Should Businesses Still Use USB/Flash Drives?

Does the convenience outweigh the security risk?

USB flash drives have become ubiquitous over the past 10 years, and as the amount of storage capacity they offer increases, they've replaced CDs and DVDs as the de-facto physical data storage medium.

Unfortunately, with their increase in popularity they have become more attractive to criminals and thieves. Most businesses today do not rely on physical media like they used to; gone are they days of using floppies or zip drives to share files or to access them offsite.

The alternative businesses have turned to is NAS storage, offsite storage, or cloud storage (usually in some combination). Those storage options offer a lot more reliability than flash drives, and in combination with encrypted workstations provide much more security.

See how NAS, offsite or cloud storage in combination with encrypted workstations compare to flash drives in the following scenarios:

A File Becomes Corrupt

This may have happened to you: an important report has to be completed and you take it home on a flash drive to finish it. Upon returning to work the next day, the file refuses to open or opens and instead of the report, you're greeted with garbled text and symbols. The files are corrupted. Corruption can occur anytime a file is saved, copied, or moved. It doesn't happen often, but when it does happen it seems to always be at the worst time. If you discovered your TPS Report was corrupt and...

  • You were using a flash drive - there are not many recovery options available to you.

  • You were using your company's shared drive - you can alert your IT staff that the file is corrupt and hopefully they can restore it from backup.

  • You were using the online storage service provided through your company - you can usually restore an older version yourself by selecting the file and choosing the option to restore a previous version.

Documents Which Have Multiple Contributors

Often we have to work as a team to complete a report or fill out a spreadsheet. Emailing updates back and forth is sloppy because if two people work on it at once, you end up having to merge one into the other and it becomes a mess. So, you turn to an alternative...

  • Using a flash drive to collaborate - each person has to wait to be given the drive with the file. Not to mention there is a lot of getting plugged into and out of computers as well as saving occurring, giving corruption a bigger opportunity to occur.

  • Using your company's shared drive - your software is responsible for managing changes, no lengthy email chain or flash drive to keep track of.

  • Using the online storage service provided through your company - most businesses have an online collaboration tool supported, whether it is Office 365, Google Apps or a company-specific tool like Datto Drive. All of these allow multiple contributors to work simultaneously.

Visiting Clients or Working Off-Premise

Sometimes you need to take your work to your client, or work on things at a conference or out of the office. If you're expected to work off-premises, you probably are provided a laptop or other portable workstation to use for that purpose. The documents and information you need may contain personal identifying information or sensitive company information. Your could...

  • Put the documents and info you need on a flash drive and bring that along with you. Unless it's set up as an encrypted drive, anyone who plugs that drive into their machine can get that data. So, if you were to lose the drive, you have to act as though someone has obtained that data which can be very expensive for your business depending on what it contains. Not to mention, using a flash drive runs the risk of corruption, which would be a loss of data entirely.

  • Save the documents and info you need to your provided workstation, and work off a local copy until you are able to connect again to the shared drive or location. This is a more welcome solution, as a laptop or tablet provided to you by your company is most likely to have encryption enabled, providing some protection of the sensitive information. Although a loss of the device may still count as losing that data and can result in the same fines.

  • Use a VPN and connect to the shared drive or location of the data over the internet. You are using the data on the shared resource. This is the best solution because it leaves no data to be lost, has the benefits of file-history and archival, and with how accessible the internet is (especially with the WiFi hotspots which connect with 3G/4G/LTE technology), there is no reason a remote connection to the shared resource could not be made.

So are flash drives useless?

No, they of course still have benefits for personal use - photo transfer, etc. The biggest issue with flash drives is the safety of the data on them, which is why using them for work is typically not allowed, perhaps only having exceptions for files and documents which have no sensitive company or client information on them. The better solution is to utilize company-provided cloud storage options or establishing a secure remote connection into the business network to utilize shared resources while out of the office, which both offer much greater data safety and security.

Contact us if you would like more information or have any questions.