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This is not advice. Items herein are general comments only and do not constitute or convey advice per se. The information contained in these articles is for guidance only and should not be relied upon without obtaining professional advice having regard to your direct circumstances.


USBs an Achilles heel for companies

Portable media devices have made life a lot easier for many businesses but they have also become an Achilles' heel for companies in the ongoing battle to protect data.

As the physical size of storage unit devices shrink, storage capacity continues to inversely expand. An individual can store the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica on a unit smaller than a stick of chewing gum. From BlackBerries to the USB flash drives, massive databanks are becoming as much an extension of our person as our wallets and house keys.

But like any technological leap, the ballooning capacity for information has gone hand in hand with a growing potential for catastrophe. Headlines that detail the careless loss of information have become more frequent in recent years as more staff in both the public and private sectors adopt such gadgets. Only this month, the US Transportation Security Administration reported the loss of an external computer hard drive containing social security numbers and bank data for about 100,000 employees. While there is no evidence of unauthorised individuals using the information for malicious purposes, the agency confesses it had no idea whether the device was still within its headquarters or had been stolen.

Such a device could be a major windfall for identity thieves and a public disaster for any private or public organisation.

Recent research from Datamonitor and McAfee found 60 per cent of Australian businesses had experienced data leakage of some sort over the past two years. A similar percentage believed data leaks from their company were the work of insiders, not necessarily hackers or thieves. McAfee's Asia Pacific director of sales engineering, Michael Sentosa, said while the proportion of Australian enterprises that had experienced leaks was lower than those of the US, France and Germany, a lot of Australian companies were clueless about such threats.

"Forty per cent simply had no idea of whether that actually happened," Mr Sentosa said. "In other countries around the world, you need to actually disclose the fact that you had this kind of data breach, depending on what you do with the data and whether you're part of the stock market."

He said only six per cent of Australian companies had technology in place that let them know that a data breach had taken place.

A simple line of defence - and one often overlooked - is to password-protect sensitive information and keep an inventory of all company devices.

While a number of PC and network applications from groups like McAfee and Symantec allow companies to monitor and restrict the transfer of files, there are other means of securing data. SecureStix, a Brisbane-based company, produces USB cards with biometric locks. Using fingerprint recognition technology coupled with encryption algorithms, users need to scan their finger onto a small sensor on the stick for a PC to access the data.

According to the Datamonitor survey, 32 per cent of reported leaks were intentional but not malicious and included incidents such as the copying of a confidential document to a USB drive for access at home. However, 45 per cent believed incidents of data loss were largely unintentional, such as leaving a laptop or USB drive unattended in a public place. "The vast majority of organisations do not inventory media devices that fall into the areas of USB keys or flash drives or even things like iPods," Mr Sentosa said.

May 11, 2007  AAP


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