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USB 'Dead Drops' 322

Okian Warrior writes "Aram Bartholl is building a series of USB dead drops in New York City. Billed as 'an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space,' he has embedded USB sticks as file cache devices throughout the city. Bartholl says, 'I am "injecting" USB flash drives into walls, buildings and curbs accessible to anybody in public space. You are invited to go to these places (so far 5 in NYC) to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your files and data.' Current locations (more to come) include: 87 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (Makerbot), Empire Fulton Ferry Park, Brooklyn, NY (Dumbo), 235 Bowery, NY (New Museum), Union Square, NY (Subway Station 14th St), and West 21st Street, NY (Eyebeam)"
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USB 'Dead Drops'

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  • Yeeeahhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 30, 2010 @05:57PM (#34075494)

    Turn off AutoPlay first, kids. You'll thank me later.

    • Re:Yeeeahhh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:50PM (#34075846)

      Ya I would have thought an open wifi network connected to a little ftp server (but for fun not the internet)would make a far better dead drop.
      for one you wouldn't have to be so obvious about connecting to it.
      Sitting in a coffee shop across the street would be far less conspicuous.

      • Which still makes it marginally less useful than say, an online file repository which lets you upload and share links for free.

        Unless of course people feel there is something 'cool' about having to be in a specified location to receive information in this day and age.

        Time to look for my mysterious-looking jacket and dark sunglasses, must look the part.
        • Fun like GEO Caching (Score:3, Interesting)

          by lamapper ( 1343009 )

          Unless of course people feel there is something 'cool' about having to be in a specified location to receive information in this day and age.

          GEO caching [geocaching.com] came readily to mind. Find an interesting (and hopefully somewhat safe site) and when people get there, not only can they share whatever, but they can have a unique experience as well.

          From sneaker net ot peer to peer to USB Dead Drops? lmao...

          Might be good practice for when Fascism [wikipedia.org] takes over thanks to Citizen United vs FEC [wikipedia.org].

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by w0mprat ( 1317953 )
        +1 Better yet, randomly vary the transmit power to prevent simple triangulation of the wi-fi access points location. I considered this some time ago, I figured it would also need some code to figure out who was getting too close to the hidden antenna and drop transmit power or the connection outright to mask the actual location. I also figured the network would need to occasionally switch off and vanish if devices nearby were lurking and not sharing, even with that, no way to defeat passive wifi sniffing.
        • > I figured it would also need some code to figure out who was getting too close to the hidden antenna and drop transmit power or the connection outright to mask the actual location.

          1) If I sniff only, you will not detect me
          2) No matter what you do, unless you switch positions, I can find you over time

          > I also figured the network would need to occasionally switch off and vanish if devices nearby were lurking and not sharing, even with that, no way to defeat passive wifi sniffing.

          How will you find out

    • by WED Fan ( 911325 ) <akahige@trash m a i l . net> on Saturday October 30, 2010 @07:55PM (#34076202) Homepage Journal

      ...its like the era of near anonymous sex, eventually people started dying after hooking up. How long before we see people killing their computers, or going to jail because they plugged in and xferred something really illegal?

      This is REALLY smart.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by suso ( 153703 ) *

        Exactly, what a bunch of idiots.

        People doing this are going to discover that cops may not care much when you transfer copyrighted files over the net from the privacy of your own home, but they will care and will take notice when people start acting suspiciously in open public areas. People will probably start being arrested on suspicion of trading drugs, planting bombs, etc.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          And then we'll hear, "I went to the dead-drop to swap some files, but I couldn't get near the place because it was hip-deep in copyright cops!"

    • Re:Yeeeahhh (Score:4, Funny)

      by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @07:37AM (#34078580) Homepage

      Came here to see a bunch of geeks fail to grok "art project" and go into endless loops over the merits of the technology involved.

      Am leaving satisfied...

  • Dead drops? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @05:57PM (#34075496)

    Is that kind of like a Glory Hole? Probably the same number of viruses.

  • Excellent (Score:5, Funny)

    by 427_ci_505 ( 1009677 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:05PM (#34075536)

    I can think of no security issues that could be introduced by this development.

