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iPod: Your Portable Corporate Hellraiser 679

MrAndrews writes "In an article on ZDNet UK, a Gartner says that "Companies should consider banning portable storage devices such as Apple's iPod from corporate networks as they can be used to introduce malware or steal corporate data" I recently came into contact with a similar policy at a consulting firm that was concerned that top-secret information might escape through my USB watch, and made me leave it at the front desk every day. In that case, I know it was absurd overkill ... but is this concern a legitimate concern? No more music on the way into the office?"
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iPod: Your Portable Corporate Hellraiser

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  • Not so "absurd" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MoxCamel ( 20484 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:10AM (#9620984)
    I recently came into contact with a similar policy at a consulting firm that was concerned that top-secret information might escape through my USB watch, and made me leave it at the front desk every day. In that case, I know it was absurd overkill ... but is this concern a legitimate concern?

    Not to skirt the question, but is this really "absurd overkill?" I'm sure that USB pens/watches/etc have been a boon to corporate espionage. With a USB storage device, you don't have to worry about burning CDs or emailing your stolen information off-site.

    Having said that, I do think that some companies need to quit treating their employees like potential criminals. But if you work for a company like mine, where the data is the company's life-blood I can completely understand why they'd want to keep your USB and other storage devices (like iPods) out of their space. (thin clients would have gone a long way towards solving this problem, but that's another discussion)

    • Re:Not so "absurd" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by therblig ( 543426 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:21AM (#9621140)
      To use a tired cliche, a security policy is as "strong as its weakest link." If people have access to web mail, CD burners, or other simple means of transferring data, then the policy is absurd. However, if strong security measures have been taken elsewhere, then this is perfectly reasonable, too.
    • Re:Not so "absurd" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by akaina ( 472254 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:32AM (#9621284) Journal
      That's all good and well, but there are these things that have been used for years to facilitate corporate espionage, they're called floppy disks.

      Also, what's the point of taking a watch? Unless they do a strip search, you'll always be able to get information out of the building.

    • Re:Not so "absurd" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ArbitraryConstant ( 763964 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:43AM (#9621414) Homepage
      I could steal the source to all my company's software and related documentation on my USB key. Of course, I could upload it to my home computer or some other site with no USB key. Who could tell the difference with SSH? Instead, they trust me. I signed the NDA and I honor it.
    • Re:Not so "absurd" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Yewbert ( 708667 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:45AM (#9621444)
      Not to skirt the question, but is this really "absurd overkill?" I'm sure that USB pens/watches/etc have been a boon to corporate espionage.

      I'm not yet sure if it's going to fall into the category of "absurd overkill," but at my workplace (a large FDA-regulated manufacturing and research facility), we've just disabled USB support entirely on the machines comprising our HVAC distributed control system. The reasons behind this are partly due to, first, questionable processes of vendor-support technicians using their USB thumb-drives to move system configuration files around from one network instance to another (which is perfectly reasonable and needed sometimes, it's just that they're doing it ad hoc without supervision and, under FDA regs, this raises the questions of 'how much control do we really have over our system?' and 'has the system's "validated" state been disturbed by this laxness?'), and second, as far as we've been able to tell, the anti-virus software we use doesn't automatically scan, say, thumb-drives when they mount (though it really seems that it should, and I still need to do some investigation there in my copious free time).

      On the side of the argument calling it all "absurd overkill" - this clamp-down just makes it that much more inconvenient for people using the system to do their job, while not really tightening security up that much, since most people who have access to the system in the first place can figure out plenty of work-arounds. (Hell, part of my job is figuring out those work-arounds - it's why they pay me the Big Bucks(TM), (yeah, right).)

    • by jackrd ( 787395 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:09AM (#9621729)
      Alert! A new device, known as a "Briefcase" has been increasing in popularity in the workplace. While useful for ordinary business it brings with it some sinister baggage. This nefarious device serves to conceal a large amount of objects, such as sensitive data and staplers, in a small space, enabling employee theft and espionage. While it's true that file folders have been commonplace in corporate environments for years, this new product threatens to bring unforeseen and catastrophic results. Ban it before your company falls apart and you have to spend the rest of your life living in the street trying to support your starving family.

      I do think it makes sense for companies that already employ policies like searching employee belongings and metal detectors to add USB storage devices (and any data storage medium for that matter) to the list of things they check for. If you really needed to bring one in, you could have some sort of approval/checking process. As far as most companies go, I think it makes sense to judge based on whether they seem to be causing problems in the workplace, and if so, banning them or finding some other way to fix the problems. I think it would be a good idea to do virus-checking on insertion of any removeable media.

