A good friend of mine from a university in north-west England got an email through from their network administrators at the end of last week, basically saying,
"...every time you plug in your flash drive, we see it offloading a whole load of malicious files to the computer you're working on, and therefore impacting our network..."
Whilst a little confused at this, she gave me a shout on Facebook and asked me to check it out for her. I told her to go through the steps of creating an ISO from entire flash drive and to stick it in the cloud so I could download it, and check over it. Lo and behold, it was riddled with more viruses and junk than a Soho street hooker. No wonder they were a little peeved.
I thought the title of this article was appropriate, especially after reading this rather non-informative yet hilarious as usual article from The Register.
This did get me thinking though. Although flash drives are small, compact, fit right into our pockets, and can contain anything up to 16GB (that I can think of, off the top of my head), aren't they a little outdated still? Are the flash drives destined to meet the bitter end like the floppy disk, or the pointless Zip drive which had as much effect on the world as the Kyoto agreement?
I can understand the simplicity behind having a flash drive, especially with the amount of storage they can hold, but its evidentially causing havoc for network administrators. I presume this isn't mutually exclusive to university networks, but again, presumably corporate networks are locked down a little more.
I've written extensively on the cloud and cloud computing, including an essay I recently wrote about the consequences of disasters involved. But considering our idea of cloud computing is limited to "the mesh" or online storage, even this method of transferring documents on and off the university network is more preferred.
Group policy settings could reduce harm that flash drives may have, by restricting access to detected external hard drives, but this to some would seem a bit much.
And what harm are these flash drives having? Well, malware and viruses can be spread in many forms on portable hard drives, and many anti-virus programs don't scan flash drives; simply because often they're not plugged in. It's now come to the point where anti-virus companies are adding their anti-virus programs to flash drives. Viruses and malware can't be spread too easily on ordinary Office documents, and they're not as likely as other malicious software as computer-borne worms. Many, if not all commercial cloud services, run behind-the-scenes anti-virus servers to ensure files are not cross contaminated.
Will the flash drive be extinguished? With the amount of always-on, on-demand and anywhere-available online storage, is there any point in keeping another device in our pocket?
No. Do I have a flash drive? I used to; now I see no need. See, I do practice what I preach.