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Removable storage devices have become widely accepted as tools that bring down costs while increasing employee mobility and productivity. They allow employees to easily and efficiently transport data between computers, allowing them to remain productive wherever they are working.

As storage devices such as USB thumb drives, iPods, and Blackberrys are small and seemingly innocuous, one rarely considers the security implications at hand. However, their physical size and large storage capacity can make them an enormous threat. For example, if a thumb drive containing business data is lost or stolen, there could be severe consequences. In seconds, a rogue user can access proprietary files and potentially expose a business to a massive data breach. These acts can be referred to as "thumbsucking" -- the intentional or unintentional use of a portable storage device to download confidential data from a network endpoint. Lost and stolen equipment, including these removable storage devices, is one of the top causes of data breaches and the process of identifying the source of the breach, notifying impacted stakeholders, and preventing future breaches have been costing organizations millions of dollars.

The Verizon Business RISK Team recently published an analysis of four years (2004-2008) of security breaches and found 85 percent of those breaches are opportunistic -- meaning, few hackers are proactively looking for missteps and vulnerabilities, but they will take full advantage if one leaves an endpoint device containing confidential data in a taxi or at an airport gate. Additionally, some of the most common sources of data breaches are employees, including those unaware of security practices or driven by malicious intent. In tandem with these statistics, Verizon also discovered that 87 percent of the 230 million compromised records researched in these four years could have been prevented had the proper controls been in place.

While statutory and regulatory requirements can vary, organizations should nonetheless be diligent when granting employees use of these devices, since the simple concepts of "least privilege" and basic auditing practices could prevent potential data breaches.


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