      I thought this was a particularly interesting quote:
      "Another potential danger is that the devices -- that typically make use of USB and FireWire -- could be used to steal large amounts of company data as they are faster to download to than CDs."
      I think they've been watching too many movies. I highly doubt that most downloading of corporate data happens in a down-to-the-second race against corporate security. I think it's much more likely that most data is stolen by those with official access and all the time in the world. And I may be naive, but I think a corporate spy would be able to think of a better way to export data than an iPod.
  • by Gannoc ( 210256 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:11AM (#9621009)
    In that case, I know it was absurd overkill ... but is this concern a legitimate concern? No more music on the way into the office?"

    No, its just a matter of scale. There are no real legitimate concerns, but every company will balance employee happiness vs the 1 in 10000 chance something will go horribly wrong with a USB watch, and just ban everything outright.

    • The Pen Drive
      written by Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary

      Captain Koons: Hello, little man. Boy, I sure heard a bunch about you. See, I was a good friend of your dad's. We were in that .com pit of hell together over five years. Hopefully...you'll never have to experience this yourself, but when two men are in a situation like me and your Dad were, for as long as we were, you take on certain responsibilities of the other. If it had been me who had not made it, Major Coolidge would be talkin' right n

  • A valid concern (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slusich ( 684826 ) * <slusich&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:11AM (#9621011)
    I work for a casino, and we don't allow our employees to bring in such devices either. I'm sure it still happens, but such policies are important when your customer database is vital to your income.
  • Common Policy (Score:5, Informative)

    by hypnotik ( 11190 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:11AM (#9621013) Homepage
    My father works in the Aerospace industry. He is required to leave his iPAQ at the front door every day.

    Is this overkill? Perhaps. But sometimes such heavyhanded policies make sense, especially when it comes to making war.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:11AM (#9621014) Homepage
    corperate just recently issued 1GB thumb drives to all employees. we find it's easier for the users to back up their own crap and transfer it that way.

    teaching a user about network storage or even using the IRDA file transfer was unsucessful... yet these dolts took to using the thumb drives like it was second nature.

    so now usb storage devices are required and issued to users.
    • Mod this guy up ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by YankeeInExile ( 577704 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:16AM (#9621079) Homepage Journal

      That is interesting (that your users were confused by using a network file share, but found the thumb drives intuitive.)

      Is it the fact that there is a physical artifact that makes the idea of "your files are going here" easier to map into their worldview? UI Designers Take Note. This might be on the test.

      • by haystor ( 102186 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:24AM (#9621177)
        That would be my guess. After supporting a customer service system as a programmer and trying to pull troubleshooting information out of them for a while I learned that they think in terms of location.

        They would say things like, "This data isn't in this program." They thought of the data as being in a specific program. If all their programs stopped retreiving data at once they would tell me that all the programs were broken rather than the database was down. No amount of explanation could convince them the data was in the database. For their purposes their view of things was perfectly appropriate I suppose, but it didn't help troubleshooting.
      • by Short Circuit ( 52384 ) <mikemol@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:47AM (#9621470) Homepage Journal
        A cheaper, and more secure, alternative would be to use a floppy disk as an ID device. They put it in, their network map shows up, they copy the data. They remove the device, their network map disappears, and they go home.

        It has several advantages...first, they don't have to remember to "disconnect" the flash drive. Less chance of losing data. Second, you still have that mental association between the data and the floppy. Third, the data is on a central server, where backups are made regularly. Fourth...the floppy could be formatted to only, say, 512 bytes of data. (I'm sure you can tweak superformat's settings to do that...) Nowhere near enough space to remove sensitive data from the premisis, let alone a normal filesystem.)

        And if the user loses his floppy, issue him a new "key" and his old data. If you want, add some sort of CRC to the numerical key on the floppy, so that data corruption is less of a risk. Or put a backup of your only sector on the other side of the disk.
    • teaching a user about network storage or even using the IRDA file transfer was unsucessful... yet these dolts took to using the thumb drives like it was second nature.

      Wow...that's some dumb users. We tell ours to "put your files on your H: drive, or they won't be backed up." For 95% of our users, that seems to work pretty well. For the other 5%...even thumb drives would do nothing more than collect drool.

  • Not so new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:11AM (#9621015) Journal
    I used to work at a government defense contractor and this type of policy was standard there. No CD players, no radios, nothing with any type electronics could be brought in just in case they could somehow be used as a transmitter or to steal data or something. Oddly enough, floppies could be used. Go figure.
  • Come again? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:12AM (#9621024) Homepage Journal
    I recently came into contact with a similar policy at a consulting firm that was concerned that top-secret information might escape through my USB watch, and made me leave it at the front desk every day. In that case, I know it was absurd overkill ...

