Introduction: USB Dead Drops

Picture of USB Dead Drops

Dead drops is a project by Aram Bartholl that seeks to create "dead drops" which are cloudless offline storage that anyone can access.

This instructable goes over how i set up a dead drop right in downtown san francisco, hopefully with these instructions you can do you own, anywhere.

Step 1: Concept

Picture of Concept


‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop is installed empty except a readme.txt file explaining the project.
The term dead drop comes from an old spy term where some information would be passed from one person to another, usually party a would leave something for party b to pick up sometime later. This project takes that same concept and turns it into a peer to peer system where people can share all kinds of random files or ideas. 

Step 2: Supplies

Picture of Supplies

For this you will need at least the following:

1 USB stick
Plumbers tape
Patching cement (get quick drying if possible)
Small Screwdriver

Drill with masonry bit
USB extension Cable

Step 3: Dissasemble the USB Drive

Picture of Dissasemble the USB Drive

First you want to take apart your usb drive so you just have the circuit board. This is easy to do with just a small screw driver.

Step 4: Wrap the Usb Drive

Picture of Wrap the Usb Drive

Next you want to wrap the usb drive in plumbers tape to make it water proof. When you are done you'll have a nice little covering.

Step 5: Prepare Your Drop Point

Picture of Prepare Your Drop Point

Next you want to prepare your drop point. If need be you can use a drill and masonry bit to drill out enough space to fit your usb drive.

Once the hole it made place the usb drive in to see if it fits.

Step 6: Cement the Drive

Picture of Cement the Drive

Now that you have a clean drop point, time to use cement to make it stick. Make sure you don't get cement on the usb tip. Just apply it inside of the hole and a bit around.

Step 7: Upload Files

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Next you want to upload the required files and put them onto the drive. You could do this earlier, but any time during the process is fine

The usb stick must contain these files:

Step 8: Take Pictures

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The dead drop project requires 3 pictures of your dead drop, one far away, one medium distance and one close up.

Step 9: Submit Your Dead Drop and Maintenance

Picture of Submit Your Dead Drop and Maintenance

Next you want to Submit your dead drop to the listing of drops all around the world, you can do that by going here:

Lastly if you want you can do some maintenance, this would include checking for viruses or deleting files that are old, etc.

This dead drop contains a special prize for those who contact it.

Please post your own dead drops in the comments!


mikeasaurus (author)2010-11-14

Clandestine, can think of many fun places to 'hide' these.
Depending on how liberal you want to be with the spirit of USB dead-drops, this could easily be expanded to vehicles such as trains, buses and other types of mass transit. The added twist of having to locate the right train/bus/ferry, then right seat. Sort of like e-geocaching.

Is there a method to ensure the readme and manifesto stay on the drive and aren't removed by some cyber-hooligan, or is it just maintenance by users/you.

pmann1 (author)2013-06-28

If you use Linux, or a similar OS you're pretty much immune to Window$ viruses - and Linux can handle a lot of the same filetypes as Windows. Be safe - use a Linux laptop/netbook.

TheKitMurkit. (author)pmann12016-10-16

In reality, Linux user base are much bigger than general public talks.

Guthix Priest (author)pmann12015-09-11


regaltaxlaw (author)2013-12-18

IDEA!!! if you really wanted to only share files between friends or people in the know, and at the same time avoid viruses (maybe) is to use TrueCrypt or some other encryption to make an encrypted file or even hidden encrypted file for the flashdrive and put everything on that.

that kinda defeats the purpose dosent it?

HayleyD (author)2015-02-08

new to all this dont really want to make one myself but more just wondering whether anyone knows of the locations of some in england (south west) would be great if there were some up and running :) think they are a great idea

RatGhoulTwit (author)HayleyD2015-04-09

I am putting some around eastleigh tomorrow not really near you though. Only 2GB too but still usefull.

sue.donim.144 (author)2015-03-28

weather can get to these. shouldnt the usb plug cover be left behind to,protect from corrosion ? and these arent write protected ... a virus is easily up/down loaded. i would get permission for locations. defacing/destroying property makes it more likely it will be removed soon.

also. becareful removing cover (if you do) static charge can wipe it out before you do much with it. and maybe a nonelectric expoxy would seal better than plumbers tape. is plumbers tape electronically safe ?

RichardBronosky (author)2010-12-16

It's a neat idea but I don't like having the male connector sticking out. I think these should have been implemented as a mini or micro USB female port so that it is completely recessed. It could then be inserted at a 10º angle to keep out water.

As for viruses... WHO CARES! The real problem is that you have chosen to use the 1 operating system that is plagued by viruses. People who choose not to use MSFT software don't share your concerns.

How about wireless USB and wireless power?

