A look back at a tricky 12 months for the USB stick as it was blamed for data loss and Conficker, and what the future holds

News by Dan Raywood

2009 has been a year where the humble USB stick has been blamed for data loss and problems caused by remote working.

2009 has been a year where the humble USB stick has been blamed for data loss and problems caused by remote working.

In three months the USB flash drive will be ten years old. When they were launched they had 10MB capacity and cost over $100. Jason Holloway, SanDisk Enterprise's head of sales for EMEA, claimed that the upcoming date will be important especially considering the capacity limits, ‘which does not seem tangible now'.

Looking back over the past 12 months though, Holloway claimed that it had been a good year in many different regards, despite high profile security breaches, losses and events over the last year and 18 months, and there has been a strong moving process in the approach to USB drives.

Holloway said: “The dilemma is that USBs are the belle du jour of technology, and not more or less secure than other media. It is good but we need to start being a little proactive with the technology, it is not just about encrypting, as the same applies to laptops, this is not the issue, the issue is managing a fleet of devices as once you have deployed them you need to manage them with password policies and getting these pushed out, but just as important is getting feedback from remote devices.

“That uses encrypted data and the result provides data and it is also about getting a better understanding of how you are using the devices. You get a better idea of data flow as they lead to better information security and better security all round.”

Anders Pettersson, chief security officer at BlockMaster, claimed that 2009 had been a ‘worrying year' with reports of unsecured USB sticks in the UK and northern Europe. He also claimed that for the future, the unsecured USB will replace other removable media and that will keep hurting business and public organisations.

Pettersson said: “We will see this pick up in the New Year, but we are seeing an interest in ours and other secure media and we will see a shift in the usage of USB flash drives in general and we will be targeting larger companies to use a secure flash drive.

“We need a pragmatic way of solving the issue, it is less productive to burn removable media and many people are relying on removable media to get their work done. There needs to be a reliable way to get hold of the solution to get work done, there is too many giveaway drives and there is a lot of IT directors looking for a way to get around this.”

Dave Jevans, CEO of IronKey, claimed that from an industry point of view, there has been a problem figuring the technology out, but as far as growth goes, he had seen deployment of 10,000 to 30,000 devices.

Jevans said: “People are figuring out two things - one that they are mobile devices so require encryption as you cannot rely on every defence, and secondly with more amounts of remote management being able to tell remotely.”

With regards to the future, after the USB was put at the top of the blame chart for the spread of Conficker, Pettersson claimed that spreading malware via unsecured USBs was a trend that started over 2009 and still remains an issue. Jevans also said that the ‘malware issue started to revise everything and anti-malware was infecting networks' but with use of USBs to boot PCs and meet the needs of virtual private networks, the view is bright.

Jevans said: “Software and manageability and other phase show that you can do interesting things where you can control firmware and software in a virtual network player, and meeting this is seeing big companies play up a lot of steam in a user capacity.”

Holloway commented that anti-malware was deployed before Conficker and other malware, so you can deploy the right technology but you will always be playing a game of catch-up.

He claimed that it was hard to predict where the market place is going to go, but the boundaries are starting to blur, as you have had to offer basic encryption and then centralised management and anti-malware.

He said: “Some things will certainly happen: prices will drop and the level of functionality will increase for the standard USB drive. In the consumer market we will see more trends with the offering of services and also for end-users.”

He also claimed that the MicroSD card, which is currently used in the mobile phone, will become more prevalent.


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