    How is that overkill? Sounds like a common-sense move for a firm that wants to take steps so that sensitive information doesn't just walk out the door. It's not that much different than walking in with a USB CD burner under your arm.
    • Re:Come again? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sane? ( 179855 )
      Guess what. The really valuable information walks in and out of the building every day, and goes with you when you get sick of the big brother policies and finally leave.

      Its in your head, and it can't be checked at the door.

      At least it *shouldn't* be checked at the door, but for those that put these types of policy in place which do more harm than good - well maybe it does.

  • Second step? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:12AM (#9621026)
    Seems to me the first step should be to disable USB on machines which do not need it in the BIOS then lock the BIOS....
    • Re:Second step? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by scrytch ( 9198 ) <chuck@myrealbox.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:35AM (#9621324)
      Disable removable storage, disable addition of new devices by normal users. Presto. Now they can't tunnel their secrets out to their cell phone with a usb bluetooth adaptor either. However, wherever there is the ability to transmit information -- that's information in the theory sense, as in a single bit corresponding to agreed upon relevant data -- you're going to have covert channels. Short of sticking folks onto standalone computers in a faraday cage (i.e. SCI) you're going to have covert channels. Heck, even then if you personally trust the guy leaking the secrets, that info is carried out in the brain. Just that "take my word for it" isn't usually considered good intel (unless you're George W. Bush looking for WMD's)
    • Re:Second step? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:01AM (#9621634) Homepage Journal
      Typical heavy handed IT lunacy. You're making it harder to use a possibly essential device on a machine you didn't know might need it, creating more work for yourself while gaining little to no security, as potential theives would just go to a machine that didn't have USB disabled.

      I've been subverting this type of network policy since second grade, and it's easy because it lulls you into a false sense of security. "I don't have to worry about X machine, I've locked it down!" Meanwhile, us grade school kids are running video games through the shell in WordPerfect.

      Want a secure network? Stop with the locks and start with the spies. Befriend your users and make them your eyes and ears. Remind them not to trust anybody [dasmegabyte.org] and help them identify suspicious activities. Most of all, make them care. That's tough to do. But unlike being an asshole, it actually works.
    • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @12:36PM (#9622743)
      Seems to me the first step should be to disable USB on machines which do not need it in the BIOS then lock the BIOS....

      Sounds like a good idea. This should keep those crum-bums from stealing data from my workstation with their USB dri- hey, why did my mouse stop working???
  • by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:12AM (#9621034) Homepage Journal

    I recently came into contact with a similar policy at a consulting firm that was concerned that top-secret information might escape through my USB watch, and made me leave it at the front desk every day.

    That's actually pretty generous if you're actually serious about the information the consultant handled being Top Secret. Even if it isn't, that's a much better alternative (for you) than being "let go" because you continued to wear a prohibited device after being told not to.

  • Well, that's a pretty legitimate complaint, especially if you work in a secure building. You can't just be coming in and out with a portable hard drive and copying mechanism every day if you have secret clearance and work on DOD stuff, so it makes sense that other companies would follow suit. Besides, it's not like CD players, tape players, mp3 cd players, radios, live365.com, etc. don't exist! Just like checking your guns before entering a saloon makes sense, so does this. Sure, you might not use it, but if you did, people would sue.
  • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:14AM (#9621052)
    ...or are you just glad to see me?

    Seriously, the barn door's been open and the horse halfway to Topeka on this one for a while. Who needs an iPod? I've been carrying around virtually my entire business on one of these things [diskonkey.com] for over a year. Sure, take away my music player, phone, key chain, watch, whatever, I'm a big boy and you pay me enough to play along, but at what point short of a strip search and replacing the pink-haired receptionist with a Brinks guard to watch over the stash does this policy become a smidge unwieldy?

    (However, I do throw my whole-hearted support behind any policy which confiscates iPods (or sunglasses, for that matter) from any too-cool-for-the-room tool who doesn't stow them shortly after he enters the building...)
  • Not "absurd" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eagle7 ( 111475 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:14AM (#9621056) Homepage
    Banning personal portable storage devices (iPods, USB, powerful calculators w/ a computer connection, etc) is pretty much standard (and smart!) pratice when either government or industry classified/proprietary information is available. The risks are simply too great... the chance of soldiers dying due to a security violation or a company going under due to industrial espionage greatly trumps your desire to have a silly USB watch on your wrist all the time. If you don't like that reality, then don't take jobs that put you in contact with that sort of information in the first place.
  • by flowerp ( 512865 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:16AM (#9621077)
    The German c't magazine recently had a short article about disabling the USB storage driver for non-administrator users on Windows 2000 and XP - effectively eliminating the security risk. This policy could be enforced by any system administrator on all desktops. Similar things could be done for Firewire ports and storage devices that attach to it. Basically it works by making the driver non-readable and non-executable for the average Joe Schmoe user logging into the system.