The device is concealed inside something and when you arrive, you power it with your wireless power adapter. A logo or some other marking would indicate the device's location.

teknojo (author)youmadbro2012-05-04

I was thinking the same thing youmadbro. I was thinking solar, but that would be difficult. A wireless power setup would allow for complete sealing of the device.

Perhaps a Altoids Mint tin type project.

Seal the container, then epoxy it in place. You could stick it almost anywhere and mark the spot with a sticker or other sign.

Maybe a small skull and cross bones with the USB image on the forehead?

I was thinking a pirate box that was hooked up to solar power or wireless charging myself



That would be pretty cool

jerkey (author)2010-11-19

teflon tape is used by plumbers because it reduces friction during the tightening of tapered threaded fittings, known as NPT thread. Friction while tightening pipes can cause problems at the other end of the pipe and cause you to stop tightening before a seal is made with the threads. There is nothing particularly watertight about teflon tape. In fact, electrical tape would be better because it has adhesive to make a real seal. There are tapes out there made for RF engineers who put connectors on cables outdoors, and these tapes contain a gooey adhesive which really oozes out and makes a seal. This could be important because proper cement uses a metal corrosion chemistry to harden. blah blah blah i like the idea of USB dead drops.

personally I would just hot glue the whole thing (author)jerkey2012-05-03

Teflon tape and paste is water/airtight, I have built multiple air cannons, and other things with pipe fittings and whenever I forget to put tape on the threads the thing will leak, the Teflon tape is a nice cheap, and thin way to do this, it also kinda streches around the drive more closely.

spark master (author)jerkey2012-05-03

Years ago when I did electrical work we used a 3M product (can't remember the name, but can ask about), that is used to protect and seal up BUGS that is the giant ubolts that we use to splice big wire in a box or trough, each piece roughly the size of a pepperoni would be stripped bolted then given 1 pad or a piece then wrapped in electrical tape. They take years to dry up,(if ever). They are kinda like black gummy bears that stick to themselves and are stretched out then pulled tight. They have an outer layer of electricians tape and if done perfectly need no outer covering, and are water tight. they are not cheap but you can cut them up and a mem sticks are so small you could do a number of them from 1 piece.

PyroPlasma (author)jerkey2010-12-01

Thanks for pointing this out.
Although moisture in a sealed concrete wall is probably not too big of an issue, Teflon tape is probably about as effective as tissue paper, like jerkey said, it is not at all designed to seal water. Specialty RF seal tape is probably the best way to go with this. One brand of tape is Coax-Seal ( Not a plug or testimonial but just to make it easy to search for, had to go Google diving for a bit to get the right set of search terms). It says tape, but a more accurate description would be a strip of road tar mixed with silly putty. After a couple of days, the individual wraps sort of "melt" together creating a more or less perfect seal, the only thing that damages the seal is direct sunlight, so inside a wall, this could realistically outlive the data retention of the flash chips. At about 2 dollars a roll, you'd probably have enough for 4 or 5 drops, and if you are putting drives in walls, extra 0.50$ a piece isn't significant.

Other thoughts on waterproofing the connection:

-Is there anything other than a few dollars stopping the Dropper from getting a female-female adapter so the jack is of the female type? It could be mounted flush to the wall reducing the chance of accidental damage or direct weather. As well as male-male USB cables are more common for any given random user to have.

-Force a glob of dielectric grease directly into the female connector (stole this one from a friend who does quite a bit of DIY car maintenance). Everything is totally sealed until a mating connector is pushed into the port. Each of the pins shear the grease out of the way and the contacts....well... contact each other. When the cable is removed, the grease smears out and re-coats any open surface.

Sorry, but the preview isn't working right for me. Please forgive the half dozen edits this will probably need to get the formatting right.

srainsdon (author)PyroPlasma2011-02-13

another note on that Coax-seal (im a ham radio opp and never knew what it was named) if you put a layer of electric tape and then the seal it makes it so you can take it off if you dont you will NEVER get it all off, the way we do it for ant. connections is to layer it like so

tape -- seal -- tape

i have found that the seal will run in the sun if you dont put the outer layer of tape

BTW very interesting idea

jiffymanager (author)2014-04-25


jiffymanager (author)2014-04-25


calmlunch (author)2014-04-20


clickyummy (author)2014-03-08

Gotta get my mouth on some of them cocksickles.

bearblue (author)2014-02-25


chimplost (author)2014-01-21


Ches Skelington (author)2013-11-19

IDEA!!! if you really wanted to only share files between friends or people in the know, and at the same time avoid viruses (maybe) is to use TrueCrypt or some other encryption to make an encrypted file or even hidden encrypted file for the flashdrive and put everything on that.

clickworried (author)2013-08-27

It might be more in the bit you're using, like you would need a masonry bit for certain materials.

markinstruct (author)2013-08-25

Ok, what's up with the above comments from CarBuyWhiz, irkedcache, Minderwinter, and beautymelody? They always have similar comments and generally comment on the same ibles. Stunning! Curious! Intriguing!

