USB dead drop

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One of Aram Bartholl's USB dead drops installed in Brooklyn, NY

A USB dead drop is a USB device installed in a public space. For example, a USB flash drive might be mounted in an outdoor brick wall and fixed in place with fast concrete[1] (in fact cement). The name comes from the dead drop method of espionage communication. The devices can be regarded as an anonymous, offline, peer-to-peer file sharing network.

An early USB dead drop network of five devices was started in October 2010 in New York by Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl,[2] a member of New York's Fat lab art and technology collective. A similar "deadSwap" system has been run in Germany since 2009.[3]

Members of the public are invited to drop or find files on a dead drop by directly plugging their laptop into the USB stick in the wall to share files and data. It is possible to use smartphones and tablets computer by using a cable adapter from Micro B USB male to USB female.

Each dead drop is installed empty except two files:[4] deaddrops-manifesto.txt,[5] and a readme.txt file explaining the project.[6]

Pros and cons[edit]


Publicly and privately available points give anyone the ability to save and transfer data anonymously and free of charge. Such offline networks are vulnerable to the following examples of threats:

  • Vandalism of the dead drop by physical destruction: anyone can destroy the dead drop by using for instance pliers or a hammer, by high voltage from a static field, with high temperature from a blowtorch, or other methods of physical force. It is possible to make the USB key more difficult to vandalize or to extract, by sealing it in a hole deeper than the length of the USB key (at least 2 cm more), this requiring to connect only a USB extender cable of type female-male (standard type A).
    • Sometimes the dead-drop itself can be vandalism of the building.
  • Furthermore, a fake dead drop might be rigged up to electrically damage any equipment connected to it, and/or constitute a health and safety hazard for potential users. This risk can be amended by using a USB galvanic isolation adapter, which allows data exchange while physically decoupling the two circuits.
  • Software destruction: anyone can erase all of the data by file deletion or disk formatting, or by encrypting the data or the whole drive and hiding the key.
  • Malware: anyone can intentionally or unintentionally infect it with malware such as a Trojan horse, keylogger or BadUSB.
  • Disclosure: anyone can disclose the location of a private dead drop by shadowing people and publishing coordinates in a public place.
  • Demolition: certain dead drop locations are limited to the lifespan of public structures in local areas.


  • Opportunity to practise Datalove (word invented by Telecomix)
  • Sharing files with another person secretly.

Around USB dead drop[edit]

In 2013, the web site instructables publish (text and video) how to make a USB dead drop in nature.[7]

Wireless dead drop[edit]

Following this concept, wireless dead drops are being created.[8][9][10] The PirateBox, designed in 2011, is the best known.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]