The Department of Defense has loosened its outright ban on the use of removable media, but only under strictly limited circumstances and only as a last resort.
In new guidance issued last Friday but first reported this week, U.S. Strategic Command laid out a number of new requirements for the use of any removable media. According to the guidance, only Department of Defense computers in strict compliance with secure hardware requirements will be able to use removable media.
The military had instituted a ban on thumb drives and other removable media such as flash memory cards for cameras in late 2008 after a rash of malware spread by removable media hit the troops.
Those concerns appear to persist. "This is not a return to 'business as usual,'" Vice Adm. Carl Mauney, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in an e-mail through a spokesman. However, Mauney said, after "extensive testing of mitigation measures," the military decided it could again allow some removable media -- withing strict limits.
In no way does the lifted ban mean that soldiers will be able to use thumb drives for any purpose. Under the guidance, removable media will be allowed only in "mission-essential operations" and with strict attention to compliance, and even then only to transfer data between locations when "other authorized network resources are unavailable."
After passing the acceptable use test, the hardware must pass its own battery of tests. Soldiers will be able to use only approved, government-purchased and -owned hardware that has been scanned and wiped of any malicious software beforehand and that prevents unauthorized use.
For those who wish to try to skirt the requirements, the military plans to begin random auditing of users and drives. The ban on using personally owned devices on DoD networks, or DoD devices on non-DoD networks, will stay in place.
Additionally, it's possible that individual combatant commands, services, and agencies may issue their own additional restrictions, as the guidance tasks them with creating their own "approval authorities."