Howto: Setup Arduino on Chromebook


Arduino is an interesting microcontroller platform / board that arguably launched the era of low cost, standalone microcontroller systems. At this time, there are a multitude of these devices in the $50 less price range – but the Arduino was one of the first.


The Arduino is an 8 bit microcontroller with a USB interface, a GPIO interface, A/D and D/A converters, I2C interfaces, and UART(s). More importantly, it has a free and easy to use IDE that supports C coding for the device. The Arduino Uno runs about $25 (at this time) from a number of sources – AdaFruit or Sparkfun (for example).

In any case, this post will (hopefully) be relatively short and provide a proof of concept that the Arduino system can be installed and function on the Chromebook 14.

Dependencies / Assumptions / Caveats

This install requires that:

  1. The target Chromebook 14 is in developer mode.
  2. It has an SD card of at least 8GB to support the installation of a crouton chroot Ubuntu install.
  3. A fairly recent version of Ubuntu installed to a crouton chroot jail – for details refer to my post on installing an Android Development Environment.
  4. Java JDK installed and functioning. Once again – refer back to the Android Development Environment post.
  5. An Arduino device to test with.

Note: All of the instructions below are based on name of my user (joeuser), the name of my SD-Card (chrome-32), and particular versions of the install packages. You will need to modify for your respective names / versions.

Hardware – Arduino / USB Interface

My biggest concern with Arduino on the Chromebook is whether the Arduino Uno (my test board) will be recognized / configured correctly by ChromeOS – since there is a real risk that the appropriate kernel drivers may not be included on ChromeOS. Our chroot Ubuntu jail still uses / depends completely on ChromeOS for the kernel, kernel drivers and /dev.

So the first thing we are going to do is see what the ChromeOS kernel messages are when we hotplug the Arduino Uno into the Chromebook. Taking a look at the before by opening a crosh window <ctrl-alt-t>, followed by:


Produces a screen full of device messages. Interestingly the last message indicates that  a GSM modem is mapped to ttyUSB0 – information that may be useful in the future. In any case, if we plug in the Arduino Uno to a USB interface on the Chromebook and run ‘dmesg’ again (looking specifically for new messages), we get the following information.

[12028.022309] usb 1-1: new full-speed USB device number 39 using xhci_hcd
[12028.035738] usb 1-1: New USB device found, idVendor=2341, idProduct=0001
[12028.035752] usb 1-1: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=220
[12028.035763] usb 1-1: Product: Arduino Uno
[12028.035771] usb 1-1: Manufacturer: Arduino (
[12028.035779] usb 1-1: SerialNumber: 649323436383514051E1
[12028.035970] usb 1-1: ep 0x82 - rounding interval to 1024 microframes, ep desc says 2040 microframes
[12028.036424] cdc_acm 1-1:1.0: ttyACM0: USB ACM device

Which provides us with a couple of useful datapoints. Specifically, that the device is recognized as an Arduino Uno, and that it is mapped to ‘ttyACM0’ – implying that it is recognized and likely supported by kernel driver.

The next thing we want to look at is is what it looks like in /dev – which is where the tty devices are mapped. In order for this interface to function correctly, the devices needs to readable / writeable from the Arduino IDE, and that will be installed on an crouton chroot Ubuntu install. So – to be more specific, we need to see what the ‘/dev/ttyACM0’ device looks like from inside of Ubuntu on the Chromebook – ownership and permissions. Start the Ubuntu install, switch to that interface (VT3) and open a terminal window. Inside that window, enter:

cd /dev
ls -al tty*

And this produces a listing in which the line of interest looks something like:

crw-rw---- 1 root serial 166,  0 Nov 26 05:37 ttyACM0

Note that the line containing ttyACM0 has permissions set to 660 and is owned by group ‘serial’. Most significantly, it is not world readable/writable. This will matter later when we need to access it from the Arduino IDE (Interactive Development Environment).

