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Thumbs Down on Thumb Drives

NEW YORK -- Where portable data's concerned, convenience has a cost -- a rather steep one if it's USB-based -- according to IT managers and CIOs attending an event here today.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," warned Randy Kahn, principal of legal consultancy Kahn Consulting, in an address this morning. "The smaller it gets, and the more mobile it gets, the easier it is to lose the thing."

To illustrate his point, Kahn pointed to a recent report from the Committee on Government Reform, which painted a depressing picture of federal data security. As well as the highly publicized laptop loss at the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Committee members also cited the Department of Commerce which lost thumb-drives containing sensitive census records on 46 separate occasions between January 2003 and September 2006. (See VA Reports Massive Data Theft, Laptop Liabilities, and Portable Problems Prompt IT Spending.)

For Kahn, though, this may be just the tip of the iceberg. "How many thousands of thumb-drives were lost by the government over the last three years?" he wondered aloud. "Places need to have really stringent controls on how they use and how they manage" USB drives.

"It's a big challenge," agreed another speaker, Bob Venable, manager of enterprise systems at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. "We're planning on banning USB drives at the start of January," he said, explaining that the threat of end-users introducing viruses via USB ports helped prompt this decision.

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