Data protection and cyber-security: Harnessing the power of write protected USB drives, Greg Morris, CEO of Nexcopy Incorporated based in Southern California, looks at the opportunities for enterprises surrounding read-only USB technology.
November 18, 2020
The world is a global digital economy more than ever before and that move includes the digitization of intellectual property and assets which are shared between customers and clients. The cases of sophisticated data breaches, hacking and cyber crimes target individuals, government entities and private corporations. These attacks have grown by leaps and bounds in the last ten years. According to one report published from a securities website, an enterprise may suffer an average loss of $3.92 million as a result of data intrusion and hacking.
Cyber threats and risks are becoming more severe as IP is increasingly stored in digital format. As such, keeping the digital data, especially confidential data, away from cyber criminals is imperative and should be a primary concern for IT managers and professionals. Without a data protection strategy, an enterprise is unwittingly providing an entry point for cyber criminals to obtain valuable information, which could be worth millions of dollars.
Cyber-security and endpoint data loss protection are key strategies in keeping digital attacks at bay. Strategies which encompass all aspects of data entry points is critical, from the mass storage physical devices like USB flash drives, to network connectivity with cloud storage and network communications.
With this in mind, having efficient and easy to use storage and memory devices is key to enterprise employees adhering to security protocols and at the same time have an ease-of-use through execution of such protocols. Empowering employees on deciding for themselves when, where and which devices to work with is an underrated component of an overall security strategy, yet incredibly important. With the empowerment given to employees, a management team must still account for, and eliminate, user error or forgetfulness even in the most cautions of protocols and procedures.
The USB flash drive was first introduced to the United States via IBM in the year 2000. Today, twenty years later, the flash drive is still a primary storage device used when sharing information. This is true for government, healthcare, finance, automotive, telecommunication and manufacturing, who still rely heavily on USB storage devices, which, if not secure, can inadvertently lead to leaked personal and private information. Employees use USB drives for faster exchange of information and better collaboration between departments or job positions. Employers should be able to provide the needed data storage devices while also ensuring a no-fault security system is in place to protect the company’s intellectual property and the company’s network infrastructure.
For example, in the healthcare sector, it is common practice among doctors to use mobile data storage devices to transfer data easily from a doctor’s office to say that of a hospital. Each location holds sensitive data with patient records and it’s equally important those locations are safe from hacker intrusion. When transferring data between one location and another via a USB flash drive, it is important that device remains secure. The responsibility of digital security falls on the IT professional who manages these digital networks, but also responsibility is held by the user of those technologies.
In order for a virus to spread between locations via a storage device, like a USB flash drive, implys the USB must carry the virus or malicious code from one location to the next. However; these devices cannot get infected if the USB is a read-only device. Meaning the device cannot add new digital content, digital files or malicious code if the USB is not allowed to write data into memory. After the drive is connected and the network scans the device for malicious code the user has access to the drive, at which point a secure password can be entered to unlock the read-only flash drive and make it read/write. The USB drive is always write protected when first connected to any digital device, it is impossible for a virus to jump onto the drive without the user knowing. Only when the user knows the device and environment is safe from hacking, can the password be entered to access the USB drive as a read/write device to transfer files from one location to another.
This type of USB flash drive is called a Lock License drive.
The unique thing about this Lock License flash drive, is the write protection is always enabled whenever the USB is disconnected from the computer. Meaning, the default status of the drive is read-only when connected to any device. When the storage device is reconnected to any computer, it is read-only and files cannot get onto the drive until a password is entered. However, the user experience is very nice and easy because files can always be copied off the drive, without a password. The user gets the full benefit of ease-of-use which a USB flash drive is so well known for, without the hassle and worry of the storage device being exposed to malicious software for data breaches or hacking.
