DropChute+ is quirky but useful for file exchange

Pros and
cons:
+ Faster than e-mail for large files
+ Prevents needless file duplication
– Requires Internet Explorer 4.0 for added security under Windows 9x


Real-life requirements:
Windows 9x or NT 4.0, 4M free on hard drive, modem or direct TCP/IP connection,
Internet Explorer 4.0 or NT Service Pack 3 for high security


Related story: Online or off, DropChute
tells you when a file is waiting.





Once in a while, you find a product as quirky as a plaid network cable. Hilgraeve
Inc.’s DropChute+ is one of those products.


DropChute+ maintains a phone book of frequent contacts who also have DropChute and with
whom you can share files over the Internet or by modem. Many people believe the best way
to send out files is as e-mail attachments, but that isn’t necessarily true.


When you buy DropChute+, you can send a copy of a working version to anyone else, but
the copy lacks some of its features. A copy also is available for download from the
company’s Web site at http://www.hilgraeve.com.


When I installed the full software, I set up several other users, both within the GCN
Lab network and outside. It was surprisingly handy.


Using DropChute+, I could notify other users that a file was available for download.
This not only cut down on needless copies floating around the network, it worked faster
than sending e-mail.


To verify my anecdotal experience, the GCN Lab set up several tests and tracked the
time it took to send an e-mail and have it received at the other end vs. the time it took
to receive DropChute+ notification that a file was available and download it. The larger
the file attachment, the larger the time difference.


A test of a 5M file best illustrated the difference. Sent by e-mail, it had to travel
from the PC to the mail server, then over the Internet to its destination. At the mail
server on the other end, the process reversed. The whole thing took almost 24 minutes.


With DropChute+, the file could go directly to the individual, unless the person was
behind a firewall, which was the case in the lab’s test. I sent a simple text e-mail
message that the file was available for download. The user at the other end then started a
copy of DropChute and downloaded the file, which took less than 14 minutes.


If you make many files available to users inside your firewall, the process is much
simpler. DropChute+ simply sends the file to the specified users, provided their copies of
DropChute are running and accepting files.


DropChute+ can serve as a quick-and-dirty file distribution system for collaboration,
or even as a near-virtual private network for sharing files with users on other
networks. It is not suitable for mission-critical file delivery, but it works well
enough for workgroups, departments and remote users.


DropChute+ and a trimmed-down version called DropChute (see story below) both have chat
functions, but—once again—firewalls can cause problems. The firewall workarounds
demand help from the network administrator.


Choosing from the security options available in DropChute+, you can set up the program
to authenticate users and encrypt traffic. An administrator then must dedicate a unique
port address for DropChute instead of its standard Telnet port 23.


Once this happens, only DropChute+ is addressable from the outside. Because it does not
support Telnet or File Transfer Protocol commands, any access to system resources is
completely controlled by the DropChute+ authentication procedure.


You must tell users outside your firewall which port you have set aside so they can
change your phone book entry to access that port when communicating with you.


DropChute+ includes Hilgraeve’s HyperGuard virus filter for greater safety in
transferring files.


The authentication and encryption levels are easy for customizing each user entry in
the phone book. The lowest security level verifies a user’s unique name. This level
provides no file encryption and is unsuitable for most government offices.


Higher levels of authentication and encryption are available, but only when all users
have the full version of DropChute+.


The next level up is called Simple Password. A scrambled password is transmitted but
with no encryption. After transmission, the file exchange goes on without encryption.


Still higher is Password Security via Microsoft Corp.’s cryptography application
programming interface. You provide a password and share it with another user, and
DropChute+ develops an encryption key. The key works on all data throughout a DropChute+
session, including the authentication stage.


The highest security level is public-key security via Microsoft’s crypto API.
Public-key authorization and symmetric key encryption protect against spoofing and verify
that both users are who they claim. Data files are thoroughly encrypted.


To enable the Microsoft cryptography API, you must be running either Microsoft Internet
Explorer 4.0 or Microsoft Windows NT with Service Pack 3 installed.


If you and another DropChute+ user have modems, you can use the product’s Internet
Rendezvous feature. A short call by modem alerts the other person to log on to a local
Internet provider. Then you can begin file exchange without paying per-minute rates.


DropChute+ was useful for file exchange in some cases. Given its public-key
authentication and private-key encryption properties, it also delivers high security.
Using it across a firewall takes some planning and administrative help, however.  

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