Secure Dropbox with ENCFS

Dropbox is awesome, it’s super useful and it’s free! Well, free for the first 2 gigs you use and then you pay for more storage, but 2 gigs might be all you need…

Usually as with all free online services you are the product, and despite Dropbox being a free and convenient file storage and sharing service, it’s also inherently insecure. Yes it is encrypted, but it is encrypted by Dropbox and you’ll never see or get access to the encryption keys. Only Dropbox, law enforcement, the government and anyone else who can gain access to your password has access the encryption keys, and your personal data of course…

So in looking for a solution to this issue, I first started encrypting files locally using GPG and uploading to Dropbox, but this was time consuming and not very practical. After some searching I discovered a free and open source application called ENCFS.

So what is ENCFS?

From the ENCFS web site:

“EncFS provides an encrypted filesystem in user-space. It runs without any special permissions and uses the FUSE library module to provide the filesystem interface.”

Basically it provides an encrypted folder or folders in dropbox that seamlessly encrypts and decrypts data on the fly. It works really well, and is a great way to secure your dropbox data.

ENCFS is a UNIX application that runs on all UNIX variants such as Linux, BSD and of course Mac OS X, or as it’s now called MacOS.

As I’m a Mac user, I’m going to focus on installing and using ENCFS on the Mac for use with Dropbox.  This is a command line application, and it is setup and used completely from within the terminal window, so if that is something that you are not comfortable with you might want to move along…

Still here? Ok cool, here we go…

Before you can install any native UNIX applications on the Mac you will need to install a package manager. There are a number package managers available, but probably the best one out there is called ‘Homebrew’ and can be installed from the OS X terminal very simply.

Instructions are HERE.

Once you have successfully installed Homebrew, you are now ready to start installing ENCFS.

First you’ll need to install the OSX Fuse filesystem, and this is done by typing or cut & paste the command below into the TERMINAL and hitting enter:

brew install Caskroom/cask/osxfuse

You will need to enter your password during the installation.

Once you have installed Fuse, you are now ready to install ENCFS. To do this, by typing or cut & paste the command below into the TERMINAL and hitting enter:

brew install encfs

Once installed, you’ll need to create the ENCFS encrypted volume. To do this type or cut & paste the command below into TERMINAL and hit enter:

encfs ~/Dropbox/encrypted ~/Private

This will create an encrypted directory in Dropbox, and a local directory. The local directory will be used to give you access to your files once decrypted, while the Dropbox location will create an encrypted volume. You’ll be asked several questions after running this command. The default paranoia mode (type p when prompted) should work well, but you can also type x for expert configuration mode.

You’ll also be prompted to create a password for your encrypted volume. Do NOT forget this password. If you do, you will not be able to access your files again. Not Ever…

ENCFS is now installed and ready to use!

To mount the encrypted volume, fire up TERMINAL and type as before:

encfs ~/Dropbox/encrypted ~/Private

You’ll then see the mounted volume in Finder and on your desktop (if set to show attached or network drives).

Use this mounted drive to read / write data and to store your files.  Ignore the newly created and encrypted folder in Dropbox.  Dropbox will store your encrypted files and sync them across to all your computers.

If you place files directly in the /Dropbox/encrypted folder, they won’t be encrypted.

That’s it!  Enjoy your secure Dropbox.

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