Software – Installing the Arduino IDE

There are multiple options for installing the Arduino IDE on Ubuntu. The easiest is launch the Ubuntu Software Center (or Synaptic)  from inside the Ubuntu system, search for Arduino and install. The only real issue with this is that the version in the Ubuntu respository is usually a few versions behind the most current version at the Arduino homepage. My suggestion is to try the version in the Ubuntu repository, see if it works (or doesn’t), and then evaluate the differences between the installed version and the most current version. If the updated features are critical to your needs, download and install the current version from the Arduino homepage – and follow the instructions for Ubuntu install.

After the install has completed, start start the Arduino IDE. I dialog box will popup indicating that the current user is not part of the ‘dialout’ group.   This can be remedied by closing the Arduino IDE, opening a terminal window and entering:

sudo usermod -a -G dialout joeuser 
sudo usermod -a -G serial joeuser

Which of course is based on my default username ‘joeuser’ – adapt to your match your configuration. Note that we added our user to two groups. The reason for this is a bit complicated, but it is important that the second group is the same as the groupname associated with /dev/ttyACM0 (from above).

After this is completed, you can restart the Arduino IDE and connect the Arduino to Chromebook. Under the settings menu, serial device you will find ‘/dev/ACM0’ is now enabled.


If you pull up the demo sketch for blink, compile and install – and it should work. However we still have one more open issue that needs to be wrapped up.

One Dangling Detail – Fixing udevd

Our dangling detail is the fact that the Arduino IDE install created some association between the Arduino serial port (/dev/ttyACM0) and the dialout group as part of the install – but it is not working quite as expected. We can verify this by repeating the following:

cd /dev
ls -al tty*

Which produces the same information we have above with our /dev/ttyACM0 port in the serial group – not the dialout group. Now if we do this (from inside an Ubuntu Terminal):

sudo udevd --daemon
{disconnect / reconnect the Arduino Uno}
cd /dev
ls -al tty*

This produces a slightly different listing of which the line of interest will look something like:

crw-rw---- 1 root dialout 166,  0 Nov 26 05:37 ttyACM0

Which now shows that this device interface is associated with the dialout group. The reason for this is that the udevd daemon is a service that manages device configuration on most modern Linux systems. ChromeOS does not use udevd or even have it installed – for security reasons. The Arduino IDE creates some udevd rules (in the Ubuntu Chroot system) that map Arduino devices to the dialout group – but since the udevd daemon is not running in this crouton install – the rules are not applied until we manually started the daemon. We could manually start this each time we run our Ubuntu install, but the more correct and complete solution is add to udevd to the startup apps in ‘/etc/rc.local’. In Ubuntu, open a terminal and do the following:

sudo gedit /etc/rc.local

On the line before ‘exit 0’, add a new line with the following:

sudo udevd --daemon

Save and exit. What this does is, every time you boot your Ubuntu install, the udevd daemon will start – and all of the udev rules will be implemented. You can reboot, plug in the Arduino and confirm that it maps to the dialout group.


This is a  slightly messy install – since we had to get the udevd daemon started, and that would not be typical for an install. But overall this is nothing too far off the beaten path of Linux installations and maybe we learned something new in the process.

Update : 2013 Jan 27

The Cortado – Arduino compatible, Bluetooth programmable, onboard sensors, and long battery life. The Chromebook also has Bluetooth and it could likely function as a dev platform, and I would really like to try this on for size. The up to 100ft range and meshed networking – makes this a potential in the IoT space. [twolf]

Howto: Android Development on Chromebook


One the primary reasons I got the Chromebook was to support a broad range of development options on a Linux platform. The risk is that since it is a Chromebook, it is most definitely not a general purpose Linux environment – and some things may not be practical. Even inside a chroot jail, there are weirdnesses since it inherits the kernel and devices from the platform OS – ChromeOS.

In any case the following is a process I developed to implement an Android application development environment. There are many equally valid solutions, and perhaps better solutions, but this is a working / tested example of how to get from point A to point B.