    • This is possibly the one thing you could do both so computationally irresponsible and absurdly dorky that even your obscure *nix machine is going to be royally pwned if you use these frequently.
    • I can think of no security issues that could be introduced by this development.

      Nor can I... at least for any reasonable OS that doesn't do anything so colossally stupid as to run any executable it finds there.

      But I suppose that point's already been made here.

  • a new trend (Score:5, Funny)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:05PM (#34075538) Homepage

    For an encore, he'll be setting up "Drop Dead" sites around the city. These will be little knobs mounted to walls, for anonymous people to "share" biological materials by walking up to them and licking them.

  • by techmuse ( 160085 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:07PM (#34075552)

    So basically, you are being invited to connect a USB device from an unknown source, with unknown code on it, to your machine. There have been many instances of people leaving USB sticks with exploit binaries around for people to find. You find the stick, stick it in your machine, and are promptly exploited. Regardless of whether the creator of the dead drops hasn't done this intentionally themselves (hopefully, they haven't), you have no idea what might have been placed on the sticks by others.

  • by gblackwo ( 1087063 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:10PM (#34075568) Homepage
    Ok, so they chose to leave the male end sticking out of the wall- and instead of using some sort of extension cord plug the laptop directly in. It will not take much wobbling of the laptop to create a large amount of shear stress on the usb stick leading to failure.

    Also I'm sure many will complain about the possible dangers of viruses but imagine worse. How much damage could you do with a usb stick? It wouldn't be impossible to rig a car battery to the contacts from the other side of the wall.
    • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:50PM (#34075850) Journal

      Basically, this [fiftythree.org]. A very reasonable point, and one that I hadn't considered myself.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Fumus ( 1258966 )

        Okay, I thought "meh, sandbox the system and disable autorun. Nothing can break then." This certainly made me afraid of random USB connectors sticking out of walls :o

  • What the heck is the point of this? Sometimes I hate artists. Here's an idea, just give someone a USB drive when you want to share files with them. Or mail it. Or I guess call it art and attach USB drives to walls. Move over Van Gogh, there's a new master in town!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by oblivionboy ( 181090 )

      Thats ok. And we hate you. :)

      You ultimately don't have to connect to the USB stick if you don't want to. And as for your suggestion, you've obviously missed the point, because the concept behind it is NOT to share files with someone you know. But rather to create drop spots in an urban environment to see what happens. Think of it as creating a parallel (and sllightly subversive) infrastructure that people might use in new and original ways. I would expect that in the age of "oh nohs! all the guvernmsnts r t

  • In Iran... (Score:3, Funny)

    by FridayBob ( 619244 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:23PM (#34075654) Homepage
    ... this concept would not go down well with the government, especially around their nuclear facilities.
  • Although (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ani23 ( 899493 )
    It's kinda pointless and possibly dangerous there's something cool about a USB port in a brick wall. It's like plugging into the unknown
  • Vector for malware in 3... 2...

  • Geocache much? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dismorphic ( 730041 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:27PM (#34075678)
    Sounds an awful lot like a high(er?) tech version of a geocache to me. Somebody should post these to geocaching.com and suggest a new style of cache... a data cache.
  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:30PM (#34075686)

    Apparently, this person is willing to expose himself as a complete moron, just to get a bit of publicity. This is not even original, security experts have been using something very similar as network penetration technique for years.

  • by pedantic bore ( 740196 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:31PM (#34075692)

    There's a long tradition of young folks picking up nasty viruses from anonymous strangers in NYC; now their computers can too.

  • Guys with expensive laptops will be at the following five locations:


  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:37PM (#34075732) Homepage

    Could be worse. In 1969, the Museum of Modern Art in New York deployed Pulsa [moma.org], an exhibit which included many strobe lights arranged to flash in sequence. There was a long line of strobes not only on the museum, but extending to adjacent buildings.

    Pilots reported runway lighting in midtown Manhattan. The "moving ball of light" strobe system for runways was chosen because, even in cluttered urban areas with many parallel lines of light, there's nothing which looks like that. The FAA made them retime the strobes so that it didn't look like a runway.

