Thumbs down for thumb drives?

You know those diddly little memory drives (variously called thumbdrives, USB drives, Flash drives or memory sticks) that plug into the USB port of a computer? Ever thought about how dangerous …

14th April 2008 at 10:44 am

You know those diddly little memory drives (variously called thumbdrives, USB drives, Flash drives or memory sticks) that plug into the USB port of a computer? Ever thought about how dangerous they might be? Each one can hold massive amounts of information – even the tiniest holds 256MB – but four times that is commonplace. By the end of 2008 one manufacturer, SanDisk, reckons it will be up to 128GB.

Go to a conference or an exhibition and it’s highly likely you get a thumbdrive packed with information from various exhibiting companies. It’s cheaper than printing stuff and it has a residual use which is of value to the recipient. Looking around my desk, I can see half a dozen – five promotional ones plus a real one that I actually bought. I’m sure more are tucked away in pockets and bags. And all contain masses of information. The ones I fear losing most are those that contain ‘my life’ when I’m about to go on a trip and make a quick backup of all the key stuff in case the laptop goes ‘phut’ and I have to borrow someone else’s.

Do you know whether people in your organisation bring thumbdrives into and out of work? Do you know whether they habitually copy stuff to work on outside? Or bring stuff in from outside to work on in the office? Either way, you are exposed to risks. Inbound devices containing malicious code which could threaten your system. Outbound devices exposing you to the risks associated with information theft or loss.

SanDisk commissioned a survey among corporate end users and IT staff. 25 percent of users were likely to copy customer records to a thumb drive. 17 percent would copy financial information. 15 percent business plans. 13 percent employee records. It goes on, but you get the general idea.

Unlike a CD which is difficult to conceal, the thumbdrives can lurk anywhere. Physical searches would have to be very intimate to ensure that none of these devices are passing your threshold in either direction.

Measures to deal with the risk vary from user education to central control of the ports on user machines. Somewhere in the middle is the filling of every spare USB port with epoxy resin and supergluing the connectors in the remainder

The best way to get the latest infortmation is to run a Google search for USB drive security 2008.


David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World.

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  1. Phil says:

    One positive for them that I only found out a few weeks ago is that you can use them to boost your Vista performance.

  2. Ooh. Do tell us more. (I presume some readers have Vista.)

  3. Phil says:

    It’s called Readyboost. If you put a flash drive in and wait for the autorun to pop up there should be an option to start it. This should explain better

  4. Phil says:

    And this will explain how to do it Windows Readyboost

  5. Phil says:

    Should also say though that it doesn’t seem to improve shutting down speeds. I still have to wait what feels like hours for the screen to finally go black. I could have rebooted my XP laptop that has half the ram and be working away in the time it takes to close down my Vista one.

  6. Thanks for the eloquent response. Thank you.

  7. Aaron says:

    Fortunately the Operating Systems coming out down the road should have the ability to block thumb drives. Better late than never, eh?

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