Since the base platform I am using is a Chromebook 14 – with a x86 Haswell (64bit), Intel binaries will work fine – making life a quite a bit simpler. Unfortunately, it is not possible to install anything like Eclipse or Debian packages directly to the ChromeOS since the developers have (purposefully) not included most of the traditional shared libraries used in Linux. This minimalist approach to the ChromeOS means that it has a minimal attack surface for malware, but minimal opportunity for us to hack the OS.  As a point of trivia, ChromeOS appears to be based on a Gentoo build model – but it has been scrubbed clean of anything extraneous to the ChromeOS function.

However, since we are lucky enough to have a relatively polished / low pain solution to installing a chroot jail version of Ubuntu – Crouton, our system level approach will be:

  1. Switch the Chromebook to developer mode
  2. Install a Crouton based chroot jail version of Ubuntu on the SD-Card
  3. Install Oracle Java in the chroot jail (along with all of the rest of the pieces)
  4. Install BitTorrent sync to create a shared workspace for Android Studio
  5. Install adb and fastboot and verify operation with an Android device.
  6. Install Android Studio / test with Android device.

Note: All of the instructions below are based on name of my user (joeuser), the name of my SD-Card (chrome-32), and particular versions of the install packages. You will need to modify for your respective names / versions.

Step 1 – Developer Mode

Developer mode is a way to unlock your Chromebook a bit. Of course it is much less secure than the default ChromeOS mode, and setting developer mode means everything on the platform is erased – except the SD-Card . Additionally, switching it back to default mode will also clear everything (again). So any files you want to be persistent should be stored up in the Google drive or on the SD card. After you have mentally prepared yourself for that, take a shot at developer mode – it really is much more interesting than lockdown mode. The details are on my Chromebook Cookbook page. While you are there, spend some time and figure out how to switch between virtual terminals and set the password for ‘chronos’.

Step 2 – Ubuntu on Crouton Chroot

The default Crouton install installs the Crouton tools in /usr/local/bin and the chroot jail in /usr/local/chroots. With a 16GB internal hard drive, it is not practical to risk using most/all of the available local space for a chroot jail – so we should plan to store it off to the SD-Card. There are two basic approaches we can use to accomplish this. The first is to use command line arguments with the Crouton tools to point it at /media/removable/chrome-32 (which happens to be the name of my card). Another option is to symbolically map these directories to corresponding directories on the SD-Card. The first approach means that every time the crouton scripts are used, the command line arguments are needed, and the second approach means it is done one time up front (I recommend the second approach as the less stupid approach).

Open a chrosh (chrome shell – ctl-alt-t), and enter (with corrections for your sd-card name):

cd /media/removable/chrome-32
sudo mkdir bin chroots
cd /usr/opt
sudo ln -s /media/removable/chrome-32/bin/ bin
sudo ln -s /media/removable/chrome-32/chroots/ chroots
ls -al

The last instruction should show the local directories with the symbolic mapping to the sd-card locations. This ensures that both the crouton tools and the chroot jail is installed to the SD-Card enabling a much easier restore if you somehow clear your system (it happens to me at least once a week).

FYI – If that happens, the Crouton install can be restored by recreating the symbolic links above. That’s it.

From here install a crouton chroot jail ubuntu with the following:

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r raring -t unity
sudo startunity

Note that in most cases I recommend Precise due to its stability, but in this case I went with Raring since it has support for ADB and Fastboot in the Ubuntu repository (and Precise does not). From inside the Ubuntu install, open a terminal and enter:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-standard
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop
sudo apt-get install ia32-libs
sudo apt-get install synaptic

Shutdown the Ubuntu chroot jail. You now have a fairly complete and clean Ubuntu Raring install, and this would be a good point to make a backup. Instructions are on the Crouton Cookbook page. Once again – when the backup is done, move it to Google Drive or the SD-Card for safekeeping.

Step 3 – Install Oracle Java

From the ChromeOS interface (VT1), you can download the  Java 7 JDK for 64 bit Linux – grab the tar.gz package from Oracle (not the RPM). It will download into the Downloads directory, which incidentally is mapped to the Downloads directory inside the Crouton chroot jail.

