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USB Security / Encryption

Definition

USB security / encryption is a technology that uses encryption for USB  in order to prevent unauthorized access to data and to malware infection. Encryptionis the process of transforming information into a form that cannot be read without the possession of special knowledge, referred to as a key.

User Benefits

The purpose of encryption is to ensure that the information remains private from anyone not authorized to read it, even from those who may have access to the encrypted data.
Using this type of technology companies can protect information saved on encrypted USB devices. This type of devices are high-performance removable storage devices with built-in hardware based encryption and authentication available in a wide variety of flash and hard drive capacities and can integrated support for one-time passwords, biometric, etc. These devices also provide the ability to create customized, managed, portable, and secure business application environments that run directly from the device. This way, persistent security is maintained for all data and interactions, regardless of the user access point. These devices also provide the option for a complete virus and malware threat detection.

Business Impact

This technology allows organizations to proactively secure proprietary and sensitive data. This enterprise-class solution mitigates the risk associated with uncontrolled and unmanaged USB drives.
Credentials and keys are securely stored on the USB device in protected space and never leave the device. There is also an option to store additional certificates and other credentials such as soft on the encrypted devices. Multiple options are available for data recovery if a user is not able to provide their original credentials. Zero footprint and complete independence from the operating system environment with no special software installation, all what is needed is a free USB port.
A company can manage the installation of important business applications directly onto the secure devices, creating a reusable, portable, completely secure working environment for users that they can run anywhere they go.


Products supporting this technology

McAfee

USB flash drives are a fundamental component of today's business environment. These drives are simple in design and consisting of a re-writable memory chip along with the standard USB connector. They are very small and can be easily placed on a key chain. Because the devices are so small and susceptible to theft, they can be easily lost, stolen or fraudulently used for malicious purposes.

Making it both convenient and easy to move massive amounts of data from virtually any computer to another, these tiny yet powerful devices improve workforce mobility and productivity-which, in turn, increases business agility and boosts the bottom line.

According to a recent study from Gartner, a prominent research firm, nearly 80 million of these units were sold last year alone. Flash drives are cheap, portable and easy to use so is normally to be so popular. These devices have a much greater purpose other than attaching to traditional storage devices. They have the ability to connect a computer to a mouse, keyboard, printer, and many other peripheral items.

 What is surprising is the fact that most consumers who purchased these items did so with little thought in regard to the drive’s security structure.  At the same time, however, flash drives often fall outside the protective perimeter of the enterprise IT infrastructure.  While the corporate network and its servers, desktops, and laptops are hardened against external and internal attack, USB flash drives are not. In fact, few IT managers even know who is using a flash drive and how they are using it.

In past years the loss of hundreds of thousands of confidential information were the result of misplaced or stolen flash drives involving hospitals and healthcare providers, government agencies, corporations, etc. The USB flash drives can contain everything from Social Security numbers and personally identifiable information to financial data, credit card numbers, and sensitive medical records.

Reducing the risk of data leakage through USB drives enables organizations to not only protect their reputation but also meet internal and external guidelines for information security. For example, financial companies are tasked with demonstrating compliance with laws such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), while healthcare providers and insurers must address the demands of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for protecting electronic health information (EHI). For credit card companies and merchants, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a priority, and sections of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) aim at securing IT infrastructures and sensitive corporate data. In Europe, the EU Data Protection Directive and Basel II set recommendations for the secure handling of information.

One of the most effective tools for minimizing the risk of data loss and leakage via USB flash drives are hardware-based encryption and password protection. The combination of USB encryption and password protection makes it difficult for unauthorized users to access data if the drive is lost or stolen and when used in combination with virus scanning, encryption and password protection offer a formidable defense against security risks.

But, simple data loss is not the only potential threat to unsecured USB drive use. As is often the case, attackers have become more creative. Because of the USB proliferation in the enterprise, along with their small form factor, USB drives are becoming more popular as a vector for spreading malware.

USB drives are easy targets given that they are small enough to easily plug into computers. Also, such a threat can bypass the other security measures an organization has taken to mitigate malicious code risks.

As the use of flash drives grows and USB device-borne threats increases, enterprises must limit the propagation of such threats through a multi-tiered defense that includes anti-virus scanning. Not only must every file that is saved or copied to the USB drive be scanned, but the host must also be scanned whenever the USB device is inserted. With this layer of protection in place on the USB drive, organizations can be sure that their network and USB flash drives are virus-free.

In most cases, data loss and malware infection resulting from USB drives is not intentional. More often than not, an employee or user innocently used a device without realizing the potential harm to the organization. These users are not security experts and are often simply unaware of any internal policies and the implications of unsecured USB drives.  Cases are easy to imagine. Maybe it is necessary to exchange presentations via thumb drive between colleagues. Or perhaps an employee own one or more of these devices and find them as a convenient means of transferring information from the desktop to the laptop computer.   

The more recent data encryption solutions enable laptop or desktop computers to encrypt data before it is completely written to a storage unit such as a USB drive. This is a feature found in many software-based encryption products. Devices using encryption software can be configured in a way that enforces strong security policies and prevents unauthorized users from surrounding the process.

Some provide access to the internet along with additional protection as you surf the web. The strength of USB security manages account passwords, granting you with easy access to your favorite network sites. Many encrypted flash drives also support data backups and keep you protected against common internet threats, such as spyware and financial scams. All of these features are packed within a tiny device that allows you to take the contents of your computer anywhere.

Although file encryption has proven to be an efficient method of USB security, flash drives that contain built-in cryptographic algorithms or biometric authentication schemes account for less than 10% of those sold on the market. Figures are clear - many consumers simply do not take reliable security implementations into consideration.

While the numbers are increasing, experts are confident that these statistics will change as more personal users and large corporations understand the risks behind the use of unprotected drives. This factor has already taken effect as more government and IT-related environments prohibit staff members from using flash drives that are not encrypted.

While encryption provides the best first line of defense against data loss, encrypted USBs enables organizations to go beyond encryption and ensure users comply with security policies and mitigates the risk associated with uncontrolled and unmanaged USB drives.

Organizations of all vertical industries need to implement policies, but they also need technologies that ensure the highest degree of USB security without impacting the productivity and mobility benefits of USB drives, including antivirus, USB encryption, and password protection.

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