An online survey of 229 consumers has found that all have at least one USB stick but half could not remember what they had saved on a device.

It found that 54 per cent of people had between three and six sticks, while a fifth (21 per cent) owned as many as ten, or even more. Also, 34 per cent admitted they did not know where all their USB devices are at any given time, while ten per cent admitted to losing a USB device containing corporate data, yet 76 per cent never reported the loss to their bosses.

Bob Heard, chief executive officer and founder of Credant, who conducted the survey, said: “Companies are spending millions on their security and it could all be in vain if they fail to close this basic area of vulnerability. If they have a workforce that are using USB storage media, blissfully unaware of the potential mayhem that these ubiquitous devices could potentially cause, no matter how much is spent the enterprise will never be secure.

“These small USB sticks can be, and often are, easily lost or stolen, thus leaving data, and those responsible for protecting that data, vulnerable.

“Many organisations are either failing to take the problem seriously or to implement and enforce the right security, work practices and education for their users to address this problem. Unsecured data on removable media is a significant and growing concern and organisations need to start planning now on how to close this vulnerability before they suffer a very expensive and embarrassing breach.”

Colin Williams, networking and security practice leader at Computacenter, said: “We can ask how many USB sticks do you have and ask what is on them? But you do not know and you end up with many and when they are lost, there is no way of realising and you do not realise that you have lost it.

“It is not encrypted, you give it to your kids who then put it into their computer and find a confidential file. This is the biggest concern and can conflict with policy, but the simple thing is to say not to do it.”