    Bring your own USB sticks? No problem. Can't use em anymore ;)

    • Plenty of corporations are having a hard enough time rolling out security patches out to the machines on their network using a remote console (ie, can hit all those machines from one location). How likely would it be that they'd *physically* get to *each* machine, change the BIOS to ensure that it disables the USB ports and lock the BIOS?

      Even outside of that logistic nightmare, you'd have to remain vigilante for new/old machines.

      But even if you do get a draconian policy in place, what stops a spy from cr
    • Does not prevent someone from booting up with a Knoppix CD and accessing the network and a USB key.
  • by mirio ( 225059 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:17AM (#9621084)
    You know, I could bypass such security precautions very easily with a USB keyfob and tightly squeezed buttocks....
    • Yes and no.

      Assume, for a moment, the information were truly worth classifying. And, for a moment, we'll assume that USB connectivity would be a requirement for other functions.

      If I ban all USB keyfobs, pens, watches, and plush dolls, then having a USB keyfob, pen, watch, etc. would not be "normal." If I see a coworker pulling one out of his butt (literally, in your example), a red flag would be raised, and, as a good employee, I would contact the appropriate security officer. Its mere presence would be th
  • by M-2 ( 41459 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:17AM (#9621085) Homepage

    At one point the corporate machine-support staff tried to set up the following:

    • All laptops in the building must be formatted to the corporate image (personal or not, connected to the network or not)
    • All PDAs had to be hard-reset before leaving the building unless your manager approved it
    • Any other device with a USB port had to be opened and checked by the desktop support group

    The sneaky bastards kept trying to steal my laptop, my PDA and my Nomad Jukebox to do this. I kept catching them and throwing them out of my cube (at one point, literally, as he refused to leave until he had formatted my laptop's hard drive and I had to roll him out in my chair and overturn it in the corridor).

    Finally, they stopped that after they did this to an senior VP and erased the powerpoint presentation he had on his laptop. Heads rolled for THAT little debacle. The funny part was that his machine was already work-provided, he just didn't work in our building, so they didn't know him...

  • by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot@j a w t h e s h ark.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:17AM (#9621089) Homepage Journal
    I work as a contractor at a bank. Now, they are extremely paranoid about data being carried out of the bank. The only thing is: they aren't consequent. Yeah, they locked down the internet. Nobody can access it unless, you go on a second network that has internet access. No PC here has a CD drive (so no importing of your favourite games, screensavers and other crap and warez)

    But they do allow diskettes (friggin diskettes! Do you know how much customer data you can put on a diskette?). Then I also found out that the "internet-network" (which only internals have access to with a NT username/password) operates simply on DHCP, no MAC address checking: the only "security-check" is the NT-Domain login. Why did I find this out? Simple: these morons allow contractors to have laptops, so I once just plugged it in that network. Worked instantly. Now there is a security concern in my eyes! For crying out loud, I have a Mac, I don't even need a crosscable to pump over data from my work-PC to my Mac. Imagine what kind of data I could take away with that! Nobody evere stopped me at the entrance/exit with my laptop bag. Nobody.

    You see, if you want security, you need to ban every device that can be networked somehow. It's that simple. Yes, this includes your iPod. So, I supect that this is only a great concern in governmental instituation (top-secret clearance), but in the "highly sensitive environment" of banking they don't get it at all.

    Hey, I pointed out their flaws and I was told to shut up.

  • by bodrell ( 665409 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:18AM (#9621094) Journal
    Yes, iPods and USB watches are security concerns for many companies. But if an employee wants to do their employer damage, an iPod is not required. I think it's more dangerous to treat employees with distrust, because it makes them much more likely to scheme of more malicious ways to cause trouble.

    Those in charge of company security should remember that these same employees bringing in iPods are the ones who were issued key cards to get into the building. Companies have no choice but to give their workers the benefit of the doubt.

  • Overkill (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Afty0r ( 263037 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:18AM (#9621098) Homepage
    I recently came into contact with a similar policy at a consulting firm that was concerned that top-secret information might escape through my USB watch, and made me leave it at the front desk every day. In that case, I know it was absurd overkill ...
    How is that overkill? You have a device capable of introducing viral agents/trojans, or of covertly copying half a gigabyte of compressed data every day you work there, from systems designated "top-secret", and you think it is unreasonable for them to ask you to leave it at the door?
    I think it's unreasonable that someone like you is allowed near a facility containing "top secret" information.
  • by Luckboy ( 152985 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:18AM (#9621100)
    You know, if your employees actually CARE about hooking up their iPods or other MP3 players at work, you should be more concerned about what your employees are actually DOING, as opposed to what data could be stolen. My iPod's Library is managed by my home machine, not my work machine, and the only reason I bring it inside is to keep it out of my hot car during the day. I don't even bring a cable that would be compatible.

