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encrypt dropbox dataDropbox is arguably one of the best online file sync tools around. In fact, I do not have any geek friends that don’t use Dropbox, but instead use it heavily. However, if you’ve been skimming through the tech news lately, you’ll see that Dropbox is having some privacy issues as of late (here‘s one out of many).

Aside from the never-diminishing threat of a break-in by hackers, Dropbox has also said that it will turn over your data to the government if requested. This implies that, even if the data on their servers is encrypted (and not just the connection), they have a way to decrypt it and see what you’re storing. Although I’m sure most of you don’t have anything to hide, we feel more comfortable with some privacy. Therefore, encrypting the files before they are sent to the Dropbox servers is the way to go in order to keep eyes away.

There are a couple different ways of achieving this, as of late. My favorite method in the past has been to use Truecrypt How To Make Encrypted Folders Others Can't View with Truecrypt 7 How To Make Encrypted Folders Others Can't View with Truecrypt 7 Read More , but having to create containers that store the encrypted information isn’t the best for Dropbox, which constantly syncs changes. If I have to make 50MB+ containers, and changing anything in one of them means that I have to re-upload 50MB of encrypted info, then that is a little waste of time and resources. Instead, I need to encrypt files individually, and in a serious, not-cheesy way. ENCFS is the perfect solution for this kind of problem.

The Idea

The technologies behind ENCFS are a pretty tricky to explain, so I’ll let you do that on your own time if you are interested. However, the principle of what it does is easy enough, so we’ll dive right into that. The idea is that ENCFS creates two folders. One is for unencrypted data, and the other is for encrypted data. You’ll want to have the unencrypted folder somewhere in your Home folder, while the encrypted folder should obviously be inside your Dropbox folder. Whenever you put something into the unencrypted folder, ENCFS goes to work and spews out the encrypted version into the encrypted folder, which Dropbox then syncs. If you do the same on a different computer, ENCFS will take the encrypted file and decrypt it, sending it to your unencrypted folder. It’s simpler than it sounds.

Installing

To get started, you’ll first need to install ENCFS. You’ll need to look around in your package manager for the exact package name, but for Fedora it’s fuse-encfs and in Ubuntu it’s simply called encfs. Next, you’ll need to head over to this site, download the contents, unzip, and copy the “gnome-encfs” file to an easy to access location. Then, switch to root if needed, and use (sudo)

install /path/to/gnome-encfs /usr/local/bin

. This program will help with automatically mounting this setup each time you boot up your computer. Alright, everything is now installed.

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Create your Encryption Setup

Next, we’ll need to actually create the setup. To do this, you’ll need to run

encfs ~/Dropbox/.encrypted ~/Private

. You can change the actual paths if you like. Just know that the path represented by ~/Dropbox/.encrypted is the folder where the encrypted data goes, and ~/Private is the folder where you put your unencrypted files into. The tilda represents your home folder and the period in front of folder names sets the folders to hidden (Hit CTRL+H in Nautilus to see hidden folders).

encrypt dropbox data

ENCFS will ask you a couple questions about your setup, such as whether to create the folders you specified if they don’t already exist, what kind of encryption you would like (if you want an easy and very secure setup, hit p), and the password for your setup.

encrypt dropbox files

Next we need to automatically mount this setup. Type in

gnome-encfs -a ~/Dropbox/.encrypted ~/Private

and hit enter. You’ll be asked for the password that you set earlier, and then whether to automatically mount the setup. Say yes, and you’re done!

encrypt dropbox files

Conclusion

Congratulations! You’re ready to go! You can start copying files into the Private (or unencrypted folder if you chose a different name/location), and see that encrypted files are being made in your specified Dropbox folder.

encrypt dropbox data

You’ll also notice that there is an .xml file, which contains some information about the key. No, it isn’t the key itself, so you’re still safe if you sync that with Dropbox. However, if you feel extra paranoid, you can copy the .xml file to a different location, type

dropbox exclude add ~/Dropbox/.encrypted/.encfs6.xml

into your Terminal, and then delete the file (and make sure it’s also purged via the Dropbox website). Note that, as far as I know of, it may be possible to use this setup with Macs as well, but Windows is currently not in the game. Therefore, this setup is most effective for people who use only Linux and want to encrypt files they know they only need between computers, and not on the go where Windows may appear.

Is encrypting your Dropbox data a high priority for you? Are you starting to think more about encryption now that some very good consumer options exist? Let us know in the comments!

  1. James Williams
    August 18, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Where is the aritcle about encrypting dropbox with encfs? When I click on the article heading on the right the only thing that happens is that I come back to the same page. MakeUseOf seems to have a lot of good stuff but I find it hard to access it.
    I would like to be able to access my encrypted files from any OS that I have installed but I could never get the 'ask a question' to work. It kept pointing to something that wasn't filled out. When I would try to find what needed filling in I was put back to the start about my question. Sorry to be so non-tech.

  2. Benjamin
    February 11, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Thank you for this instruction! I use the combination described above for over a year now. And every time I reinstall my OS I find this site here in my bookmarks ;)

    With Fedora 21 I additionally had to install "gnome-python2-gnomekeyring" to make gnome-encfs work.
    Without this package following message was prompted in the terminal when starting gnome-encfs: "ImportError: No module named gnomekeyring"

  3. T.A. (Tim) Walker
    June 23, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Under "Installing", there's the following text: "Next, you’ll need to head over to this site, download the contents..." I assume there's meant to be a link around this point, but I can't find it - where do I need to go?

    Many thanks :-)

    • Danny Stieben
      June 27, 2011 at 7:34 am

      Whoops, it seems that I forgot to add in that link after I finished typing everything up. My apologizes :)

      I'll get the link back into the article as soon as I can, but in the mean time, you can download gnome-encfs from here: https://bitbucket.org/obensonne/gnome-encfs/src

      Sorry again for the absence of a link as well as my delay!

  4. Frank C
    June 21, 2011 at 11:12 am

    also easy to setup using 'Ubuntu One' (like DropBox). You can set up the syncing via the GUI

  5. FErArg
    June 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

    You can use Cryprkeeper, GUI to configure EncFS

  6. Trevor Lenten
    June 20, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Great article

    • Danny Stieben
      June 27, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Thank you! :)

  7. Callum
    June 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    What if your on a Mac setup?

    • Tina
      June 23, 2011 at 2:19 am

      Callum,

      if I remember correctly, Danny does not work with Macs. However, you could ask for a suitable tool recommendation on MakeUseOf Answers. :)

  8. rogerms
    June 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    If you have Windows computers, just use BoxCryptor, it is compatible with EncFS.

    • Danny Stieben
      June 27, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Thanks for the tip, I'll be looking into it sometime.

    • Jamestown
      July 7, 2016 at 7:48 am

      Meanwhile another possibility has emerged: encfs4win: https://github.com/jetwhiz/encfs4win

      This will circumvent the need to use something that is not FOSS when you are required to use Windows for some reason.

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