Business Data Security

May 6 2011 - 7:13am

Riffling through an old filing cabinet the other day I came across a strange piece of bendy cardboard about five inches square. Then it all came back to me. It was what we called a "floppy disk" and, in their day, they were the leading edge of technology.

Goodness knows if I could ever find a drive that could even read it now, and it made me realize just how much has changed in the way we store data and move it around in our businesses.

Of course, prior to the floppy disk, we wrote everything down in ledgers, typed up acres of paper files, or stored masses of continuous-stationery computer print-outs and, later, computer tape drives. They were hefty, unwieldy items but the great thing was that, compared with today's data storage media, they were easy to keep an eye on.

Nowadays, you could cram all that information onto a thumb drive a person could tuck under their belt. So, here's the alarming thing: the thumb drive -- a digit-sized piece of hardware you plug into the USB socket on a PC -- represents one of the biggest risks to data security in your business.

This is on two counts: One, it's easy to steal and smuggle out information from your systems; and, two, they can introduce computer viruses on to your PCs when someone brings in one from outside. And who might do that? Well, just about anyone -- from a disgruntled employee you just fired to a well-intentioned colleague who decided to take a couple of spreadsheets home to work on during the weekend, then either lost the information or inadvertently transferred a virus onto the drive.

In theory, these risks were with us back in the floppy disk days but then most people didn’t have PCs at home or enough computer savvy on how to move data around. Now everybody's doing it. Fortunately, a few simple safety measures can reduce or eliminate the risk:

  • If you know what you're doing, you can physically disable the USB ports on your machines, but that might be a bit drastic since there likely will be times you need them.
  • You can manually disable them by either entering the computer's operating system (BIOS) when the machine starts up or, simpler, use software that does the job for you.
  • Buy a physical lock -- a device that either covers the USB slots or fits into them and can't be removed without a key. This is effective but expensive if you have lots of USB ports to protect.
  • Then, if someone does need access to the USB, this can be done under a controlled situation, where a port is unlocked and security software checks the integrity of the drive.


Of course, this doesn't stop potential data theft or virus infection if employees have access to the Internet, so any actions you take will have to be in tandem with Internet access restrictions and monitoring.

Blog courtesy of Royce Williams
Royce Williams Agency 615-356-4800

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