The Flash Drive: Industrial Espionage Tool of the 21st Century

Companies are ever-vigilant about sensitive and/or proprietary information getting into the wrong hands. Technology gives them more reason to worry, as dwindling sizes and increasing capacities of portable storage devices have made it increasingly easier to smuggle data outside of company premises. Take the thumbdrive, for instance. Nothing’s stopping an employee from plugging in a USB drive, or even a digital music player into his/her computer, and downloading files off the network.

Some companies are going as far as banning these devices, as well as personal laptops, from the workplace.

Fearing the theft of company data, mid to large sized companies across Canada have begun to establish policies that prevent personal laptops and USB keys from entering the workplace.

In addition, some 30% of companies polled in a recent survey have also banned MP3 players, such as the ever popular iPod, from the workplace.

The reason for the security concern is the tremendous amount of confidential information that can be quickly downloaded to these devices and then walked out the door inside an employees pocket, briefcase or purse.

I think this would be difficult to implement, especially given the ease by which thumbdrives can be hidden inside a bag or pocket or even on one’s person, such as when strung on a necklace. If you watched the Recruit, you’ll know what I mean (the CIA agent played by Bridget Moynahan was smuggling information using a USB drive she hides in her metallic coffee mug). Besides, there are other ways of transferring data such as thru the Internet (even Gmail via HTTPS is encrypted). In other words, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

However, I can see one benefit to employees if companies were to insist against bringing of USB drives and laptops–employees should not be expected to bring home any work!

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