After the download is complete, switch over the Ubuntu interface on VT3, open a file manager and copy the Java 7 tar.gz package from Downloads to the home directory. Right click and extract. It should create a directory name something like ‘jdk1.7.0_45’ in the home directory. Open an editor and open ‘.bashrc’ and append the following:


This will make it easier for *some* apps to find the JDK. The JDK tar.gz file in the homedir can safely be deleted after this is done.

Step 4 – BitTorrent Sync

On the ChromeOS interface (VT1) download the Linux/64bit install package for BitTorrent Sync from Open a terminal with <ctrl-alt-T> and enter:

cd /media/removable/chrome-32
sudu mkdir btsync
sudo chmod 777 btsync
cd btsync
mkdir android-studio

This creates a target sync directory that is readable / writable / executable to everybody for syncing. We will use it later.

When the download is complete, copy the tgz file to the user home directory(from the Ubuntu interface) . Extract the files in the home directory. This will create a directory that looks like ‘~/btsync_glibc23_x65’. On the Unity Desktop, click on the gear in the upper right corner and select ‘Startup Applications’. Under Command, browse to the btsync directory and select the ‘btsync’ app. The will configure the app to startup when the chroot is started – similar enough to a service for our purposes. After this is done, the tgz file in the homedir can also be deleted.

Start the app by double clicking from the file manager or reboot the chroot jail to force the app startup (and validate that it is configured correctly). On either the ChromeOS or Ubuntu interface, open a browser with URL ‘localhost:8888/gui’ to confirm that Bit Torrent sync is running. Configure according to directions – using the ‘bysync’ directory (on the SD-Card) we created above as the target. You will also want to create another endpoint to this share on a desktop, server, or other laptop to ensure your data is offloaded from your Chromebook.

Step 5 – ADB and Fastboot

ADB and Fastboot are really a make or break part of effectively using the Chromebook for Android development. Note that in Precise, the adb and fastboot packages need to be retrieved manually from the Debian repository. For details refer to the Ubuntu Cookbook page. In Raring, we can use the easier method shown below.

From the chroot Ubuntu interface on VT3, and open a terminal. Enter the following:

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb
sudo apt-get install android-tools-fastboot
adb version
fastboot help

The last two lines confirm that both adb and fastboot are operational. The true test is to now plug in an Android test device and enter (this may take a couple of tries):

adb devices

If everything if functional the adb server should start and the attached device will be identified. Note that if the Android device is reasonably current, it will require onscreen approval before it connects to adb.

Step 6 – Android Studio

The last piece in this puzzle is Android Studio. From the ChromeOS interface, download the Linux/64bit install package from

From the chroot jail (VT3) open a file manager and copy the Android Studio tgz file to the user home directory. Right click on the file and extract the files in the home directory. This will create a directory that looks like ‘~/android-studio’ with an ‘bin’ subdirectory. Once again, after this is complete the tgz file in the homedir can be deleted.

In order to make the launch script easier to find, we will put it on the PATH system variable. In the user home directory, edit ‘.bashrc’ and append the following:


In some cases, I discovered that the launch script did not seem to be picking up on the .bashrc updates, so it was necessary to define the JDK_HOME more explicitly. Use your favorite editor to open ‘~/andoid-studio/bin/’. Right below the ‘#!/bin/sh’ line add the following:


Open a terminal and enter ‘’ to confirm that Android Studio was found and executed. If / when prompted, select the directory for the Oracle Java JDK. Android Studio should launch.

As a test we are going to create a new project (mostly with the defaults), except for project location. For the location, navigate to ‘media/removable/chrome-32/btsync/android-studio’. This will put the project files in the sync directory, which will then synchronize the project to your others systems on share. This is all part of that concept that everything should be stored in some “cloud” or at least off device.

