USB keys can be used for good or evil

A serious security threat faces enterprise from the invasion of easily-concealed USB keys, music players, and portable hard drives.

This is particularly true for companies where intellectual property (IP) is intrinsically a competitive advantage, according to Frost & Sullivan security analyst James Turner.

"Whether or not [portable media devices] are used for good or evil is up to whoever uses them," Turner said.

"The security issues these keys pose is something IT managers and enterprises are going to be concerned about in the near future."

Hugh Dunn, IT manager for Strathern Insurance Brokers, said current information security concerns are not directed just towards USB keys, but portable hard drives and media devices like iPods.

Dunn said policy making needs to be stepped up to meet the challenge.

"Overall, I think they are a major security threat - the capacity is getting higher and the cost of each unit is getting lower," Dunn said.

"Not many people use them for data so until management works out a policy for acceptable use we will just monitor it.

"We have the blocked iPod tunes Web site with our firewall and already a few people have brought [such devices] in and tried unsuccessfully to download content, but because access is blocked by policy they have had no luck."

USB keys are great tool, Dunn said, but IT managers need to really clamp down on their use.

An IBM spokesperson said USB keys are used in conjunction with every desktop in its office and said generally commonsense is applied to protect confidential information.

"We have a strong culture for employees to be aware of guidelines to protect confidential information," the spokesperson said.

"Portable media is a useful tool, but also requires employees to protect the keys physically or the information on them through passwords."

Centennial Software managing director Phil Hare said the lines between technology for corporate use and its use in the lifestyle space are blurred.

Hare said while the technology has a legitimate use, albeit personal, the corporate IT landscape has become blurred with personal equipment.

"A lot of the portable devices currently in use in large organizations like can easily be plugged-in, unplugged and slid inside your coat pocket," Hare said.

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