The same caution must be observed with systems-control applications. System Control products are hardware based products which use firmware to run the mechanical product. The hardware are things such as turbine controls for water and power facilities, large pumps for water work facilities or motors to capture wind generated energy. These products are the back-bone of American infrastructure and must be secure at all times. A typical encrypted flash drive doesn’t work to update the firmware of these types of products because the system-control products do not have a user interface to enter passwords. However; a read-only USB device is valuable because it is secure from spreading a virus to the system control units and at the same time the systems control unit can pull firmware or updates from the USB drive without fear of also getting malicious code. The device is not writable, so malicious software or hacking code cannot embed itself into memory on such update devices.
Investing in data protection and cyber security solutions is the primary function of IT professionals and multiple systems and layers of security steps are required to keep a corporation or enterprise safe and secure. By locking down the most common entry point, a USB port, with read-only USB flash memory products from Nexcopy is a key ingredient to the overall success of a cyber security strategy. When correctly combined with endpoint software management, hardware-based write protected USB storage devices can empower public and private sector enterprises and allow them to gain control of their organization’s devices
Learn more about Nexcopy’s USB write protection for flash memory.
Kingston Technology, based in Fountain Valley California, will become the majority shareholder in a joint venture set up with Phison Electronics, one of its Taiwanese suppliers.
Phison Electronics will sell its shares in the joint venture called Kingston Solutions, Inc. (KSI) to the Fountain Valley company, which announced the transaction earlier today, August 11, 2020. The deal is worth nearly $60.3 million US.
Kingston, a maker of memory products for computers and consumer electronics, is Orange County’s largest private company. The firm, led by co-founder and chief executive John Tu, had revenue of $12.8 billion last year.
You never know where a flash drive has been.
It’s always best to scan a USB flash drive.
Did you know Windows Defender can be setup to scan a USB stick automatically, when it’s plugged in? Below are the steps to make that configuration setup.
By default, Windows 10 does not have this setting configured. We are not sure why, as USB sticks and downloads from internet sites are probably the two most vunerable ways to get a computer infected. Our only guess, is the scan process of a USB stick can take some time, and for a user to have that step done with each connection, could reduce the user experience.
This tutorial will take about three minutes to setup. I would suggest read the rest of this article and when done, go back and perform the few steps required to make the Windows Defender scan for USB flash drives.
We are going to make a Group Policy to scan USB flash drives using Windows Defender.
Let us run the Group Policy editor.
Press the Windows Key + R
Type gpedit.msc and press Enter or OK.
Look for the Administrative Templates under the top Computer Configuration directory, expand this directory (folder)
Scroll down to Windows Components, expand it
In that directory scroll down more and look for Windows Defender Antivirus, expand it
Billy Idol’s Hot In The City is a tune which comes to mind whenever talking about USB gadgets that cool thyself.
With summer coming into full swing, this is a good time for a USB fan mention. Cruising the Amazon website this Aikoper product popped up. At first glance I honestly thought the fan was designed by Apple Computers. The aluminum base, slick black body and the cool grey vents, thought it was from Apple for sure. Wrong!
This USB fan has some unique features we believe everyone will like.
There is no switch for turning the fan on or off. Rather you touch the aluminum base. That is very Apple’esc. A single tap to the base and the USB fan goes into “low speed” mode. A double tap will put the USB fan into “high speed” mode. The third tap will turn the fan off. The touch sensitive base has four rubber pads to insure no vibration during operation.
The fan itself is a dual-blade design. Meaning there are four blades toward the front of the bionic shaped shell and another four blades near the rear of the black shell. The idea here is reducing the device noise while in operation.
The black shell case is convex in design to pull air down and into the system, rather than up and into the system. Although the pitch of the shell isn’t great, we may assume less dust and dirt will come into the system from a pull-down air flow design. The curved shell sits on a the aluminum base with some pitch mobility to angle the fan a bit higher or lower for optimal position while in use.
The product dimensions are 5.6 x 3.9 x 4.9 (inches) and sells for $16.99 USD from the Amazon website (at the time of this post).
The Amazon listing has over 1,609 ratings with 61% as a five star product, 13% as four star product and the balance just picky people trying to be overly critical. To give you an idea of product feedback and experience, here are some testimonials from the Amazon listing:
You have a document, video or audio file with sensitive information on it and you need to send a copy to a third party. What options should you consider?
