paste it. As a matter of fact, this enhances the security in and of itself, since a rudimentary key logger might only see “copy” and “paste” instead of the actual password itself (although I imagine a it may also log the clipboard contents). Unfortunately, having such a secure password makes it a pain to log in from new computers.

The solution: Make a second Dropbox account and use shared folders.

Disclaimer: I tried to contact Dropbox support weeks ago to make sure that this doesn’t violate their terms of service, but I haven’t heard back. My understanding is that it’s okay to have multiple Dropbox accounts as long as your’e not trying to get extra free space with referral links or trying to run multiple instances of Dropbox simultaneously. That said, it’s possible that they could decide this is against the TOS and suspend or revoke your account, though I consider this highly unlikely. You’ve been warned.

So my solution… which has worked brilliantly for third year… was to create a secondary Dropbox account with one of my other email addresses. This second account uses a relatively simple password that I can remember easily. It doesn’t have much in it, so if it were compromised, it wouldn’t be such a huge deal. This second account is not synced to my computer or any of my devices (except Goodreader). Instead, I made a folder in my main account, then used Dropbox’s (excellent) folder sharing to invite my secondary account to that folder, logged into the secondary account, and accepted the sharing request. Done!

Now, I can drag-and-drop files into that particular shared folder from my home computer from my primary Dropbox account, then log in from anywhere into the secondary account to access them. This way, my main Dropbox account and my personal files are never put at risk, its password never used, and there is no extra inconvenience to having an ultra-secure password on that account. The other account is easy to log in to, and can still access anything I put in that particular folder. Reciprocally, if I find an interesting study or work on a document while at school, I can upload the file to that shared folder and later access it from my main Dropbox account at home. Problem solved.

Other Dropbox tips

I’ve written previously about how I use Noodlesoft’s Hazel (one of my all-time favorite Mac apps) along with Dropbox to automate stuff on my Mac. Here’s a few of them – hit me up if you’d like more in-depth instruction on how to get these running.

  • Remote control my Mac from my iPhone using Goodreader + Hazel + Dropbox
  • Use Dropvox for super-efficient voice memos that then get moved to my desktop and a Growl notification so I don’t forget them
  • Have Hazel move all contents of a specific Dropbox folder to my desktop to make sure I don’t forget them, share this folder to the secondary account
  • Have a folder that automatically launches an app when a particular filetype is added, perfect for torrents or .pdf files with my research organizer
  • Use ifttt to grab any Facebook photo I’m tagged in and upload to Dropbox
  • Have a folder with frequently used files like my favorite profile photo, so I can add it whenever I sign up for a new site or service

Those are just a few. What innovative uses for Dropbox have you discovered? Let me know in the comments section below.