You Can't Tell Your USB from a Hole in the Wall


Aram Bartholl is mortaring USB drives into walls, curbs, and buildings around New York. These dead drops, as he terms them, are peer-to-peer file transfer points with true anonymity. Bartholl has a residency with EYEBEAM, a truly fascinating incubator of and studio for new ideas in technology and art.

The project has five initial locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with more to come. Bartholl has posted a photo gallery of the installations, too.

The furtiveness of squeezing your laptop or mobile against a wall is rather intimate--these may be dead drops, but they're also data glory holes. And one more thing, too. The concept pricked at my memory, until I remembered the Finn from William Gibson's Neuromancer universe. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, the Finn has lost his corporeal form, but Molly seeks out his advice in a disreputable alley.

A tight beam of very bright light...descended until it found the thing at the base of the wall, dull metal, an upright rounded fixture that Kumiko mistook for another ventilator...

Sally stepped forward, the beam held steady, and Kimiko saw that the armored thing was bolted into the brickwork with massive rivets. "Finn?"...

"Moll." A grating quality, as if through a broken speaker. "What's with the flash?"

Image by Aram Bartholl via Creative Commons.


  1. yes, like its cousin the glory hole, it sure looks like a lot of fun at first, but really it is just a great way to catch something you could do without. live and learn.

  2. Can I get a USB condom?

    It is to bad that even these USB glory ports are subject to infection. You’d think that we could at least make the virtual world free of disease. Sigh

  3. Not really “true anonymity.” Probably even less than on a wireless network. I mean… you’re standing right there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept; but don’t think it offers any more privacy than any other form of file sharing.

  4. For god’s sake don’t join the eyebeam mailing list, you’ll never get off the damned thing. Spamming muppets they are.


  5. A dastardly government ploy to catch Wiki-leaker wannabes.

    “So, you have some damning evidence to give us? Just leave it at the USB sticking out of the back of 7-11.”

  6. Hell of a virus vector… Remember, when you connect with another piece of hardware you are connecting to every piece of hardware it ever connected to. Practice safe hex.

  7. I prefer to get my messages delivered by someone dumb enough to doublespace their brain implant.. at least then I might get a chance to meet a borged out dolphin hiding out in an abandoned carnival.

  8. Hard drives from garbage cans are more interesting ‘anonymous data drops’. The last one I found was full of giantess and shrink ray porn.

    1. I have yet to find a hard drive in the proverbial “trash” that has not been erased. That’s what blows my mind about all of these data destruction consultants: Random write, zero out all that… Means nothing when most people can’t even do a basic wipe when tossing out the trash.

      Most disturbing find was hard drives from a women’s rescue shelter in Brooklyn. If I were a jerk, the amount of info there was truly life destroying. Once I realized what I found, I erased and wrote random junk to it and sent it to a recycling place.

      1. It’s not even that hard to wipe a hard drive well enough to thwart casual viewing or recovery of files. That’s why I don’t feel bad about exploring found hard drives. The person who threw it out could have wiped it but chose not to.

  9. oh no, the term glory hole followed by the word pricked? good grief . .

    but a very cool commentary on mod life =) (the usb, not the glory holes)

  10. How are the lines of sight from the dead drops to local security cameras?

    Because man, someone gets a photo of you using a dead drop you have pretty much no plausible deniability. At least with file sharing networks you can try to claim the douchebag next door was stealing your wifi.

    (I also suspect this is all just a plan by a local computer repair shop to ruin USB ports on laptops. Plugging your laptop into a brick wall is a great way to damage it physically.)

  11. When I first heard about this, I thought it was a great idea. But, the comments here made me realize that most of the people actually using these are likely to be non-security-conscious windows users. I’m not terribly concerned about plugging my netbook into arbitrary thumbdrives, but I’ve been running *nix exclusively since before usb 1.1 was standardized and I don’t go around using my root account.

    I don’t see this as a particularly good way of transferring anything illegal, mind you — in fact, the increased locality makes it far worse. However, as with similar projects like the Youth International Party Line, that minicomputer terminal in front of the record store in the early 70s, and (to a lesser extent) PostSecret, the anonymity makes socially transgressive and anonymously collaborative works easier. I could see this being something like a geographically-dependent 4chan: low signal to noise ratio, but that signal that does manage to bubble out of the cauldron is likely to be quite catchy. That, or someone will figure out how to use it to sell marmalade and tennis shoes.

  12. boing (i think?) posted a dark net coffee mug that shared files wireless while people sat on the subway etc.. THAT works out great.. this not so much.

    Found drives? ya I don’t get how people think its OK.. considering isn’t someone going to think the computer is valuable and take it EVEN with it smelling like trash? The wife loves those drives and calls it ‘digital archeology’ if the files are old enough

Comments are closed.