USBs' Giant Sucking Sound

Most organizations house critical data on laptops, USB thumb drives, and iPods, new survey says

It's what you can't see that could hurt the most: 73 percent of respondents in a new survey to be released on Monday by Senforce Technologies say their organization houses critical data on removable devices such as laptops, thumb drives, and iPods, Dark Reading has learned.

Awareness was indeed the theme of the results of the survey, which polled over 300 attendees at the recent InfoSec and FOSE trade shows, as 46 percent said their organization either doesn't have -- or they are are unaware if it has -- a comprehensive endpoint security strategy. Although the survey was conducted by an endpoint security product vendor, it basically reinforces a point made over and over these days, as organizations are slowly waking up to the problem of laptops that go home with their users, as well as the thumb drives that come into the office with them.

According to Senforce, 18 percent of the respondents at InfoSec said nearly half of their organization's data sit at the endpoint, and 17 percent of the FOSE respondents said the same.

The security of portable media was also a hot topic at this week's Storage Networking World conference in San Diego, where a group of panelists said the biggest problem is a lack of security for portable media such as USB drives. (See Users Confess Security Fears.)

"It comes up in every conversation I have with a customer," says Steve Stasiukonis, vice president and founder of Secure Network Technologies. "It doesn't matter if it's stuff being taken out or coming in -- they say they worry 50-50 about both. It's bad if a user brings it in and [pollutes] the network, or worse if they take something out and it gets into the hands of someone who can hurt [them]."

Stasiukonis says he's seen banks and other companies that still don't realize the danger removable devices can pose to their networks and data. One client was still letting its users bring in their iPods and pop them into their machines. "Unfortunately, you just can't do that anymore."

"It's an eye-opener when they realize how much can be taken off" the network with a removable device, he says.

One organization with highly sensitive data took the extreme but crude approach of gluing shut the USB ports on all of its machines. "They put epoxy on all the ports," he says. Another organization he's worked with decided to go with thin clients as a way to better lock down its network, but discovered that these boxes also come with USB ports. "So they [physically] cut the connections to USB and Firewire ports."

According to the survey, 23 percent of the respondents said their organization had reported a network security breach in the last 12 to 18 months, and another 25 percent said they didn't know whether such a breach had occurred. "73 percent had mission-critical information on thumb drives or notebooks or iPods. That's part of a general trend we're seeing in information being dispersed," says Tim Cranny, senior security architect for Senforce, based in Draper, Utah.

"There's an increasing awareness of these issues as a problem, but solutions are still lagging significantly," Cranny says. Network access control (NAC) is just one piece of the puzzle, he adds.

"There's a management piece, too," he says, adding that Senforce's software controls whether removable media can be removed at all, designated read-only, or blocked. The company also recently coined the phrase "thumbsucking" to describe when USB thumb drives siphon critical data off the endpoint and put organizations at risk, he says.

Meanwhile, organizations apparently aren't fostering much of a feeling of security among users: The survey also found that less than half (44 percent) of the respondents were confident in their organization's network security for wireless, malware, endpoint security, and encryption.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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