    • Probably a good idea. The standard eastern approach for Tullamarine airport here in Melbourne goes precisely above the east west runway at Essendon airport, which was our international airport when airliners had tappets and carburettors. It doesn't even have lights but that doesn't stop the occasional 747 crew from commencing final...

  • He should put in a rootkit in every one of them, which at a specified time and date will display "Congratulations, you are the xth idiot out of y idiots who have risked security and data just to try something stupid"

    Silly suggestions aside, he should really take this opportunity to teach people the dangers of malware which can be picked up by doing stupid things.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 30, 2010 @06:43PM (#34075784)

    I definitely won't stick someone's hoo-hoo dilly in my laptop's cha-cha.

  • Some sort of plastic egg or something, that you were supposed to put a message in, then give it to someone "hey, this is for Joe Bloggs, in Topeka, pass it on". The idea was that eventually, Joe would get it, no matter where you were when you started it. I think others were encouraged to add to it too.

    It predates the 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon, but it is the same idea.

    Was it an oobie or some such? This sounds like that. Probably sold a lot of plastic crap and packaging.

    • Although clearly not from the 70s, the idea sounds somewhat similar to travel bugs [geocaching.com], which one sometimes finds in geocaches. All this has happened before, and so forth...

  • I have to agree with the other posters. This is a stupid idea. The are easy to break. Easy to find for those that don't like the idea of them existing. They don't hold a particularly large amount of data. The fixed location makes them useless as a dead drop.

    The way a non-stupid person would do this is to set up a wireless router. This way two anonymous people could exchange data and no one would be able to tell where or who they were beyond being in the general vicinity. It would also actually be
  • Empire Fulton Ferry Park is right down the street from where I live. There's only so many places it could be hid.

    I think I need to fire up my spare laptop with a LiveCD and find it.

    For science

    • Please put in an autorun.ini file which triggers an executable to display "Oi mate, you know you can get viruses from these things? Love /."
  • It's proving to take a very long time to make the proles (and indeed even many geeks) that copying data is not actually *doing* something.

    This will make a lot of people think, I think.
  • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @07:24PM (#34076050) Homepage
    It's a great idea, but why put these things in such easily accessible locations where they could be open to anyone with less than noble intentions? I did the same thing as this guy a couple of years back, but was a little more selective in location, some of which are as follows:

    * Mount Etna (near the mouth)
    * North pole (well 40 ft underground at that point)
    * 3 miles underground at an unknown location. There is a cave entrance though I think (well there was last time I went).
    * In my house
    * Inside the fossilized remains of a dead bird found somewhere in the Sahara Desert.
    * Five are in the ocean too (I'll keep the exact locations secret, but you may have some luck checking out the Atlan... (hint hint) ).
  • by Penguinshit ( 591885 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @07:33PM (#34076094) Homepage Journal


    Copy of goatse.jpg

    Copy2 of goatse.jpg

    Copy3 of goatse.jpg


  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @07:51PM (#34076176) Homepage Journal

    That way i can get my free viruses without having to plug something in.

  • by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @08:46PM (#34076484) Homepage

    From a geek perspective, I think this is awesome. It combines all the fun of geocaching with the rewards of actually getting something. I do think that viruses would be a concern, yes, but at the same time, anyone looking for one of these things is going to expect that, and will either be protected somehow, or will be using a machine they can keep in quarantine.

    From an art perspective, I think this is awesome. It's funny, fresh and gets people outside, exploring their world. It's using available materials to change the way people look at common, everyday items.

    From an engineering perspective, all I can see is broken USB hubs stuck in my port because I sneezed too hard. Or shorted out the port because it was wet on the inside of the plug. Or someone thought they were cute and put some WD-40 in there, instead of electrical contact cleaner.

    But from an societal point of view, I see strangers walking up to a building and holding their computers up against the wall. That's fine for things like monuments, park statues and maybe even trees in a park? But doing that outside a business might get you in trouble.

    Do it anywhere near someplace the NYPD consider "sensitive", and you might just become the latest headline news.

  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday October 30, 2010 @09:30PM (#34076714) Journal

    Creativity: A+
    Humor: B
    Usefulness: F
    Convenience: F
    Security: F
    Resistance to Vandalism: F

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.