U.K. college to use nCrypted Cloud to make Dropbox suitable for work

We all know the Dropbox story. Nearly everyone uses a free version of the popular file sync-and-store-and-share service and most end up bringing it work, usually to the dismay of whoever’s in charge of compliance and security. And because of those concerns, some companies, including IBM, have tried to ban its use — with mixed results. Seriously, do you think most of IBM’s 434,000 employees even read that memo? Me neither.

Imperial College of London was in the same boat, with 11,000 Dropbox accounts associated with its domain name, even though Dropbox use was technically against policy.

Tom Willson, senior IT security officer at the school said they were not thrilled about this use, but hey,  life goes on. “It’s giving data over to a third party and we don’t knew who has access to it. Ideally we’d prefer people not to use it but we can’t stop them.”

So the school looked at a couple of options to fortify Dropbox, including nCrypted Cloud– which someone saw mentioned on Hacker News, as well as AeroFS and Boxcryptor.

The killer feature was that Ncrypted Cloud lets you share data with colleagues even at other schools but once the project is done, that access can be revoked, he said.

The way nCrypted Cloud CEO Nick Stamos tells it, he got a message from the college — which was using the free consumer version of nCrypted software saying they wanted to be the vendor’s first enterprise customer. “I thought it was a joke but I googled the lady [from the college who sent the mail]  and she was for real,” Stamos said in an interview.

Let me back up a bit: nCrypted was founded in 2012 specifically to make Dropbox suitable for work, but for months, it has heard the same message from IT pros which was: “Yes, we have a Dropbox problem but no we don’t want to deal with it yet.” So when it heard from the college, it was surprised. But now, Stamos says, folks are ready to deal with their Dropbox drama.

Ncrypted Cloud co-founders Igor Odnovorov (left) and Nick Stamos co-founders
Ncrypted Cloud co-founders Igor Odnovorov (left) and Nick Stamos co-founders

NCrypted’s claim to fame is that it preserves Dropbox’s ease of use but ensures data privacy and lets customers divvy up personal and corporate data.  “You pick any sort of folder, right-click on it, and then you have two decisions to make. You mark it private or you use collaborative encryption. The other is you mark it as  your data or the institution’s data.  You can co-mingle personal and corporate data and when you leave the institution your access to that institution data is revoked,” Stamos said.

Interestingly,  nCrypted said it brought in Dropbox sales team into the college, not the other way around. Dropbox has been making a big enterprise push for its paid Dropbox for Business version that adds single-sign on, Active Directory support, and an enterprise-y admin console. In June it launched a partner program  in order to better compete with Google, Microsoft(s msft), EMC(s emc), ownCloud, Box, Egnyte and other companies all vying to be “the Dropbox of the Enterprise.” Dropbox’s ace in the hole is that it already lives in most enterprises, whether or not the CIO knows about it.

Boston-based nCrypted, which is talking to Dropbox about joining its partner program, also plans to add support for Google(s goog) Drive next and then Microsoft SkyDrive.

The risky proposition for nCrypted is that over time, there’s nothing to stop Dropbox itself from adding this sort of functionality on its own.