    I'll just burn the site licensed software to CD and take it home that way...
  • by thewiz ( 24994 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:19AM (#9621120)
    Most military bases have banned PDAs, USB Flash drives, iPods (and variants), cell phones, and any other device that can be connected to a computer and can store data. Some have even gone as far as removing diskette drives and banning CD-RW and DVD-RW drives on new systems. I have seen incidents where people decided to put classified military data on a flash drive or floppy to take it home to work on it. This happened even after people sign an agreement and go through repeated training sessions where they spell out what will happen if they do something like this.

    Corporations are having to deal with this same problem as portable devices can now be used to store data or take pictures that could compromise sensitive data. However, this has always been an issue. A systems administrator could walk out of work with and 4mm or 8mm tape full of sensitive/classified data and no one would know. It boils down to a matter of trust and integrity; do you trust the people who use/administer your systems? Have they shown the integrity in other matters that would indicate they can be trusted with more sensitive matters?

    Unfortunately, it only takes one person in a sensitive position to screw it up for everyone else.
  • by phearlez ( 769961 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:21AM (#9621135)
    Not in some movie - Cringley wrote about seeing a man walk into CompUSA, plug his 1st gen iPod into a mac there and drag the MS Office folders onto it. The article claimed (I have no idea how true it is/was) that Office will re-establish the system folder items necessary so this amounted to a perfect and complete copy of the software.

    That said, certainly the benign uses outnumber the malicious ones. The question is, if you have other data control policies, do you need to CYA by having this ban so you can respond to suspicious activities decisively? I also think comparisons to more easily concealed USB key devices isn't reasonable - I can't fit a large ACT! database of contacts on one of those but I can on a 40g devices.
    • The article claimed (I have no idea how true it is/was) that Office will re-establish the system folder items necessary

      It's true. The installation process for Office on a Mac consists of one step: "Drag this folder to your Applications folder."

      As much as I hate to admit it, Microsoft's Mac team is pretty good.

  • by HappyFunnyFoo ( 586089 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:21AM (#9621144)
    Do corporations outlaw email because someone could smuggle an important corporate document through a simple email attachment? You can put a heck of a lot of info on a single freemail attachment in a text file, and / or use a corporate POP3 mailserver too. Do corporations also outlaw CD-Rs because they could be used to copy important data? Do corporations outlaw floppy discs? And, above all, do corporations give their employees a darned internet connection to begin with? What about the internet itself? If someone is truly paranoid about security, it'd be more effective to plug already existing giant holes in security, and completely strip their employees of all the fundamental tools of the information age. It's hard to prevent the exchange of information on the computer: after all, a computer is a device specifically designed for just that purpose, anyways. If someone goes through all the trouble to smuggle files on an iPod when he could simply PGP encrypt them over email, it would be an act of stupidity anyways. Conclusively, it's a bad idea banning the iPods from offices. -Foo
  • by lachlan76 ( 770870 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:21AM (#9621147)
    Because you can't always just assume that a hacker is stealing information every time, it's realistic to assume that someone in your organisation would give away information for the right price.

    The malware aspect though, from my viewpoint though is FUD, because (as far as I know), iPods and flash memory sticks don't run software when you plug them in. I could be wrong though. But I know people who have had 200+ spyware apps, and it's never happened to them. 200 isn't that much compared to some, but I've known him a few years, and being the only Open source guy he knows should give me some influence. Just remember, the weakest link is always the people.

    And, for the record, my friend now had dumped IE, and moved to Firefox. It's offtopic I know, but I spent an hour browsing Secunia tonight, and set up a couple of the exploits (IE is vulnerable to all the ones I tried), so I know how easy it is to bring Malware onto a windows box. In short, I'm scared shitless, and anyone who brings in data from a source which hasn't been checked is just asking for trouble. Perhaps if the networks moved to a platform that was less truoblesome ;)

    It's my opinion though, that you can either trust an employee, or you can't. If you trust someone with the data, you should not worry about their iPod, or not trust them in the first place.
  • by petard ( 117521 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:24AM (#9621178) Homepage
    Companies should consider hiring trusted professionals. If you hire quality, professional employees and explain the policy against putting corporate data on personal devices, this should not be a problem.

    Believe it or not, most professionals want to do a good job and take pride in their work. If you set reasonable policies and explain them clearly, most will want to follow them.