At the project screen, create a new project and when it comes up on the screen, click the green arrow button at the top of the screen. The connected Android device should show up as an option, select it and go. Alternatively, you can create an emulator and use it. The app should install, run and show ‘Hello World’ on the interface.

Version Note: As part of my testing, I noticed that my initial version of Android Studio had functioning menu drop downs, but after I updated to the current version (0.32) the menus would no longer drop down. I confirmed this with both Precise and Raring on Unity. It may be worth testing Gnome as some point, or it may be fixed in some upcoming update to Android Studio. Overall – it did not prevent me from doing most activities since the control bar was fully functional.

Lastly – go to another node on your BitTorrent Sync share and confirm that the project was created and migrated to that system.

Wrapup / Notes

Overall the Android Studio IDE is fairly functional and well structured. I was able to test on both an external device and the emulator without any issues.  From a practical perspective, I am actually surprised at how easily this came together on a Chromebook. As far as the menu issues, this appears to be an Android Studio / Unity issue which could be resolved by using Eclipse/Android ADT tools or switching to a different window manager.

In Summary – This Chromebook Android Environment provides me with a very slick and portable Android Development environment without a lot of compromises.

Howto: Browse (more) Securely / Privately / Anonymously


For a number of reasons, many people are increasingly concerned with their privacy and security on the Internet. Since the primary reason most people use the Internet is for browsing, this would be a opportunistic use model to look for improvement. Of course the tradeoff is that as we make browsing more secure, we also may make the browsing experience more difficult. So in the list below, it progresses from low return / low impact to high impact / high return, and you can pick you pain threshold.

Note that in the context of a browser (and browsing), I define security as the ability to browse without being infected or compromised by malware. I define privacy as the ability to browse without sites (or other parties) tracking, harvesting information from my browser. Anonymity is when there is a sufficiently high degree of privacy that the browsing activity is anonymous – and true anonymity is not easy to achieve.

Off the Shelf / Good Browser Hygiene

Browser: There are lots of browser options and I cannot offer an opinion on most of them. On a regular basis browsers are reviewed for security – and Chrome, and Firefox are usually in the top three. Privacy is distinct from security, and generally Firefox rates higher than Chrome in that respect. However everything is a tradeoff, and I personally think that Chrome has better performance (which I may be imagining), and my Android devices and Chromebook are Chrome by design – so that is my browser choice by default. Secondary to that, I appreciate the rolling updates and aggressive stance Google takes on security, and I think that outweighs the weaker stance they take on privacy – since I believe I can manage my privacy / personal data easier than I manage security threats. Consider browser selection as the first thing to do in cleaning up your browser security / privacy concerns.

Browser Settings: The obvious things to check in your browser include:

  • Turn on “Do Not Track” / Open settings and search for this flag – if it is not set, set it. This provides some minimal and non necessarily mandatory level of tracking reduction.
  • Content Setttings (Cookies): I up the default level to “Keep local data only until I quit my browser” and “Block third-party cookies and site data”.
  • [Chrome Specific]Under Signin and Sync Settings, I encrypt my sync data with a passphrase. This is all about key management and reducing personal data on Google Servers.

Browser Plugins: The following list includes a few plugins that provide improved privacy.

  • HTTPS Everywhere: This is a plugin that will force a HTTPS connection as the default, with HTTP (non-secure) as the fallback.
  • DuckDuckGo Search: Duck Duck Go is a search service that provides much stronger statements about not tracking your browsing / searching activity (as compared with Google). They feel fairly strongly that this is a big deal. Take a look at their positions on results bubbling
  • DoNotTrackMe: A plugin that gives you explicit tracking information as you browse. This actually provides some visibility into what sites are tracking you in realtime.

Sites: What to do to reduce your browsing footprint.

