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Google concedes desktop security risk

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Cross-computer file searching features in the latest version of Google desktop search tool represent an "unacceptable security risk" to large enterprises, analyst Gartner warns. Google concedes the analysts' concerns are valid but argues that large firms are free to control the application of the technology.

Google Desktop 3 beta introduces the ability to search the contents of one computer from another. Previous versions of the tool indexed files on users' PCs, but using the optional "Search Across Computers" facility in Google Desktop 3 temporarily stores text copies of searchable items on Google's own servers for up to 30 days - a move Gartner describes as "inauspicious".

While the technology might make life easier for "technically adept personal users" it's fraught with difficulties for larger firms. Transporting potentially sensitive data outside corporate boundaries onto Google's servers gives Gartner the fear, even though Google is promising that the data will be encrypted. Also workers can't be relied upon to identify what documents are too sensitive to share. For these reasons the Search Across Computers option "should be disabled or heavily managed by enterprises".

Gartner advises firms that permit workers to use Google's desktop search application should switch over to the enterprise edition. The analyst's misgivings about in Search Across Computers" facility in Google Desktop 3 parallel those of privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and security experts.

Google concedes that the technology is a potential security risk - if improperly managed - but points out that enterprises can disable the "Search Across Computers" feature. "Yes, it's a risk, and we understand that businesses may be concerned," Andy Ku, European marketing manager for Google told ZDNet.

"Theoretically any intellectual property can be transferred outside of a company. We understand that there are a lot of security concerns about the Search Across Computers feature, but Google won't hold information unless the user or enterprise opts in (to the feature)," he added. ®

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