Three options come to mind: email, Dropbox or flash drive.
Sending an email is basically the same thing as sending a postcard. While there are efforts one can use to change this, email remains pretty wide open. This is true and scary; anyone who wants to read your email (not just the NSA) can read your email.
Most times you can send sensitive documents through email and nothing will happen. However; you are playing Russian roulette (almost literally, given the recent theft of 1.2 billion email account credentials by a Russian gang) with the security of that transmission. Remember, the topic of this post is about sharing sensitive data with a third party.
The next logical step would encrypting the email (or files) attached in the email. Encryption is a good option and certainly more secure than sending the email without encryption. You could run into a file size limitation though. Most videos will be larger than a 20MB, which is (generally) the maximum file size one could attached in an email. Encryption is a good next step, but there is a bigger issue at hand than file size. More about that in a few.
Dropbox is next on our list of most obvious options to share sensitive data with a third party. Dropbox is a great option when you have larger files. With Dropbox you could upload those big audio or video files and provide a download link for your recipient. Dropbox doesn’t encrypt your data by default so there is some exposure there. A quick and relatively safe method to encrypt your files using Windows would be compressing the video into a zip file and assigning it a password. Encrypting the data will provide that extra layer of security. As with an encrypted email, the encrypted Dropbox alternative also has a major flaw.
Ask yourself, “Do you trust the recipient?”
When trying to format a flash drive in Windows (7 or 10) you will see the file system options best suited for the device. The proper file systems for a flash drive would be: FAT, FAT32 or exFAT. Windows will also list NTFS for a flash drive, but not the best for a USB stick, as mentioned before. The file system types listed by the Windows GUI (Graphical User Interface) will depend on the GB capacity of the flash drive connected.
So why no UDF file system on the list?
First, let me say it IS possible for Windows to format a flash drive as UDF (Universal Disk Format). Microsoft just doesn’t want you to do it; and there are good reasons why.
Before the reasons given for not using UDF as a format on flash drives, let’s clear one thing up: If you think formatting a flash drive as UDF will make the thumb drive appear as an optical drive in the computer – you are mistaken!
From the Wikipedia page about Universal Disk Format, UDF, the specification is governed by the Optical Storage Technology Association and because of that, many believe a UDF anything will work like a disc. It, UDF, is most widely used for DVDs and newer optical disc formats, can be used on flash drives, but does make it operate like one.
If we take out the hope of formatting a USB with a UDF file system, some may feel the Universal Disk Format means the flash drive will work in anything, such as from Windows, to Mac, to Linux, Symbian and/or to proprietary system. The truth here is exFAT will do just the same. Please keep that in mind.
So why not format a USB as UDF in Windows? Here is a list:
- The lack of fully-functional filesystem check tools.
- 64GB limit with Windows & Linux, a bug, not a limit of UDF
- SD and USB mass storage devices are exposed to quick wear-leveling failure
- UDF is read-only for Windows XP
Without bogging down this post with ultra-technical information, from the above list, the most important to consider is the first, lack of filesystem check tools.
This means if the USB is pulled out while in operation and a bit is affected by the action, there are no tools to check the file system for errors. You are flying the dark as to why the USB no longer works and there are no tools available to help you figure it out. Given the flash drive was specifically designed to be portable and quick access, the above action is most certainly going to happen sooner or later, which makes UDF a high risk file system.
How to format a flash drive as UDF:
Connect the USB to your computer and note the assigned drive letter
The most common reason why only one Compact Flash Card is usable when multiple Compact Flash Cards are connected is due to a device signature collision.
If you are dealing with bootable devices and seeing this problem, we are confident a collision is the issue. If you are not dealing with a bootable device, then our information below will, probably, not help.
What is a Compact Flash Card signature collision?
A signature collision can happen on any bootable device, so Compact Flash Card cards, SD cards, microSD cards and USB flash drives. A disk signature is a unique identifier number (UID). It is a unique identifier stored as part of the MBR (Master Boot Record) for an operating system loaded on the device. The operating system will use the UID to identify and distinguish between storage devices. It is commonly made up of eight alphanumeric characters. A disk collision occurs when your operating system (Windows) detects that there are two disks with identical signatures.
For Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10, these versions of Windows will disable the second drive and will not allow that second volume to mount until the disk collision has been rectified. If you are reading this article, chances are, this is exactly what is happening to you.
The first thing to do is navigate to the Disk Management tool with in Windows. To do this, use the search tool and type in Disk Management. This will take you to the utility that Windows offers. Here you can see your multiple devices connected. If you click or hover over the device not working you will see one of two messages:
Nexcopy put out a press release today announcing a USB Type C duplication Copier which is available for immediate purchase. The USB-C200PC is a twenty target USB-C socket duplicator which is PC based and loaded with software features.
Via EIN Presswire service, Nexcopy Inc the news release talks about the increased demand is due from Apple housing a USB-C socket for their computers and Iot, or Internet of Things, type products are using the USB-C socket more frequently. Because of this shift, the duplication equipment market has adjusted.
Because the Nexcopy duplicator is PC based does not mean you will lose functionality and speed. The USB-C200PC is believed to be a 3.1 based technology and will write at the devices maximum transfer rate. USB 3.1 has a theoretical maximum speed of 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). Keep in mind that is “theoretical” so your real world experience will never get that close.
The USB-C200PC ships with the Drive Manager software and includes some fairly trick software features:
- Six copy modes
- Binary copy mode supports all formats; HFS, Ext2,3,4, Proprietary
- Unique data streaming to each USB-C socket
- Binary verification
- Erase and D.o.D. Erase for disk sanitization
- Data collection to extract files off USB-C devices
- Intuitive and informative Drive Manager software
- Upgradeable to PRO Series for USB-C write protection
- Upgradeable to PRO Series for USB-C partitioning
One interesting copy mode is the unique data streaming function. The data streaming function gives a user the ability to put unique data to each USB-C flash drive. This is of particular interest for software publishers and on-demand USB production sent from on-line, front end order fulfillment solutions.
Nexcopy is also well known for the PRO series duplicators that perform advanced functions to flash drives, such as USB write protection (USB read-only), partitions at the controller level, and serial number control for UFD identification. From the press release, these advanced functions will also be available on the USB-C200PC duplicator.
The USB-C duplicator has a list price of $1,299 and is available through on-line retails like Amazon, WalMart.com and NewEgg. If you are outside the United States, the product is available through a worldwide network of authorized resellers.
Micron, with the corporate office based in Boise Idaho,
introduces the c200 microSD card with a data storage range from 128GB to
1TB. No that wasn’t a typo, One Terabyte
of storage. The card was designed to
address the demand around 4K video recording and playback.
The card has read speeds near 100MB/s and write speeds of
near 95MB/s. The c200 card collection
can reach these speeds because of Dynamic SLC cache; which is intelligent maintenance
during idle time for sustained peak performance. The Micron microSD card uses the UHS-1 Speed
Class 3 for capture and Video Speed Class 30 for support. Meaning to get these transfer rates, the host
device must also be UHS-1 compliant.
In case you are wondering, the card uses Micron 98-layer
3D QLC NAND memory, which is cost effective for both consumers and commercial customers.
If you have an Android device, you can be even happier
with the card meeting the Application Performance Class 2 specification which
is built-in memory expansion for compatible Android devices.
The Application Performance Class 2 (A2) is defined by the
Secure Digital (SD) Physical 6.0 specification. A2 makes SD memory cards higher
performance devices than A1 devices by using functions of the Command Queuing
and Cache framework. The Application Performance Class can be applied to UHS
SDHC/SDXC Memory Card product family.
Here are 10 of the 60 incredible USB flash drive designs. This article was pulled from GetUSB.info which has all 60 custom USB flash drive designs. Apparently all these designs have been made for other clients. We didn’t know how detailed these could get, but you can clearly see there really is no limitation to what can be done…
Flash Drive #1
Flash Drive #2
Flash Drive #3
Flash Drive #4