  • Google Search History: By default Google saves your search history and used it to target ads and search results. My recommendation – turn it off.
  • Google Dashboard: A nice portal that provides a one view view into your data footprint on Google Servers. Review and clean it up. While you are there, setup an Alert on your name. It will give you any visibility into possible misuse of your name.
  • Twitter Privacy: Twitter by definition is fairly public so there is not much to tweak. However it makes sense to verify that “Do Not Track” is enabled and consider turning off / deleting location data.
  • Facebook: Expect this to change over time. Privacy settings seem to be a fast moving target at Facebook. So much of the business value proposition of Facebook is about eliminating privacy, so this will always be about providing some minimal level of privacy control that that is just enough to keep most users from leaving.

Overall these tweaks to your browsing experience will provide some improved level of security and privacy, but fundamentally much of the browsing process from your client system will still be relatively visible – the contents may protected with SSL/TLS, but where you are going, what you are downloading and how long you are there is not. Specifically, where you are going (page by page by page), how long you are there and how my kilobytes you have downloaded is all visible.  If your ISP / employer / campus / hotel / building has a proxy server between you and the Internet, they have access to this level of information.

Overall I consider these steps to just be good browser hygiene.

Some Better

If this level of exposure bothers you (it may), and you feel a need to mitigate this issue, read on – a VPN / proxy service may be the solution you are craving.

Technically a VPN and a proxy server are two very distinct functions. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a secure (i.e encrypted channel) and authenticated (i.e. username/password and server certificate) channel from your client system to some server on the Internet. In the enterprise / business world, VPNs are used to enable authorized users on the Internet access to corporate servers on the private networks. In the world of proxy servers, VPNs are used to provide a secure channel to some proxy server on the Internet.

A Proxy server is simply a relay for your Internet / Browsing traffic. You send some Internet request to the proxy server, and it redirects it to the Internet, with the source mapped back to the proxy server. When the response is received by the proxy server, it is then relayed back to your client system. Proxy servers are not explicitly secure, so they are generally coupled with some form of VPN to provide a secure channel.

There are large number of VPN/Proxy service providers around the world. For the most part, the free ones (reportedly) have a fairly high rate of malware infection and the for pay ones are from $40 to $100 a year. This is not an endorsement – but PureVPN and HideMyAss are both typical for-pay VPN/Proxy Services, with very typical pricing and functionality providing a wide range of target servers around the world.

When using a VPN/Proxy service, the net effect is that any geolocation will place you at (or near) the location of the proxy server. This means that if you are accessing some Internet service with geolocation service qualifiers (e.g., , you can appear to be somewhere that you are not. It also means that if your employer, hotel, campus, school has blocked sites/services, you can circumvent these restrictions with a VPN/proxy. In both of these cases you are not likely violating any laws, but you are likely violating some Terms of Service – implied or otherwise.

More legitimately, if you often use public or untrusted WiFi networks, a VPN / Proxy ensures that your traffic will not be sniffed on the local network. If you use WiFi in a high density environment, and are concerned about your network being compromised, or you don’t trust the other users on a shared network – a VPN/Proxy can ensure your traffic is secure / private even if your network may not be.

Ultimately, a VPN / Proxy service can provide a step up in privacy / security for a specific set of threats. However, by using a VPN / Proxy service you are literally handing this same information over the VPN/Proxy service provider – so if your concern is browsing/security in general, you have just shifted the risk.

More Better

From this point, there is one very obvious and better way to achieve better security/privacy – the TOR Browser. The TOR (The Onion Router) Browser is a custom version of Firefox packaged/integrated with a few tools related to The Onion Router, including an Onion Router proxy for your client system. The download package installs easily, and the TOR proxy starts automatically just be launching the TOR browser. If you are serious about using it for the privacy it can provide, read the Warnings FAQ.

The general principle behind TOR is that an outgoing datapacket is encrypted with some relay address on the TOR network, with multiple successive similar layers applied, and ultimately the packet is sent out to the network in which each one of the relays peels off the successive layers – and it is finally sent to the Internet destination. The goal / purpose of this effort is that through this obfuscated path, the user is much more anonymous and their privacy is protected.

