UK military bans iPods - some places

In the line of fire

Updated The UK's Ministry of Defence has banned Apple iPod music player as a security risk, Reuters reports. It thinks the high-capacity devices could be used to steal sensitive data. The digital music player is a number of devices the MoD will no longer allow into its offices in the UK or abroad.

But hold on: the MoD is telling the BBC that it hasn't banned iPods outright. "We have a flexible management approach in regards to iPods and similar devices that can move data from official systems," a MoD spokesman said. "In each area, the risks are assessed and, when appropriate, measures are taken to mitigate that risk." Etcetera, etcetera.

"With USB devices, if you plug it straight into the computer you can bypass passwords and get right on the system," RAF Wing Commander Peter D'Ardenne told Reuters. The MoD introduced the policy when it upgraded to "USB-friendly" Windows XP last year, he said

Gartner last week urged organisations to apply tighter controls over iPod players, which are capable of storing vast amounts of data. The analyst firm expressed similar concerns about portable FireWire hard drives, such as those from LaCie or Toshiba, and USB hard drives or keychain drives, digital cameras with smart media cards, memory sticks, compact flash and other memory media.

Several Register readers wrote in to say that Gartner is stating the obvious; but a survey out today suggests UK firms are yet to get to grips with the issue.

Around 80 per cent of 100 IT directors questioned by security firm Reflex Magnetics agreed that removable media devices (such as USB memory sticks) pose a significant security threat. But 60 per cent said they fail to monitor device usage. Which isn't very clever, as it means that a minimum of 40 per cent of the IT directors surveyed think they are a threat but are doing nothing about it.

USB memory sticks are becoming ubiquitous with 85 per cent of workers using the gizmos to transfer data between the office and home, and potentially transporting viruses in the process.

Reflex Magnetics advocates the use of management tools to enforce security policies. Its Disknet Pro tool, for example, can allow only encrypted access to USB drives. Yesterday Pointsec released a similar encryption tool, Pointsec Media Encryption, a product that offers similar features. These companies compete with host-based intrusion prevention outfits, such as PrevX and SecureWave. ®

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