    Do you want to grant someone enough access to your data that they could copy it onto an iPod if you don't trust them to abide by your policies? If they have that kind of access to the data, copying it to an iPod is far from the only or best way to get it out, and you're just adding an inconvenience to your employees' lives without meaningfully increasing your own security. If you believe that banning these devices would help, your problems run much deeper and you should rethink the way you're doing business.
    • It's a tough problem to solve, that's for sure. I'll bet close to every single corporate spy on the planet is the very model of a high-quality, professional employee.

      I'm certain all of them will gaze with a steady stare and nod gravely when you explain the corporate policy against data on personal devices.

      And I'm convinced if you have a policy against bringing such devices to the workplace, you'll never ever see one carrying one.

      The "solution" of banning the devices is the wrong one, I'll grant you, but the companies here probably just can't think of anything else to do that's as easy as the stroke of a pen in the rulebook. Hiring employees you can trust is done exactly how? How do you know you can trust them? How long does someone have to work for you before you -know- they're not going to burn you?

      There were Soviet spies who lived as "normal" Americans for decades before becoming active. With all the money in corporate espionage at stake, I'm sure you could find a few poeple who would work to become trusted for years, until they could strike, possibly gaining access to more data the entire time.

    • During the 70's, the Soviets bought a hunting cottage that was within line of sight of two AT&T microwave transmission towers. These towers were the long-distance telephone link between Silicon Valley and a number of US Gov't facilities, like Edwards AFB and various national labs.

      The Soviets were able to record almost every telephone call made over those lines for about 6-7 years!

      Now while the Soviets are gone, plenty of other groups, including competing companies, poking their eyes and ears where the
  • More at the movies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by randomErr ( 172078 ) <ervin@kosch.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:26AM (#9621202) Journal
    Remember last year, the movie 'The Recruit'? One of its big premises was that a CIA agent was smuggling out data; but they couldn't figure out who was stealing the information, and how. The smuggling device turned out to a common USB flash drive hidden under a coffee thermos's seal. The USB drive didn't come up in the CIA scans because the drive wasn't active; the inactive drive wasn't giving off any EM for them to detect.

    I think USB, IR, and now 802.11 devices and Bluetooth enabled cell phones could be a real concern for data centric firms.

    As a side thought, companies may begin to ban cell phones as well. Late last year SlashDot had an article about a cell phone detection device made in Israel. People were leaving modified cell phone in planters. The modified phones would transmit the conversation of anyone in the room for about a week. Thus making a cheap spy toy.
  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:29AM (#9621246) Homepage Journal
    In much the same way as the demise of Napster brought about the end of filesharing, banning iPods from work will wipe out corporate secret stealing. Nobody will ever think to tunnel data through SSH, copy data onto floppies, USB keychain storage devices, portable laptops, or magnetic tape. Surely, nobody will upload information to their Palm or Windows CE handheld devices; nobody will print out data and take it home; nobody will call someone on the telephone and read them data over the phone.

    Man, they've sure got all their bases covered!

    - A.P.
  • by callipygian-showsyst ( 631222 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:30AM (#9621252) Homepage
    ...has "tighented" security by, among other things, setting the Windows policy so that shares can't be created.

    The result? Now everyone walks around with a USB drive to move files around, or they email them to and from gmail, etc. (OR they use their iPods/Dell Pods, SonyPods)

    So the system, overall, is a LOT less secure because all the company's assets are kicking around in email and USB thumb drives. But the folks in IT can cluck their tounges and think they did something useful.

  • by grolaw ( 670747 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:31AM (#9621271) Journal
    If a ban on static memory / portable drives is in place at your company then you have no business with one.

    Of course, hiding the devices in hilighter pens and the handle to your coffee mug isn't too hard.

    What the ban does is make all possession of these devices improper in the workplace.

    What is the maskwork for your new chip worth? What is it worth to a competitor? How do you move the data?

    If the two idiots at AOL and Vegas had scammed the userbase this way they might not have been caught.

    Nope, the advent of portable RAM drives means that these devices will be used improperly.

    OH, on a personal note: only a genuine geek has a USB watch. It will (eventually) wind up in that dresser drawer reserved for the calculator watch, the last 7 cell phones, 5 PDAs, pen cams, dead MtBlanc pens, old swag and $200.00 in odd pocket change.
  • by jea6 ( 117959 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:34AM (#9621315)
    My company works with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing [moneyfactory.com] (the folks who print the bills). The Bureau issues transparent vinyl purses and packs for employees to carry their lunch and belongings. This makes it easier to see whether somebody is walking off with sheets of un-cut currency [treas.gov].

