By Sharon Gaudin
May 7, 2007 02:48 PM
A worker calls up a sensitive investor list and downloads it on her
thumb drive, slips it into her pocket, and walks out, smiling and waving
to her boss and the security officer stationed at the front door.
This is just one of the scenarios that security professionals and IT
managers are increasingly worried about. According to one recent study,
IT managers said portable storage devices, such as thumb drives and MP3
players, have surpassed even malware to become a top concern.
The study, which polled 370 IT professionals, showed that 38.4% of IT
managers say portable storage devices are their top security concern.
That's up from 25.7% in 2006.
"It is very easy to download information to them quickly," said Bill
Piwonka, VP of product management for Centennial Software, which
conducted the survey at this spring's InfoSec security conference in
London. "If there isn't a defined acceptable use policy or controls to
prevent the download and transfer of sensitive data, managers do not
know if and how such data is leaving the building. Also, USB sticks are
frequently lost. If sensitive data isn't encrypted on these devices, it
would obviously be very easy to obtain."
To make matters worse, 80% of respondents admitted that their
organizations don't currently have effective measures in place to combat
the unauthorized use of portable devices. And 43.2% cited no control at
all. Only 8.6% have a total ban on portable devices.
Piwonka said in an interview that that danger with portable storage
devices lies in not knowing what files have been maliciously or even
unintentionally downloaded to them, and how that data is being used. And
if it has been lost, who has the information?
A worker easily could download corporate information -- sales figures,
customer lists, marketing plans -- onto a small storage device, slip it
into their bag or even a pocket, and just walk out the door with it. It
makes stealing information much easier since it's not a matter of
printing anything out or even walking out of the office with a laptop
slung over a shoulder.
While IT managers fear what users might do with a portable storage
device, they also really like them for themselves.
The study showed that 65% of IT managers use a USB flash drive on a
"Portable devices do have a function in the workplace," said Piwonka.
"They are an easy way to share, transfer, and store information.
Managers need to create an acceptable use policy and share it with their
employees to further control the handling of sensitive data."
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