After some testing (modification of data within the config table, etc) it became clear that the Dropbox client uses only the host_id to authenticate. Here’s the problem: the config.db file is completely portable and is *not* tied to the system in any way. This means that if you gain access to a person’s config.db file (or just the host_id), you gain complete access to the person’s Dropbox until such time that the person removes the host from the list of linked devices via the Dropbox web interface. Taking the config.db file, copying it onto another system (you may need to modify the dropbox_path, to a valid path), and then starting the Dropbox client immediately joins that system into the synchronization group without notifying the authorized user, prompting for credentials, or even getting added to the list of linked devices within your Dropbox account (even though the new system has a completely different name) – this appears to be by design. Additionally, the host_id is still valid even after the user changes their Dropbox password (thus a standard remediation step of changing credentials does not resolve this issue).
Of course, if an attacker has access to the config.db file (assuming that it wasn’t sent by the user as part of social engineering attack), the assumption is that the attacker most likely also has access to all of the files stored in your Dropbox, so what’s the big deal? Well, there are a few significant security implications that come to mind:
- Relatively simple targeted malware could be designed with the specific purpose of exfiltrating the Dropbox config.db files to “interested” parties who then could use the host_id to retrieve files, infect files, etc.
- If the attacker/malware is detected in the system post-compromise, normal remediation steps (malware removal, system re-image, credential rotation, etc) will not prevent continued access to the user’s Dropbox. The user would have to remember to purposefully remove the system from the list of authorized devices on the Dropbox website. This means that access could be maintained without continued access/compromise of a system.
- Transmitting the host_id/config.db file is most likely much smaller than exfiltrating all data found within a Dropbox folder and thus most likely not set off any detective alarms. Review/theft/etc of the data contained within the Dropbox could be done at the attackers leisure from an external attacker-owned system.
So, given that Dropbox appears to utilize only the host_id for authentication by design, what can you do to protect yourself and/or your organization?
- Don’t use Dropbox and/or allow your users to use Dropbox. This is the obvious remediating step, but is not always practical – I do think that Dropbox can be useful, if you take steps to protect your data…
- Protect your data: use strong encryption to protect sensitive data stored in your Dropbox and protect your passphrase (do not store your passphrase in your Dropbox or on the same system/device).
- Be diligent about removing old systems from your list of authorized systems within Dropbox. Also, monitor the “Last Activity” time listed on the My Computers list within Dropbox. If you see a system checking in that shouldn’t be, unlink it immediately.