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Memory sticks have been branded as the latest security risk by security firm SecureWave, whose intrusion prevention technology can be used to control the use of the popular devices in corporate environments.

The alleged risk here is that "many organisations run the risk of viruses and unauthorised software entering the network, as well as confidential data being removed through these small, yet powerful desktop devices."

So flash memory sticks pose similar risks to those posed by floppy disks, and then some. SecureWave's concerns echo those of Websense which earlier this year warned that online storage sites provided a route to smuggle data out of organisations.

But if people really want to smuggle data out of an organisation they'll always find a way; there's only so much technology can do. The application of technology has to be consistent with an organisation's overall security policy.

There is a risk that USB devices could be used to bring viruses into a network. However since the main risk of viruses these days stems from email-borne nasties, desktop AV protection represent the most appropriate line of defence.

In some instances, however, USB devices arguably pose their own distinctive security problem.

SecureWave cites an incident where a Crewe estate agent plugged in her newly-purchased memory stick to her PC, only to discover the confidential medical records of cancer patients at a local hospital.

So for many organisations, USB devices need to be managed properly, the thinking goes.

Lock down

SecureWave's argument is that you can't manage USB devices using Group Policy in Windows 2000/XP, but you can disable the USB ports using a third party tool called SecureNT from, you've guessed it, SecureWave.

By default, SecureNT provides very strict security by disabling unknown devices, writing to CD Rom drives or plugging flash memory devices into USB ports. However, the use of some devices such as PDAs may be allowed by adding them to the list of user-defined devices. SecureNT provides a degree of granular control over the use of devices.

This could fit with a company's security policy. On the other hand, companies may decide that a networked computing route represents their best way forward.

It all comes back to security policy.

On a slightly related note South Korea's Samsung Electronics yesterday said it would be making and selling Sony Corp memory products for use in digital cameras and electronic organisers this quarter. According to Samsung, the memory stick market is worth $2.5bn a year worldwide. ®

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