    We also worked with the US Mint [usmint.gov] (the folks who mint the coinage). They told a story about metal detectors tied to biometrics that were so sensitive that when a woman became pregnant, the changes in the metal chemistry of her blood (increased iron, etc...) were enough to have to retake the biometric scan. That one always seemed apocryphal to me (but a very cool concept nonetheless).
  • by baadfood ( 690464 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:35AM (#9621318)
    For better or worse, personal storage is going to increase. Cellphones, watches, ipods, all these things are becomming increasingly necessary to remain competativly productive in the modern world. Companies that dont figure out how to allow employees to use PDAs or cellphones or USB thumbdrives are going to find themselves at a disadvantage relative to companies that allow their employees to discover new ways to increase their productivity.
  • by Whatchamacallit ( 21721 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:36AM (#9621341) Homepage
    USB / Firewire Devices / Cell Phones with Cameras / etc. etc.

    - USB pen drives can quickly and easily store data without a trace and they are small enough to hide just about anywhere. A spammer was arrested in Ireland in a Internet cafe and the man tried to swallow the USB key drive. It contained all the spammer's software and mailing lists.

    A PC in a corporate office could be booted up using a USB key drive and literally used to run hacker tools. (well same could be done with a CD-R but that's beside the point). It's faster and easier to slip a USB device into an office situation unless you are going to be frisked and metal detected or body cavity searched.

    Hackers have been slipping XBoxes, Sega Dreamcast, etc. into an office and jacking it into the ethernet to perform network analysis and packet sniffing.

    - Firewire devices like the iPod have tremendous storage abilities. It truly is a portable hard disk that masquerades as a personal music device. There was an article a while back where the author witnessed a kid waltz into CompUSA with an iPod and the kid jacked it into a PowerMac and stole a complete copy of Office X from the floor model!

    - Phones with mini-digital cameras can be used like a 007 James Bond mini camera. A police officer was fired for taking a photo of a naked body in the city morgue with his camera phone.

    As technology gets better and better and the costs drop, the spy toys of yesteryear are now in the hands of joe blow.

    True corporate espionage is going on every day. These tools make it easier an easier to steal data. Security folks who see the threat and take measures against it are enlightened. However, all security measures can be bypassed one way or another.

    I am not even sure if there is a way to restrict USB/Firewire drives from working on a PC as long as it's running Windows. Seriously doubt many companies have thought about these issues.

    I do know my company had the opportunity to give everyone a CD burner on their computers. This would have been ideal for user backups. But they sighted security as the reason why they did not.
  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:43AM (#9621416)
    Geez...if you let people install hardware or software on your computer then the computer really isn't yours.

    Most corporate policies prohibit non-admins from installing hardware and software for STABILITY reasons. That alone should dictate policy on iPods and other such devices.

  • by pvera ( 250260 ) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:43AM (#9621419) Homepage Journal
    In my first novel, "Shining Star," (released under a Creative Commons license, free download at http://pedrovera.com/media/shiningstar.pdf [pedrovera.com] ) a soon-to-be defector carried a bunch of classified material out of a NOC by using his iPod as a firewire drive. He was one of the NOC techs, so he was expected to be in the equipment rooms messing with hardware.

    He would go and swap some tapes, then run a psync from a server into the iPod. He did this a few times and did not get caught.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:43AM (#9621423) Homepage
    That's why I got the subdermal implant with 16mb flash and bluetooth. Just copy data to my stomach and walk out, search all you want.

  • by mritunjai ( 518932 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:55AM (#9621573) Homepage

    I work in India in a major software park. The company in the oppposite quadrant is a typicall BPO company and they have a LARGE poster stuck outside the entrace - "Please get checked and declare all your belongings at security". Several friends too told of similar rules in their companies.

    In short, for BPO firms, the data of their clients is of utmost importance. Even CEO of the company is required to go through the mandatory check! Internet access is locked down. No CDROM/CDRW/Floppy/USB/Firewire ! Even printer access is restricted and fully logged and accounted for!

    You can get fired for trying to access an irrelevent site (eg Yahoo briefcase), forget about bringing in that 40GB iPod or your favorite USB key.

    Oh yeah, did I tell you that even cameras are forbidden and you'd be handed over to police if you're seen taking a "group picture" with your team mates in the office! A camera phone can send you in for good.

    Folks, its sometimes business *requirement* not to allow such kind of things. You want to listen to music ? Fine, bring along a vanilla walkman/discman/portable MP3 CD player whatever... just leave the fancy gadgets behind and you'll be fine.

    Fortunately I work in a company that has fairly open policies and our data is our own, so the rules are less stringent... no CDRW/USB drive, but still very open policies.
  • by morgue-ann ( 453365 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:00AM (#9621621)
    My company does digital camera chips and firmware. We were bought by a company that had a "no personal storage devices" policy.