In an ideal world, where TOR relays were spread around the world from different organizations it is possible to achieve some level of anonymity. In the real world, some of these relays are operated by agencies with the intent to compromise the TOR network, reducing the effectiveness. In addition some academic research has shown a few other weaknesses related to coordination between TOR relays. The net result is that the TOR network and the TOR browser provide a much high degree of anonymity than any other readily available solution – but it can be broken. For a recent example, refer to the story behind Silk Road shutdown. Details are lacking, but this does show it is susceptible if the incentive is high enough.

Bottom Line

There are a wide range of things you (as a user) can do to reduce your browsing footprint, reduce your ability to be tracked, increase your security and privacy (and anonymity). However, the first step to any of this is to assess what your threats are, and take reasonable steps to mitigate those threats. If you threats are non-specific and general, than it is likely that the non-specific and general browser hygiene solutions are sufficient. If you have specific threats that fit the more elaborate solutions, use appropriately.

Howto: Share Files Securely/Privately


The joint concepts of Secure and Private are relative and subjective. Relative in that there are very few absolutes, but there are an infinite number of variations that may be better or worse. Qualifying “better or worse” is where the subjective comes into play. It is subjective in terms of who / what you are trying protect your files from. Is it your family, co-workers, your neighbors, the Internet, some large corporation trying to characterize you (in order to better sell to you), or the government? Depending on how good of a solution and who you are trying to protect your privacy from, we can look at a few easy (and practical) solutions.

Off the Shelf

There are off the shelf solutions that provide file sharing options. Dropbox, Box and Google Drive are three popular examples or cloud storage solutions – meaning your files are on their servers. Each one of these provides some degree of privacy / security. Each of these services use a username / password to restrict access, and additionally Google and Dropbox support two factor authentication using Google Authenticator. Each of these services uses SSL/TLS to provide a secure channel from the client to their servers. What they do not provide is any explicit privacy or security from the respective services or anybody with a NSL.

Fundamentally these services are not particularly private, secure, but they do provide some degree of security / privacy. If you use them and Two Factor Authentication is an option – use it.

A Better Option(s)

If the convenience of these services is appealing, but you have some real need for something more secure, we have a better solution. TrueCrypt is an disk encryption tool that can create secure containers for files. Specifically, Truecrypt can be used to create a secure file container in your GDrive/Dropbox/Box sync directory on your client system. This container can be opened by Truecrypt, files placed inside, and then be closed – at which point the service will sync the file up to their servers. They services will have access to the file, but its contents will be completely hidden from all except the keyholder. Note – a large container will hold lots of files, but the entire file will need to be synced even if there is a minor change – so consider wisely how large / small this container should be.

Another tool is Keepass, a secure password locker that is similar – but only for password / account information. Both of these tools are also cross platform and open source.

An Even Better Option

One of the core flaws with each of these cloud storage solutions identified above (as examples) is that ultimately all of your data resides on their servers within the providers data centers. BitTorrent Sync is a solution that breaks that paradigm by distributing files using the bittorrent protocols in a peer to peer (P2P) fashion. The result is that files can be distributed and shared between multiple users / platforms, but they do not exist on any cloud server – greatly reducing the risk of compromise-ever. BitTorrent Sync is easy to setup and use. Specifically, the app is installed and then you can create a share – and then generate a key – initiating a share. If you are connecting to an existing share, you create a share and provide the key for that share, and it will automagically be synced from the other clients on that share.

The most significant upside (other than P2P architecture) is that there are no storage or transfer limits – the only limitation being your local capacity.

The only significant downside to BitTorrent Sync is that synchronizations must be synchronous – since there is no cloud storage server, it requires that at least two members be online to synchronize.

For the truly insecure, TrueCrypt can be used on top of BitTorrent Sync.

Bottom Line

These are a few examples of how to secure / privatize file sharing on the Internet using relatively non-private services coupled with a few open source applications. However, it is very important to understand key management – since this security / privacy is only as secure as the keys you use to contain it. The applications themselves are fairly mature, well reviewed and generally accepted as secure.