ZacWolf (author)2013-08-22

I created a forum thread about something that I'd believe would be perfect to store on these. Take a look, and let me know what you think. :)

computer_freak_8 (author)2013-08-20

In the screenshot filling out the online form - it says to list the size in kilobytes. Hence, the field should be filled in as "4000000" rather than "4gb" (it'd be 4GB, anyways).

My Diet Area (author)2013-08-03

It might be more in the bit you're using

smithy.exe (author)2011-02-04

And what if someone will put a virus into that? Everyone will plug in, download it and share all over the world!

Teachable (author)smithy.exe2013-07-02

Just boot your computer off a live linux cd while you browse the files then boot back into your normal OS.

andrej (author)smithy.exe2011-02-07

just disable windows's silly "autorun", disable windows's silly "hiding the extension of known file types" and don't run anything looking suspicious.

akirakun9993 (author)2011-03-25

What kind of drill are you using I only have a 9.6v cordless drill and you don't show much about what kind of drill your using so it would be nice to know.

Teachable (author)akirakun99932013-07-02

It might be more in the bit you're using, like you would need a masonry bit for certain materials. Also your drill just needs to have enough power to keep the bit turning while you apply enough inward pressure to keep it chipping away at the surface so it might be hard to say you need at least an x volt drill for drilling hard things, there might be some difference in the torque of different drills in the same voltage class.

vegalyre (author)2010-11-17

This is such a cool idea! ...But for every nice guy who'd act in the spirit of this project, there would be 10 jerks who'd put viruses on the drive. And really, what protection is there for that?

AJMansfield (author)vegalyre2012-12-13

As long as you have it set to explicitly NOT EXECUTE any sort of autorun program when you mount the drive, and you explicitely set all files you transfer to be NON-EXECUTABLE, and you don't open them with any sort of fancy anything, you will be perfectly safe.

ascentuk (author)vegalyre2010-11-26

And really, what protection is there for that?

um how about decent av software on the laptop you plug into it !!!!!!!!!!

thats like having a handfull of condoms and saying what protection is there from std's

if you dont like the idea dont do it , simple (author)ascentuk2012-05-03

Condoms really don't protect from STD's, just getting her knocked up.

Xenel (author)ascentuk2011-07-23

AV won`t stop it.

andrej (author)vegalyre2011-02-07

common sense is very good antivirus protection

hintss (author)andrej2011-06-19


KadenP (author)vegalyre2010-12-05

Linux? OSX? BSD? OpenBox? VMWare? Backups? Decent AV software?

kjones5 (author)2012-11-27

As a (formerly avid) geocacher, I've dealt with property owners' rights concerning placing geocaches. Caches are very temporary by nature. These deaddrops are very permanent. If I were a property owner who had my property defaced in such a manner I'd probably make destroying every deaddrop I could find a hobby. It wouldn't be too hard either. Considering each deaddrop is open to the public, a single wallop of a small hammer or other convenient object would make any deaddrop, well, dead.

I think I'd find a way to place a deaddrop without defacing property and with a way to replace a thumbdrive if it went bad. Otherwise, I see this as a bad idea.

MartijnD (author)2012-11-12

Via WIFI on a raspberry Pi I guess somebody could restrict filesize 1mb and amount of files uploaded per unique MAC-IP adress to 3 per day, this way a 32gb card could be filled slowly, retrieving data is much faster via wifi, or only download the changes. the owner could even add a 3G modem to monitor, clean or change the system remotely.

hankenstien (author)2012-11-10

I like the female end idea. especialy the mini female end everyone has a few of these I have one from easch of my past 2 3 phones, external hard drives, al sorts of usb devices, and they make adapters for about a buck that will plug into the thub drive and give you a mini female end and is posible tip it slightly down. and all the user with a pc would need to use is a mini female usb adapter, and if you went this format, you could then put tons of storage, because now you have the standard for mini 2.5 hdd you could put that some where hidden and store more than a thumb drive. yeah so I got a little off point, but who doesn't anyway Mini female usb!

ilpug (author)2012-07-31

Is this still there? next time I'm in SF I will check it out.

godoggie (author)2012-03-31

Well well, what will they think of next? Pretty spiffy idea!

As for avoiding viruses, if you're a PC person, use some decent antivirus, if you're Linux (go Tux!!), you're generally good. Sure they'res viruses out there for Linux and Mac, but they're few and far between.

These could also be shared via word-of-mouth-only to limit who knows about them, thereby lessening the bad stuff.


About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a full stack web developer focusing on security and privacy.
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