    Every person's desk has at least one card reader and a drawer full of CompactFlash, SmartMedia and SD cards.

    They bought another company that relies on storage cards & moved 'em to the main office so this violation of the employee manual is happening there too, giving the verbal amendment (Director-level people saying "don't worry") to the employment contract more teeth. It would be hard to fire someone for a violation with 20 other violators going free.
  • by derfla8 ( 195731 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:00AM (#9621623)
    Corporate espionage is something that is feared; however, all this really does in inconvenience those who are using these devices legitimately. I would trust that in an organization who has a real security concern, that they would have appropriate ACLs in place so that data theft would be limited to what the user that already has security clearance.

    Now if you have already cleared someone to be viewing and working with such data, you have much bigger problems than fearing them stealing it with a USB device. It's like trusting your employees with your business in their day to day operations but keeping office supplies under lock and key. It just doesn't make sense. If someone is intent on ripping you off, they would't go for the small stuff. Similiarly, if your business depends on these people who have access to such "crown jewel" data you'd better hope that you have a good hiring process and that you are keeping your employees happy.

    A side rant: so you're all concerned about people with USB devices; yet, you're fine with shipping your data off to some foreign land for outsourcing. Hmmm... If only the world were based on logic!
  • by BStorm ( 107974 ) <bill@NOSPam.mcleansoftware.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:26AM (#9621935)
    The barn door has always been open. Same old problem just a different set of devices. What has changed is the ease, speed and volume of information that can be copied. Think of the fear that was generated in paranoid organizations after the wholesale adoption of photocopiers.

    A organization can best deal with the issue by treating their workers with a sense of respect. It will not prevent the employees with criminal intent from stealing information but innoculate honest workers from feeling a sense of entitlement.

    A possible technological fix is to ensure that copying data to/from a removable device is logged. This does not prevent the employee from taking work home but does allow for a system administrator to track where the data is going. However this means nothing unless the logs are reviewed. It is essentially a file-nanny.

    It does require that a security policy that is appropiate for the organizational goals and for departmental specifica goals.

  • by GreyyGuy ( 91753 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:45AM (#9622153)
    Until the company outlaws laptops that people take home, calling an iPod or other portable data device a security risk is absurd.
  • by qazwart ( 261667 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @12:13PM (#9622495) Homepage
    If you can't bring in your USB watch, how about my bluetooth cell phone? Okay, bluetooth technology isn't as common as USB, but my phone can hold a gigabyte of data. Plus, it has a camera, so I can take pictures of secured areas.

    How can your office stop someone from bringing in their cell phone? Or a USB key on their keychain? Or their PDA?

    I'd hate to be responsible for corporate data security now with all of these devices floating around. Someone could discretely download a lot of data onto their key chain. Heck, it is even easier with my bluetooth phone. I don't even need a wired connection, just be with in 15 feet of my PC. I don't even have to be near my PC in order to download data.

    A few years ago, I worked for a large financial corporation when someone stole the HR database and sold it to idenity thieves. Hundreds of us "highly compensated" employees suddently discovered that someone was using our identity to buy electronic hardware, get bank loans, etc.

    It took me five months to clean up the mess, and I was lucky. I found out about it the very day it happened because one of the stores that gave this guy instant credit called me to verify if I had just applied for credit.

    Still, in a twelve hour period, that person went to over 3 dozen different stores from Atlantic City to Philidelphia getting instant credit and buying over $200,000 of goodies. I could literally figure out which roads he took by looking at the various times he hit the stores and applied for credit.

    Other people weren't so lucky because they didn't find out about it until either a collection agent called, or they were denied credit because of this attack.

    And who was the person who gave the information to the thief? Heck, it could have been almost any lowly paid clerk in HR. If you're only making $30,000 per year, someone offers you $100K or so for this kind of information, and you know the likelyhood of you getting caught is almost nill, what would you do?

    Millions of employees with access to valuable data, and hundreds of ways to get around corporate security. Maybe 99.99% of your employees are dedicated, hardworking, and honest, but it's the other .01 percent that will destroy you.
  • by Blic ( 672552 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @12:27PM (#9622645)
    This is probably expected at any sort of secure military or defense contracting site.

    I remember helping my father burn a CD full of MP3s once so he'd have something to listen to in the secure section where he worked. No portable radios or music players were allowed, no PDAs, no portable storage devices, nothing. The systems didn't have floppy drives or recordable CD drives and (obviously) weren't on the internet. I think that's just standard operating procedure.

    For the private sector, depends on the paranoia level I guess. You could fit a lot of data on a 40GB iPod... =)

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